Many of us enjoy using and incorporating essential oils in our daily lives. These oils are basically the life-force of the plant, including all the medicinal properties of that particular part of the plant. When used properly and respectfully, essential oils can be extremely powerful and healing to the body and mind.
Because of all these wonderful things, it only makes sense to integrate them into our yoga practice. I think the greatest benefit of essential oils in yoga is using them to bring the mind into a space of focus, concentration, and inner peace.
Using essential oils in the form of aromatherapy is best and most effective both in my opinion and according to science. Our sense of smell is argued to be the most impressive of the senses because of its connection to a network of nerves within the brain called the limbic system.
The receptors in the nose are connected to the limbic system, which is why our sense of smell can trigger memories and emotions. When we smell something, the chemical components of the oil bind with the receptors in our nose, telling the brain, "This is lavender!"
Depending on the oil and its properties (and any past experiences you've had with the smell), the result is usually an emotional response and/or a memory. In most cases (since essential oils usually smell pleasant) this triggers the brain to release neurotransmitters, such as serotonin or dopamine.
Getting the brain to release these neurotransmitters is the primary effect of aromatherapy, helping keep our bodies in a healthy and happy state.
When to Use Essential Oil Aromatherapy in Yoga
I find it's best to incorporate essential oils into a home practice, rather than in a yoga class. It's only respectful to keep a neutral smell on your body when in a class, because you never know what might bother other people.
Pregnant women, most especially, have a heightened sensitivity to smell. Loading yourself up with patchouli or lavender oil may bring you a great sense of "zen," but it could also be extremely distracting to others around you in yoga class.
Choosing Which Oils to Use During Yoga
There are several different categories of smells and properties to choose from when it comes to essential oils. For example, some larger categories are citrus oils (energizing), floral oils (soothing), and earthy oils (grounding). Each type of oil can trigger different energies or moods.
Yoga teaches us that each day and each moment may be completely different in our bodies and minds. Recognizing that we are ever-changing is key, because if we don't accept what the body is telling us (or asking us) in that very moment, then the essential oil we choose won't even matter.
Listen to your body. Ask yourself a few questions. "How is my body feeling today?" "How am I feeling today?" "What will be the focus of this yoga practice?" And last, "How do I want to feel right now?" Answering these questions helps you better decide which oil (or oil blend) to use during practice.
While choice of essential oil is personal, it’s best to evaluate the whole picture so that your oil becomes a 100 percent beneficial and effective enhancement to your yoga practice.
Normally, I like to put the oils blends (always blend an essential oil with a carrier oil) right on the skin. Usually, I will apply it to my wrists, my neck, or upper chest. However, since we are doing yoga, I would not recommend applying to the wrists because the carrier oil may cause us to slip on our mats.
Applying the oil to the neck or upper chest is good because it will be close to the nose, for aromatherapy purposes. Another option is to use a diffuser or oil warmer. Both are efficient in spreading the oil scent around the room using heat.
A word of caution (from experience): if you are using oil for the first time, make sure you enjoy the smell of it for more than 15 minutes before your yoga practice. I used Bergamot once and realized I did not like the smell midway through my practice.
Experiment with oils. Try different ones and see how you feel when using them. Some oils may surprise you, bringing further clarity, or maybe even some "lost" emotions. If your aromatherapy experiences heighten something you did not expect, acknowledge it and continue moving forward.
The effects of oils and aromatherapy can be so widely different for each person. It really is a beautiful and personal experience, especially when infused into your yoga.