Aromatherapy and Yoga
By Maysan Marouf
You may have already encountered aromatherapy during your yoga class: perhaps you practice in a sweet-scented yoga studio or spa, or your yoga instructor sometimes lights incense during final relaxation. Or you may have had tired and aching muscles after your asana practice, and used a muscle rub made with essential oils to ease muscle tension. The truth is aromatherapy used during class can deeply enhance your mind and body awareness.
Yoga and aromatherapy were linked in the past. In India, attars (perfumes prepared from plant material, with a sandalwood base) were an important part of yoga practice, helping to increase relaxation and calm the mind. Oils were used prior to asana practice to massage the muscles.
As we discussed in the previous article “Introduction to Aromatherapy”, aromatherapy, like yoga, is holistic, working on the whole person (on the spiritual, physical, mental and emotional levels) . In addition, aromas are related to emotions and memory, and emotions attached to our memories are instantly recalled. Similarly, during our yoga practice, the body forms a body memory of the pose, which is weaved into our cells. Each time we go into a yoga pose, our body remembers the pose, and goes into the same relaxed state. The longer a pose is held, the more opportunity for healing to occur. We can thus add the element of aromatherapy to this equation to amplify these memories and associations. Later on during the day, if an oil used during our yoga practice is smelled, the same emotions and calming effects on the body may be achieved.
Essential oils may be associated with different asanas due to their similar effects on our body and the chakras. For example, rose absolute oil may be diffused using oil burners during the bridge and backbends to enhance their heart opening effect, especially during times of stress and grief. Sandalwood is a grounding oil so it may be used during warrior and standing poses. The sense of calm surrender that comes from both standing and seated forward bends may be promoted with the balancing and relaxing lavender. Invigorating postures such as downward facing dog and inversions may be associated with peppermint oil , which quickly energizes body and mind. Clary sage can be used to relax mind and body and ease tension during twists, which work on massaging organs. For a clear mind and focus, put a drop of Frankincense or Peppermint on chest and forehead to inhale during inward poses. It is fun to experiment and find our own favorites!
Here are some other great ways of incorporating aromatherapy into our yoga practice:
· Essential oils can be used to clean the mat in an environmentally friendly way. Not only will the mat be sterilized but a lovely smelling mat will be obtained, and different blends will cause different effects: one blend might be energizing, while another might be more relaxing. And this can be modified to suit your yoga style or mood! Try it by adding a mix of essential oils such as tea tree and rosemary to a spray bottle of water.
· You can cool and refresh your feet and body using peppermint oil.
· Our pressure points and chakras are good points of application for essential oils.
· A massage blend using oils such as eucalyptus and rosemary may be used to ease stressed muscles.
· Candles made with pure essential oils may be lighted during class for a soothing setting.
· Sprays may be used instead of diffusers for an instant pick-me-up.
In the next issue of this newsletter, we will discuss how aromatherapy can benefit our meditation practice.