Using aromas to find balance and heal
Aromatherapy is the use of incense, flower essences and essential oils to promote the healing process. It is an important therapy of Ayurveda, mainly used for balancing the mind, but it can also be useful for alleviating physical symptoms.
For thousands of years, aromas have been used by many cultures to relax the mind and support meditation. It enhances physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
Essential oils are naturally occurring aromatic compounds that are derived from petals of flowers, rind of fruit, resin of trees, seeds, barks, stems, roots and leaves of plants. They can be inhaled or applied on the skin.
Our sense of smell is 10,000 times more powerful than any other sense. A smell can often trigger a memory of a person or event, good or bad. It is the strongest link to the subconscious and unconscious mind.
When you inhale essential oils, the scent is carried by the olfactory nerve cells in the nose to the olfactory system, which sends the aroma to the limbic system in the brain. The limbic system is responsible for emotions and emotional behavior.
The use of essential oils releases mood enhancers like serotonin and endorphins. Some aromas promote calm while others help reduce negative thoughts and emotions.
From a scientific perspective, oxidative damage that is caused by free radicals is the main cause of ageing, wrinkling to the skin, DNA damage, cancer, heart disease and even premature death. Antioxidants stop or delay oxidative damage to cells. They are naturally found in many foods and plants, and they clean up free radicals in our cells before they become harmful.
Essential oils have much higher antioxidant properties than foods. They strengthen the immune system, and they are antiviral, antiseptic, antifungal, antibacterial and remove toxins from the environment.
They help clear negative emotions and astral pathogens (including negative thoughts from others). They can increase positive emotions like joy, love, and happiness. They can strengthen our motivation, willpower and creativity. Essential oils also improve our capacity for reception, awareness and discernment.
From an Ayurvedic perspective essential oils contain a large amount of Prana or life force. Prana helps to open and cleanse the bodily channels thereby improving circulation in the nervous system, senses and the mind. Ayurveda believes that all diseases involve some disturbance or obstruction in the life force (Prana) and aromas may help remove these blockages.
Pharmaceutical drugs may relieve symptoms of a disease very quickly but they are mostly toxic to the body and can weaken an already compromised immune system.
Essential oils are multi-dimensional and have innate intelligence to restore the body to a state of balance. When the body’s condition changes, oils adapt, while drugs do not.
Oil molecules send information to cells and cleanse receptor sites so that they bring the body back to normal function. Pharmaceutical drugs feed misinformation to receptor cells to provide temporary relief without any real healing.
Serious ailments and imbalances in the body often have taken many months or even years to manifest as physical symptoms. Essential oils can be used to heal the underlying problem and can thus reduce or eliminate the symptoms.
However, such healing may take weeks or even months depending on how severe the problem is. Therefore patience and perseverance is important.
I am not suggesting that you stop using any prescribed medication as they have their place and can save lives. I am merely presenting an alternative possibility for balancing and healing the body and mind.
There are usually various causes of specific ailments or conditions, but often it is a combination of wrong diet, wrong lifestyle, stress and lack of exercise. Eating well-balanced, freshly cooked, nutritious meals, reducing stress levels and exercising regularly contribute significantly to promoting and preserving health.
Nonetheless, the sensible use of essential oils will certainly help with any complaints or conditions you may have. They are accessible, effective and versatile.
Like any therapy or herbal formulation, it is important to the use the appropriate essential oils for your ailment, in the right dosages. Only pure, grade A (therapeutic grade) oils should be used if you want to be sure that the oils you are using have the desired therapeutic effect.
If essential oils meet this criteria, only then are they safe to be added to base or carrier oils for massage, mixed with bathwater, evaporated in aroma burners, applied topically to the body or inhaled from diffusers. Adulterated or synthetic oils will not have the desired results and may even be harmful.
Essential oils should not be applied undiluted directly to the skin. They should also not be consumed orally, because they are so concentrated that ingesting them can shock the system, which may lead to diarrhea, vomiting, fever or even death. Since they absorb very easily and are detected on the tongue after 20 minutes of being applied to the feet, there is no need to ingest them.
Diluting essential oils
Carrier oils are base oils used to dilute essential oils before applying them to your skin. You must dilute essential oils before applying to your skin. They may irritate the skin if not diluted.
Dilute essential oils in organic (carrier) oils like coconut oil (balancing pitta), cold pressed sesame oil (balancing vata), almond oil (balancing vata) or mustard oil (balancing kapha). Never dilute essential oils with water for skin application.
A simple guide for dilution is two percent essential oil and 98% carrier oil for healthy adults. This is about 12 drops of essential oil to 30ml of carrier oil. For children, elderly, pregnant women, those sensitive to fragrances or those with compromised immune system, one percent dilution is advised. This is approximately 6 drops of essential oil to 30ml of carrier oil.
Another way to dilute essential oils is by adding a few drops to water in a diffuser or to your bathtub. Using diffusers is great way to naturally neutralize odors in the home or to get the benefits of inhalation in low concentrations. You may use the same guidelines for diffusion as stated above for mixing with carrier oils.
Therapeutic effects of some commonly used essential oils
Used for colds and flu, migraines, insect bites, mental fatigue, scanty periods, relaxing muscles, and chest infections. Apply diluted to the temples, crown, forehead, heart and navel. Balances Vata and Kapha.
It is good for preventing hair loss, insomnia, skin problems, dandruff, nervous tension and anxiety. Apply diluted to problem areas. 12 drops can be added to 30ml of apple cider vinegar to be used as an anti-dandruff shampoo. Balances Vata.
It is effective for strengthening and improving circulation. It is used for coughs, colds, bronchitis, sinus congestion, exhaustion and indigestion. Apply diluted to the feet, ankles and wrists. Balances Vata and Kapha.
Clove oil is a powerful pain reliever. It is used for respiratory infections, toothache, infected wounds, warts, sores, dermatitis, diarrhea, acne, headaches, nausea, and insect bites. Use diluted with sesame oil as a mouth gargle for toothache or apply diluted to problem areas. Balances Vata (when combined with a sweeter oil) and Kapha. It is very heating and has a rajasic quality.
Used for healing wounds, as an insect repellent, for asthma, coughs, diabetes, herpes, lung problems, headaches, and aches or pains. Apply diluted on location or use for steam inhalation. Balances Kapha and Vata.
Known as the king of essential oils, it has many uses and benefits. As a salve, it is used to beautify and rejuvenate the skin. It promotes cellular health and immunity. It is also used for asthma, allergies, insect bites, bronchitis, depression, ulcers, stress, respiratory infections, headaches, herpes, inflammation, and warts. It promotes feelings of satisfaction, peace, and relaxation. Apply diluted to problem areas or diffuse. Balances Vata and Kapha.
It is a strong antiseptic and used for burns, wounds, acne, nervous disorders, sunburn, allergies, headaches, indigestion, insomnia, high blood pressure, nausea, menstrual pains, scarring, asthma, insect bites, infections, hives and depression. Apply diluted to problem areas or diffuse. Balances Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Lemon oil contains up to 70% d-limonene, which is a powerful cancer fighting antioxidant and liver cleanser. It also supports clarity of thoughts and improves memory. It is used for throat infections, boosting immune functioning and respiratory problems. It is a disinfectant, stain remover and expels intestinal parasites. It can also be used to alkalize the body. Apply to problem areas diluted with coconut oil. Balances Pitta and Vata.
Good for improving digestion, nausea, respiratory problems, improving concentration, itchy skin, asthma, candida, diarrhea, heartburn, halitosis, hemorrhoids, menstrual pains, headaches, motion sickness, tumors, shock, throat infections, varicose veins, skin problems and toothache. Apply diluted to the stomach, feet, temples and tongue (for increased concentration, alertness and memory). Balances Pitta.
Used for improving concentration, arthritis/rheumatism, liver cleansing, menstrual pains, asthma, digestive problems, breathing difficulties and nervous tension. May be used for steam inhalations or applied diluted to problem areas. Balances Kapha and Vata.
Sandalwood cools and calms the body and mind. It is good for nervous disorders, circulation problems, insomnia, fevers, and inflammation, enhancing meditation, infections, depression and skin problems. Apply diluted to problem areas. Balances Pitta and Vata.
Diffusing essential oils for therapeutic purposes
Essential oils are powerful remedies and should only be applied after first consulting with a qualified herbal practitioner or aromatherapist, especially in pregnancy or if taking any medication.
Eucalyptus should not be used around young children.
Women trying to conceive or pregnant (especially in the first trimester) should not use peppermint, camphor, sage, rosemary, rose, basil, clary sage, juniper berry, jasmine, nutmeg. If you have a history of miscarriage, do not use any essential oils at any time during your pregnancy since it is better to be on the safe side.
Frawley, D., (1996) “Ayurveda and the Mind: The healing of consciousness”
Cavanagh, D., & Willis C., (2004) “Everyday Ayurveda: A practical guide to healthy living”
Frawley, D., Lad, V., (2001) “ The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine”