About 2 years ago, I went for an Aromatherapy Yoga class as I was curious about what I could learn from the class. It was a 1-hour class, where students lie in Shavasana pose, with warm bean bags doused with lavender placed on our eyes. The smell of lavender calmed us and we listened to the teacher’s voice while drifting in and out of consciousness, in between the state of sleeping and awake. Halfway I fell asleep fully and when I woke up, I couldn’t hear the teacher talking anymore. Panicking, I thought the class went on without me and so I sat up, removing the beanbag only to realise that the entire class was still in Shavasana and the teacher was staring at me. I couldn’t go back to the meditative state I was in after that and so I waited for the entire class to end, which eventually did after what felt like an eternity. Back then, I didn’t know what Yoga Nidra classes were and I thought it was a strange but calming class. I only found out a few months later that the class was a Yoga Nidra class, coupled with aromatherapy to help you relax in a meditative state. So this makes me wonder, how does aromatherapy help with meditation?
What is Meditation and Aromatherapy?
Meditation is defined as an action of meditating; the practice of contemplation and reflection. It is entering a state where your thoughts are not wandering, your mind is silent and every experience encountered is a new one. A way to enhance your meditation practice is through the use of essential oils in aromatherapy, which helps to ground and centre you as you focus on the smell, bringing yourself to the present.
Aromatherapy is a holistic treatment that uses natural plant extracts i.e. essential oils to promote health. Aromatherapy works through the sense of smell and skin absorption. Each essential oil has their unique healing properties, uses and effects and when you combine essential oils, it creates a blend that brings about more benefits.
Benefits of Aromatherapy
- Clears the mind and increases focus
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Improves sleep quality
- Treat headaches and migraines
- Soothe muscle aches and sore joints
- Improve digestion
- Reduces negative self-talk and encourage feelings of positivity and optimism
How does this happens?
As we breathe in the scent of essential oils in Aromatherapy, the smell receptors in our nose are stimulated, which sends messages through the nervous system to the limbic system, which is part of the brain that controls emotions. The scent also stimulates our central nervous system, which transmits signals to our glands and muscles, soothing our nerves and helping us to relax.
How to use Aromatherapy in Meditation
- Diffusers or room sprays
Diffusers and room sprays are simply ways of using essential oils as it refreshes the air and creates a soothing atmosphere, ready for meditation. Dilute the essential oils with a carrier oil like grapeseed oil before adding it to the diffuser or room spray to create the aromatic experience, to calm you down and help you stay focused on relaxing during meditation.
- Burning incense stick or candles
Sometimes, candles and incense sticks do the trick as well. Simply burn the candle or incense stick and leave it lighted throughout your practice. The smell will disperse in the air and creates a nicely scented, comfortable and restorative environment for your practice.
- Topical Application
Another simple way would be through utilising roll-ons, by applying them directly to the body to enhance the meditative experience. I have a Lavender essential roll-on gifted from a friend. The essential oil is already diluted which makes it safe to apply directly to the body. I apply them on pulse points like my wrists and temples, behind the ears and the base of the throat. As you inhale, the scent fills your nose, making you feel comfortable and relaxed.
Side Effects of Essential Oils
Essential oils should only be for external use, pregnant or nursing women should check in with their doctors if it is safe for them to use essential oils. Essential oils may cause side effects such as rashes, redness, burning on skin, headache, dizziness or nausea, therefore it is important to ensure that you have consulted a medical professional before you start using essential oils in your practice.
Popular types of essential oils for meditation
There are so many essential oils out there, having attended a DIY essential oil making workshop, I will share about some of the essential oils that I like.
This is one of my favourite scents! Lavender comes from the plant Lavandula Angustifolia and this oil is known for its calming properties as it promotes relaxation through the release of anxiety, sadness and negative sentiments. With its fresh and floral smell, it promotes sleep quality and helps to enhance focus as well as encourages one to have compassion and gentleness towards others.
Sandalwood oil comes from the wood and roots of Santalum album, an East Indian sandalwood tree. Sandalwood has a woodsy and warm note, which calms and soothes frayed emotions. It is used to enhance the heart chakra, to inspire emotional openness and cleanse the mind of negative thoughts and sentiments that may cloud mental clarity.
Peppermint oil is extracted from the leaves of the peppermint plant. With the clean, cool, minty, refreshing smell, it clears the nasal passageway, relieving congestion and helping us to breath easily. It reduces nervous feelings and boosts energy, enhancing mental focus. The scent of oil also relieves headaches, suppresses appetite and reduces nausea. 1-2 drops of peppermint oil is sufficient as the scent can be overpowering.
The Meditation Process
- Create a comfortable and quiet ambience for meditation.
- Dim the lights and play calming music or a meditation soundtrack.
- Select your favourite scent and use it in the diffuser / candle / incense stick / roll-on form.
- Come into a comfortable sitting or lying down position.
- For those who are sitting and are using burning candles or incense sticks, you have the option of watching the trails of smoke curling and wafting into the air. Focus on the smoke, be immersed in the smoke patterns and let it take you along as it dances in the air. Thoughts may enter your head because the mind is always moving, however, concentrate on the smoke and stay in the present moment, allowing the thoughts to dance away with the trailing smoke in the air.
- For those who are lying down or using roll-ons, close your eyes and listen to the calming music, inhaling the scent of the essential oil around you. Feel yourself relax and allow the thoughts to fade away as the dim lights, music and smell bring you deeper into the mat.
The main idea of meditation is to stay focused in the present moment, to let your mind quieten down and to feel at peace with yourself. However this is often easier said than done, so whenever you notice your thoughts creeping in, allow them in but do not deepen the thoughts. Slowly let them go and redirect the focus to the present, on your breath and let the scent help you relax further. Share with me your recommendations on other essential oils that smell good and have a lot of benefits, I love to try them. Sending you peace and light. (: