Why do Yoga and Meditation?
Yoga and meditation are often said in the same breath, despite the fact that one involves movement on the physical plane while the other is all about stillness on the mental plane.
On the surface, the only similarity seems to be the fact that both are ancient disciplines, which have witnessed a meteoric rise in their fan following.
In fact, to the uninitiated, all those folks flaunting their yoga tights and all that talk about centering and inner peace can seem a bit perplexing.
Come to think of it, their insane popularity almost makes these disciplines seem like a new age fad. But the truth is that both yoga and meditation, if done right, can offer profound mental and physical health benefits.
I am sure by now at least some of you are wondering why dear ol’ Olivia has taken to extolling the benefits of yoga and meditation?
Because yoga, meditation and essential oils can be combined to form a formidable trinity that can keep a lot of ailments at bay.
And since I am all about prevention before cure and mind over body, today we will talk about how these Eastern disciplines can help and how you can get more from them by adding aromatherapy to the mix. So, on that note, let’s get to the first question of the day…
Why Bother With Yoga And Meditation?
For a lot of people yoga is simply a form of stretching while meditation is about sitting in one place and trying to relax. But these disciplines can do so much more than just improve flexibility and quiet your mind. For instance:
A) Yoga is a unique combination of static and dynamic stretching, strength training, mindfulness and breath training. The low intensity asanas are perfect for people of all levels of fitness and flexibility and can be used in conjunction with other types of workout regimens or on their own.
Because yoga offers a more inclusive approach to working out, it offers a myriad of physical and psychological benefits, such as:
- Stabilizes blood pressure.
- Reduces the risk of injury.
- Helps to alleviate musculoskeletal pain (lower back pain and arthritis related joint pain).
- Increases strength and stamina.
- Improves blood circulation.
- Enhances range of movement.
- Helps with asthma and other respiratory issues.
- Improves stability and balance.
- Reduces stress.
- Helps with anxiety and depression.
- Corrects posture.
- Enhances focus and concentration.
B) Meditation is a marvelous synthesis of breath and brain training that culminates in mindfulness and mind control.
There is literally no technique/treatment/tool out there which can connect the mind-brain and body like meditation does. In fact, several of the physiological and psychological benefits of mediation are backed by science. These include:
- An actual increase in brain volume that makes you smarter and improves memory.
- Enhanced self-awareness and self-control.
- Lower stress, anxiety and nervousness.
- Better stress handling and control.
- Increase in serotonin and dopamine levels.
- Reduction in blood pressure.
- Increase in neuroplasticity.
- Regulation of the endocrine system (hormone balancing).
- Enhanced immune functioning.
- Muscle relaxation.
- Improvement in focus and concentration.
- More emotional stability.
- Better control over negative emotions.
- Improvement in chronic pain.
- Increase in positivity and self-connect.
In a nutshell, meditation does for your mind what yoga does for the body. And since the mind and the body are inherently linked, what impacts one is bound to affect the other.
So, while yoga or meditation alone do offer significant therapeutic benefits, combining them is the key to gaining mastery over both the mind and the body.
So, How Do Essential Oils Figure In This Mix Of Yoga And Meditation?
Simple; both yoga and meditation are about creating balance and that’s what essential oils stand for – restoring balance and harmonizing the mind, the brain and the body. And that’s why these 3 are a match made in therapeutic heaven!
Sounds abstract? It does; I know. Hold on; let me put on my Bill Nye hat and give this one a scientific tilt.
If you have been dabbling in aromatherapy, I am sure you know all about how these oils reach and affect the brain. For those of you who are new to the aromatic universe – here is a crash course.
Your brain on essential oils:
Through the nerves in the nose, the aromatic molecules in essential oils reach the olfactory bulb (higher up in the nose) and from there they get to a part of the brain called the limbic lobe. This area of your brain is responsible for a myriad of functions, including memory, learning, emotions and more. So, by acting on the limbic system, essential oils essentially influence all its functions.
For instance, depending on the oils used, you can calm the amygdala, which is the emotional seat of the brain. You can also stimulate the hippocampus, which is the learning and memory center.
Furthermore, essential oils have a direct bearing on the levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and GABA. Plus, they are known to impact the frequency of the brain waves. Many essential oils also have a hypotensive effect on the body and are known to regulate/lower the heart rate.
Your brain on yoga:
All that uncomfortable stretching, while you struggle to control your breathing and keep calm, is meant to do two things: Give the logical center of your brain (hippocampus and its connections) a sound workout while keeping a check on the emotional center (amygdala).
As you fight to maintain those physically taxing poses by contracting your muscles, the amygdala goes into panic mode and triggers the stress response. But through the discomfort, yoga makes you control your breathing. Now breathing is a life sustaining function, so it gets precedence over all other inputs to the brain.
When you continue to breathe slowly and steadily through the grueling workout, you force the brain to change its reaction to stress.
Over time, this training brings about a physical change in the brain, as the logical center (hippocampus) gets stronger and develops more grey matter and greater interconnections while the amygdala is compelled to take a back seat and shrink, much like a muscle that is sparingly used.
When you get a grip on your body’s stress response, you also essentially gain control over the amount of cortisol in your body. Furthermore, yoga can bring about a massive increase of almost 27% in the levels of GABA. This neurotransmitter is linked to better anxiety and stress control and inhibition of negative emotional states.
Your brain on meditation:
A 2010 study concluded that just 8 weeks of meditation (30 minutes every day) greatly increases the gray matter in the frontal and prefrontal cortex as well as the hippocampus.
These areas of the brain not only control learning and memory but also influence emotional modulation and situational assessment. Simultaneously, meditation brings about a reduction in the size of amygdala, which triggers, fear, anxiety and nervousness.
The increase in cortical plasticity due to meditation was so pronounced when observed through a 2014 study that researchers concluded that meditation may be able to offset cortical deterioration due to age.
In addition to this, the impact of meditation on the parietal lobe was found to greatly reduce the severity with which pain is experienced. Because meditation also increases gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, it also helps to enhance cognitive flexibility and functionality.
But, why combine essential oils with yoga and meditation?
Since yoga and meditation have so much to offer even on their own, the next logical question should rightly be – then, why bother adding essential oils to the mix?
Because essential oils can help to fill in the gaps if any and add to the benefits of both disciplines. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that these potent substances can help you to stick with yoga and meditation till you see the desired results.
Despite the fact that both yoga and meditation are super effective the reality is that neither of them is a magic pill. So, if you are expecting results overnight, you stand to be disappointed.
Essential oils can help you to stick to your meditation and yoga practice and the goals that you have set for yourself. Moreover, these extracts are stupendously effective in tackling all those pesky de-motivators that can keep you away from your yoga and meditation sessions; think sore muscles from all that stretching and a hyperactive mind that refuses to settle down.
How To Use Essential Oils For Yoga And Meditation?
There are a myriad of ways in which you can use essential oils before, during and after a yoga and/or meditation session. Here are a few exclusive and synergistic ways to do so:
- Motivate yourself with essential oils before a yoga session to stick to your routine.
- Improve your concentration with essential oils so it becomes easier to maintain yoga poses.
- Get relief from muscle soreness and fatigue after a grueling yoga session.
- Energize your body and mind so that you can progress to advanced poses and routines.
- Create the perfect environment for a yoga session with grounding and awareness raising oils.
- Rid your yoga gear of germs and body odor with antiseptic and antimicrobial oils.
- Enjoy a soothing, calming essential oil soak after your yoga session.
- Improve circulation after the taxing workout and help your body to purge out metabolic wastes faster with essential oils that enhance lymphatic drainage and circulation.
- Maintain and add to your increased energy levels after your yoga sessions, with the right blend of oils.
- Improve focus and achieve deeper meditative states with the right oils.
- Increase alpha and theta brain waves by combining meditation and aromatherapy.
- Enhance relaxation during shavasana with calming oils.
- Use essential oils on the third eye chakra for mindfulness meditation.
- Add to the feelings of calmness and well-being after mediation, with the right oils.
- Get twice the control on your blood pressure and heart rate by combining aromatherapy with yoga/meditation.
- Improve breathing to get more out of meditation with oils that are respiratory tonics.
- Hold on to the cognitive benefits of yoga and meditation with essential oils.
- Enhance the ability of yoga and meditation to alleviate sleep issues by combing the disciplines with essential oils.
How To Incorporate Essential Oils Into Your Yoga And Meditation Classes?
Although in a yoga/meditation class setting, you have to accommodate the needs, preferences and dislikes of others when using essential oils, there are still scores of options available to combine these therapeutic approaches. For instance:
If you are the instructor/yoga guru, you can:
Use essential oils in a room spray:
All that sweating, the drenched clothes and the wet mats are bound to cause some amount of odor. An essential oil spray is a fantastic option to tackle the odors and give the room a fresh feel before each class.
The best part of using essential oils in a spray is that the blend/singles are tolerable even to those who do not like certain scents because a very small amount of oil is dispersed in a very large area. So, what’s left behind is a gentle aroma that gets the job done without being “in your face”.
Citrus singles that cleanse and uplift are the best choices for a spray. Add a bit of mint for an overall invigorated environment.
For massage before shavasana:
Pass a relaxing/calming blend around the class to be massaged on the soles of the feet before shavasana or massage the blend on the feet of the students as they enter the relaxed state of shavasana.
Mat cleansing spray:
After the yoga session, right before everybody starts rolling their mats, pass around a cleansing spray that contains antimicrobial and energizing oils.
You can also ask your students to pick a personal inhalation blend before shavasana and rub two drops of it on the palms of their hands. Each person should then cup their hands around the nose and inhale deeply, three to four time before going into the pose.
If you are a student or practitioner, you can:
Use essential oil jewelry:
This is a simple yet effective option to wear your relaxation on your person without turning it into a headache for others. An essential oil pendant will serve the purpose perfectly as you will be able to inhale the concentration boosting aromas while you maintain the poses.
I personally prefer a single like neroli or sandalwood or a floral blend of geranium and neroli for my pendants.
Make some essential oil towelettes:
Another practical and personal way to use essential oils in a group setting, these home-made towelettes allow you to gain from the skin healing and muscle relaxing properties of these extracts, while offering a way to keep fungal and bacterial skin infections at bay. Plus, the right oils will give you just the pick me up you need to get into the next asana.
Dab on some essential oil perfume:
Although this is not as discreet an option as the other two, it still works marvelously if you stick to singles and simple blends. Just remember to go slow on the oils, particularly the heady florals like rose, jasmine and ylang ylang. You can get premium-quality ready-made essential oil perfume oils here.
You will get many products that already use botanicals like dried lavender and chamomile flowers. But, over time these eye pillows lose their aromatic element and that’s when you can refresh them with a drop of essential oil on each side. Just remember to put the drop on the side that won’t touch your skin.
How To Use Essential Oils Before, During And After Your Yoga And Meditation Session At Home?
Because you don’t have to conform to the likes and dislikes of others, you get a free hand when using essential oils during a home yoga/meditation session. Take a look at some of the ways in which you can incorporate these oils into your healing practices:
The meditative halo
This is one of my all-time favorite methodologies quite simply because it works like a charm. It involves the use of sensory oils (those that offer a warming/cooling effect) along the hairline. The sensory effect helps to both draw and hold the attention/focus during meditation.
Working on the chakras
Essential oils can also be used for opening and balancing the chakras. You can diffuse or apply these extracts to work on the energy centers of your body. Just remember to dilute the oils (2% or 6 drops in 10 ml) and to use them on the seat of the chakra.
Pulse point stimulation
If you are using yogasanas to control/treat specific health ailments, you can magnify the results by using essential oils on the pulse points that correspond to the physiological systems or organs that are being treated.
This is the oldest, simplest and most effective method for using essential oils along with yoga and meditation.
Ultrasonic diffusers offer the best performance when it comes to retaining the aromatic integrity of the oils. If you don’t own a diffuser, some hot water in a cup with a 2-3 drops of essential oils added to it will also do the trick.
If you love the outdoor setting for your yoga and meditation sessions, even if it is in your backyard, palo santo sticks will prove to be the perfect diffusers. Simply put a few drops of the oil on the wood and place it close to your mat and the morning/evening breeze will do the rest.
Incense and candles
If you are going for a spiritually charged ambience, essential oil candles and incense will be invaluable props that will create just the right environment. You can buy unscented charcoal sticks, which can then be treated with your favorite essential oil blend or make your very own essential oil candles.
Call this a personal quirk if you will but after wiping down my mat with an essential oil spray, I also like to put a small ball of cotton wool/tissue paper treated with antimicrobial oils in the mat storage bag.
This way, the next morning, the moment I open the bag, my senses are treated to an energizing scent. I like to mix rosemary, tea tree and lime, but you can choose a different blend or even a single oil.
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At first whiff, this may not seem like the best oil for yoga or meditation given its woody, almost pencil like aroma. But this particular scent has an exceptional ability to connect the mind with the body and improve mental health. In fact, the woody-earthy notes have a grounding effect, which can help to keep you rooted as you go through the various asanas.
This peppy fragrance will work particularly well for those who need a jolt of energy to make it to the yoga class and then some much needed motivation to go through the session. This invigorating oil also offers a boost in self-esteem and confidence and increases concentration while kicking out lethargy, anxiety and pain.
Because proper and deliberately calm breathing is integral to the practice of yoga, this oil can help in numerous ways. For starters, it helps to keep the respiratory tract clean and free of inflammation.
Moreover, the minty aroma helps to energize the senses and enhances concentration and exercise performance. If that’s not enough, the cooling and analgesic properties of the oil can also be put to work on the sore muscles that result from particularly taxing yoga sessions.
A veritable classic, this herbaceous-floral and spicy aroma promotes the feeling of stability and neurological relaxation. This oil increases comfort level and encourages you to take your yoga practice to the next level.
Another citrus oil that combines floral undertones with distinctive lemony notes, bergamot helps to bring on positive feelings, clear the mind of negativity and infuses your being with a sense of calmness and brightness.
The emotionally uplifting effect of this oil can offer reprieve and motivation when you are struggling with sadness, grief and depression.
This grounding oil with a spicy-earthy aroma is known to restore balance in the body and improve mind and body connection. The pungent aromatic notes rapidly instill the element of fire (energy) in the system and help to encourage you to take your yoga practice to the next level.
When used topically, the warming effect of this oil provides quick relief from muscle soreness and rheumatoid arthritis.
Another extract with a distinctive earthy aroma, this oil helps you to find your center while calming your mind. Because this oil connects you to the earth element, it goes a long way in helping you improve focus on the mental level and your balance and alignment on the physical level.
A sweet herbal scent with just a hint of floral, Roman chamomile oil helps to calm the mind and the body. Diffuse it to do away with feelings of depression, stress and anxiety that may be holding you back and use it topically to alleviate muscle pain after yoga.
Top Essential Oil Blends For Yoga
1. The anointment blend
Use this blend before you start the yoga session. It will put your ability to focus in fourth gear and help you to get through the most tedious of asanas. You will need:
- 10 ml light carrier oil
- 3 drops peppermint
- 2 drops bergamot
- 2 drops lavender
- 1 drop eucalyptus
Mix the oils in a small glass bowl and store in a bottle with a roller ball head. Apply the oil on the temples and on the sides of the neck, right below the jawline where you can feel your pulse.
Also, massage the back of the neck using a drop or two of the blend. Then, cup your palms around your nose and inhale deeply a few times, deliberately maintaining a breathing rate of 3-4 breaths per minute. Do this for about one minute and then start your yoga session as you would normally.
2. The post yoga massage/bath blend
This blend will help to ease muscle soreness and add to the “at once” calming and invigorating effect generated by yoga. You will need:
- 5 drops clary sage
- 5 drops frankincense/myrrh
- 3 drops ginger
- 7 drops Roman chamomile
Mix the oils and store in a dark glass bottle. If using as a massage blend, add 6-8 drops of the blend to 10 ml of any carrier oil or unscented body lotion and use it on the major muscle groups of the body that are prone to soreness after a yoga session.
To use in a bath, mix 4 drops of the blend with a teaspoon of milk and add it to your bath water. Also toss in a cup of sea salt and enjoy a leisurely 20 minute soak.
3. The yoga jewelry blend
This blend will help to keep you centered and focused on maintaining the alignment of your body with your mind. You will need:
- 2 drops lemon, 2 drops cedarwood and 3 drops ginger or
- 2 drops lavender, 1 drop patchouli and 2 drops chamomile or
- 2 drops bergamot, 1 drop lemon and 4 drops lavender or
- 2 drops each neroli and lavender or
- 1 drop rose, 2 drops sandalwood and 1 drop lavender.
Mix the oils and store in a small bottle. You can increase the quantity of the oils and play around with the ratios if you prefer one fragrance over another. Use two or more drops of the oil to soak the absorbent pads/cotton wool or terracotta surface of your essential oil jewelry.
4. The mat and room cleansing spray
This cleansing spray will drive away the odor and the germs along with the lethargy and fatigue. Use it in the room before the yoga session as you would an air freshener and after the session to clean the mat and other yoga gear. You will need:
- 3 drops lemon
- 1 drop rosemary
- 3 drops tea tree
- 2 drops lavender
Fill a spritz bottle (50 ml capacity at the least) with 20 ml witch hazel and 20 ml distilled water. You can also use water that has been boiled and then cooled. Mix the essential oils in a small bowl and add this blend to the fluid mix in the spritzer bottle. Give the bottle a good shake and spray the blend all around the room and then spritz it on the mat before giving it a quick wipe down with a paper towel. Want more ideas about using essential oils for cleaning!
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The citrusy aroma of this oil has a distinct buoyant quality to it that submerges the conscious, the unconscious and the subconscious into a state of bliss. The uplifting effect of this oil adds to the de-stressing effects of yoga. Also, the bright scent improves focus and concentration which are vital to the practice of meditation.
2. Clary Sage
The fruity-herbal aroma of this oil has a warming nature that promotes inner peace. If you can’t get yourself to disconnect from a stressful situation, this oil will come to your rescue. Because this extract calms the mind and chases away exhaustion from the body, it is one of the best aromas for meditation.
This is one of the most effective scents for reducing anxiety, stress and tension in the body. An oil that calms the mind while centering it, ylang ylang helps to diffuse negative emotions like anger, fear, frustration and nervousness that can influence your ability to focus. Because it acts on the sacral chakra, it’s also a potent aphrodisiac.
Perhaps one of the oldest scents employed in combination with yoga and meditation, sandalwood has an inherent ability to relax the mind. If a chaotic thought process stops you from single-point focus during meditation, this oil will help to smooth things over.
Sandalwood oil can significantly reduce cortisol levels in the body. Couple this with the stress-relieving effects of meditation, and you have a powerful system that can kick stress to the curb.
Not just frankincense but also other resin oils such as elemi and myrrh help to promote calmness and peace. In fact, this is one of the 3 oils (sandalwood and vetiver being the other two) that have been used for centuries to promote a deep meditative state and to enhance the benefits of meditation.
The balsamic, earthy, woody tones of the aroma stimulate and elevate the mind to see beyond emotional turmoil.
The unique sweet, herbaceous and earthy aroma of this extract help to center the mind. The grounding effect of the oil also helps to cultivate resilience against stress and negativity and strengthens the mind to better withstand the small and big shocks of life.
Top Essential Oil Blends For Meditation
1. The diffusion blend
You can use a number of blends for meditation, depending on the effect that you are trying to achieve or the specific benefits that you are trying to enhance. Here are a few recipes to get you started:
- 2 drops vetiver, 1 drop patchouli and 3 drops sandalwood for relaxation.
- 3 drops orange and 2 drops clary sage for focus.
- 2 drops sandalwood and 3 drops frankincense for centering.
- 1 drop ylang ylang, 2 drops rose and 2 drops neroli for self-confidence and self-assurance.
- 2 drops eucalyptus, 3 drops lavender, 3 drops peppermint and 1 drop holy basil for breath awareness and concentration.
- 4 drops chamomile, 2 drops lavender and 1 geranium for calming.
- 2 drops each grapefruit and lime and 3 drops clary sage/cassia for uplifting.
- 4 drops cedar wood, 2 drops rose/rosewood and 2 drops sandalwood for strengthening.
Mix the oils and store in a dark glass bottle. Use 2-4 drops in an ultrasonic diffuser or 2 drops in a cup of steaming water as you meditate. You can also use these blends to make essential oil candles or with unscented incense sticks.
2. The chakra blend
These blends can help to open up and balance specific chakras and unclog the energy channels associated with them. Alternatively, you can use a blend that will have an overall balancing and calming effect on all the chakras. Here are a few recommendations:
- 2 drops geranium, 1 drop rose, 2 drops jasmine for the heart chakra.
- 2 drops cardamom, 3 drops orange, 1 drop neroli for the sacral chakra.
- 3 drops peppermint/spearmint, 1 drop black pepper, 2 drops juniper and 2 drops cedarwood for the solar plexus chakra.
- 3 drops roman chamomile, 2 drops cypress, 2 drops lemongrass and 3 drops peppermint for the throat chakra.
- 2 drops each of vetiver and patchouli and 3 drops each of spikenard and frankincense/myrrh for the root chakra.
- 3 drops each of sandalwood, neroli and lavender, 2 drops each of jasmine and frankincense for the crown chakra.
- 1 drop rosemary, 2 drops lavender and 3 drops frankincense for the third eye chakra.
- 2 drops each of sandalwood and jasmine and 1 drop red spikenard for overall chakra balancing
Mix the oils and store in a dark glass bottle. Dilute by adding 6-8 drops of the blend to 10 ml carrier oil. Use a roller-ball cap bottle to store the diluted blend. Apply on the seat of the chakra except for the root chakra.
Essential oil blends should not be used on or around the genitals. So, for the mooladhara chakra, use the blend on the soles of your feet.
3. The halo effect blends
This technique is specifically meant to improve focus and concentration and help you to free your mind of all other thoughts. Here are 2 recipes:
- In winter use – 1 drop rosemary, 2 drops ginger and 1 drop frankincense added to a teaspoon of carrier oil.
- In summer use – 1 drop rosemary, 2 drops peppermint and 1 drop frankincense added to a teaspoon of carrier oil.
Make the blend and store in a rollerball head bottle. Use all along the hairline, covering the entire length of your forehead and going behind your ears to reach the back of the neck. Start meditating after the application of the oil.
There you have it, everything “essential oils” related you need for your yoga and meditation sessions to take care of your temple and nourish your soul.
How about you – feel like sharing your favorite blend(s) you use during your yoga and meditation practice? Simply hit me back with a message!