Before I slipped into my first sun salutation yesterday morning, Urban Zen yoga instructor Menna Olvera Feder asked the group to breathe in the scent from a small cotton pad dipped in essential oils that had been placed on our mats before the start of class. It was a combination of peppermint and frankincense, and the odor was intoxicating. When I entered the room, I had been feeling tired and just kind of meh (it was first thing in the morning, the weather was gross—you know what I mean), but one quick inhale of the unassuming square of cotton had me perked up and ready to focus.
And, it seems, that was Feder's plan all along. "Both the oils have benefits for the brain because they contain sesquiterpenes which stimulate the mind," she says. "I was looking to energize you for the morning, so I used peppermint and to create a mindful state of being, which is why I selected frankincense." Both oils tout a ton of feel-good properties on their own, and when they're combined, they become even stronger. Peppermint, she says, increases mental accuracy and is uplifting and invigorating. Frankincense, on the other hand, anecdotally increases spiritual awareness and promotes meditation.
After breathing in the EOs ahead of what I can honestly call one of the most focused and enjoyable yoga classes I've ever taken, I can confirm first-hand that it really does work. Feder explained that she wanted the class to leave feeling "grounded yet uplifted so we could make choices, decisions and be creative with a sense of mindfulness or presence," and let me tell you—she got the job done. I walked out of there feeling so, so much better (and more mentally astute) than when I'd walked in.
Why using an essential oil for yoga can be an effective addition to your practice
Increased focus isn't the only reason why you might want to sniff an essential oil before hitting the mat: The practice can help with other aspects of your, well, practice, too. In fact, they can help get you in the mood in a number of different ways. "By using essential oils before your practice, you begin to enter a space of being present, focused on yourself, and focused on your body," says Nora Minno, RD CPT, who works closely with Aromatherapy Associates. She explains that this process will give you a few minutes to check in with your mind/body/spirit, and set an intention for your flow before it begins.
Beyond that, though, essential oils happen to have active compounds that can mentally and physically prepare you for yoga on a biological level. " Essential oils such as Vertivert can calm an overactive mind, while essential oils such as black pepper oil can have physical benefits such as promoting circulation and reducing inflammation," says Minno. While peppermint and frankincense can help you keep your practice more focused (as I now know for sure), try these scent combinations if you're looking for a different sort of experience in the yoga studio:
1. To relax: 'When you're looking to relax, look no further than Wild Chamomile essential oil," says Minno. "It has long been known for its calming effects and its support in releasing muscle tension. Also, Patchouli Essential oil has been used for generations to promote a sense of calm, grounding, and peace, which would make it a perfect choice for a relaxing yoga practice." Another one she loves? Black pepper oil, which is great for promoting circulation and reducing inflammation. It can be especially effective when combined with lavender and ginger oils as the trio together can have a physical de-stressing effect.
2. To invigorate: If you want to amp yourself up before a particularly power-packed yoga class, Minno suggests sniffing a combination of Neroli, which can be used as an anti-depressant to calm the mind, and grapefruit oil, which aids circulation and also give you a boost of energy. In fact, she keeps the Aromatherapy Associates Revive Morning Roller Ball ($29) in her own yoga bag for exactly that reason. "Another essential oil that is great for a strengthening yoga workout is cardamom, which is known for its 'grounding' effects and may help you feel more at peace with certain emotions as well as focused and invigorated due to its stimulant properties," says Minno, adding that Frankincense can be useful for strengthening practices, too, as can Clary Sage.
No matter what blend you pick, the combination of yoga and essential oils is pretty much guaranteed to make your savasana that much more satisfying when class is over.
Updated on August 29, 2019
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