What are Essential Oils? A Beginner's Guide to Aromatherapy in Yoga

Did you know that the human nose can detect over 1 trillion different smells?

As the only place where the central nervous system opens to the environment, the nose picks up smell faster than the eyes sense light or the ears hear sound. Once a smell reaches the brain, it has a profound impact on emotion, memory, and mood.

Aromatherapy is a science that taps into the power of smell to promote health, healing, and long-term well-being. These positive influences are primarily induced by the smell of essential oils.

Here’s an overview of what essential oils are, how they work in aromatherapy, and why these natural scents can enhance a yoga practice for deep, long-lasting healing.

What Are Essential Oils?

In a chemical sense, essential oils are not really oils at all. “Essential oils are pure essences produced through distillation from leaves, wood, bark, flowers, fruit peels, or seeds of the botanical world,” says Debbi Quinn, R.A., and Full Circle Yoga School facilitator.

In addition to giving each plant its characteristic fragrance, essential oils have antibiotic qualities that protect the plant or provide other functions due to their concentration of healing chemical constituents. Essentially, they capture a plant’s essence.

When we breathe in an essential oil through our nose, the olfactory cells send nerve impulses to the limbic area of the brain, which is associated with emotion, memory, and survival instincts. Stimulating the limbic brain with essential oils can stir old feelings and bring back long-forgotten memories to change a person’s mood. Aromatherapy harnesses the powerful impacts of essential oils to promote a variety of healing states.

In the same way that yoga helps release old emotions and promote positive energy flow in the body, aromatherapy seeks to restore bodily balance in a natural and healthy way.

How to Use Essential Oils in Yoga

Aromatherapy is an important part of yoga because it enhances the relaxation, focus, and ease needed for a therapeutic yoga practice. It makes yoga even more effective by adding deeper emotion and feeling to the poses being engaged.

“Aromatherapy achieves its effects through the application and diffusion of pure plant essential oils that influence physical wellness, a positive emotional state and mental clarity. Combining aromatherapy with yoga can powerfully enhance the yoga journey,” says Quinn.

She adds that it’s important to understand the botanical origin of essential oils in order to properly pair them with yoga poses. For example, sandalwood comes from a tree, so it is a grounding oil that can help you feel rooted in your decisions. In contrast, peppermint oil is from a plant and is known to be invigorating, making it great for inspiration and energy.

How to Use Essential Oils Safely