Practitioners of yoga asana, of any style, are likely to be tuned into the world of alternative medicine. While many may have heard of aromatherapy and essential oils however, few are aware of what a fantastic healing synergy the oils have for the yogi’s body and mind. From relieving superficial soreness and healing deeper injuries, to boosting immune system function and warding off illness, to more esoteric actions of releasing emotional blocks and even stimulating the “third eye” — essential oils truly have much to offer the yogi of the West. In this first of a two part series, we’ll look at effectively managing pain and injuries to the soft tissues of the body.
Whether one has just started a practice of yoga asana, or has been practicing for twenty years, injuries can occur. Of course, the longer one has been practicing, the less likely this injury will occur “on the mat”. Either way, we’d really like to get back into the swing of our practice, and our lives, as quickly as possible. Essential oils actually have proven therapeutic effects (see, for example, pubmed.gov and search for “essential oil inflammation”) for the healing of muscles, tendons and ligaments. Effective blends will combine inflammation reduction, pain relief, and regenerative actions all in one formula.
The first step in healing injuries is reducing inflammation. That’s why, way back when, we’d apply ice to an injury. Ibuprofen is a powerful inflammation reducer, and can actually help speed healing in some cases (though it’s really not so great for the liver). Several essential oils are highly effective at reducing inflammation. Blue chamomile and ginger are two outstanding oils, particularly when distilled using the high-tech super-critical CO2 extraction process. This low-temperature distillation extracts a greater array of healing molecules from the plant into the oil (Note: this process does not make the best oil for every plant or every application — it produces simply a different product).
Next we’ll include an oil or two to stimulate tissue regeneration. Lavender is a very well known oil, which actually began the modern aroma-medicine movement because of its inflammation-reducing, regeneration-stimulating actions. (A quick digression: a chemist burned his hand and submersed it in the first liquid he could find, which was a container of lavender essential oil. His hand healed so fast that he wrote a book about it, in French, called “Aromatherapie”). Helichrysum essential oil is even more potent than lavender, yet some may find its high cost prohibitive (it’s distilled from tiny yellow flowers from plants growing only in certain climates in Europe).
An effective blend for stimulating healing, and reducing inflammation and pain can be made following this recipe. This is for one ounce of total formula, and you can simply multiply up your numbers to make more. It is easiest to make your formula in a bottle of known size, like a one-ounce glass eye dropper tincture bottle. In this, add three to five milliliters of helichrysum, and one milliliter each of ginger and chamomile. You may also consider adding one milliliter of frankincense for additional anti-inflammatory, regenerative support. Then simply top your bottle off with any carrier oil and there you go! Simply massage-in a few times a day into the affected areas of your body.
If helichrysum should prove too costly, don’t despair! Other oils have been proven effective for our needs. Plai oil was the subject of research where the participants had undergone knee surgery. It was shown that plai used undiluted, or in a 10% concentration in a carrier significantly reduced both pain and inflammation. Wintergreen and birch bark essential oils are chemically equivalent to “liquid aspirin”. The should be used with awareness for this reason, using only as much and as frequently as necessary to achieve your desired result. With this in mind, you may have excellent success with a blend of 3ml plai (that’s 3ml’s in each ounce of total formula, there being 30 milliliters in an ounce — and approximately 25 drops of essential oil in one milliliter from a standard glass eyedropper), 3ml sweet birch (or wintergreen) and 1ml each ginger carbon dioxide extract oil and lavender essential oil in 22ml of sesame oil. To simplify blending, you can add all the essential oils to an empty bottle and top it off with your base oil when the essential oils have been measured in.
When you start venturing into medical aromatherapy, you find over 100 essential oils commonly in use today. The oils mentioned here are among the most potent for inflammation reduction and regeneration of the deeper tissues (different ones would be selected for the skin). The selection of oils used for massage is much more broad — you’ll see sweet marjoram, eucalyptus, peppermint, cypress and others in blends to help invigorate, flush, warm or cool joints and muscles — in both pre- and post-movement formulas. The curious yogi will find themselves in a whole new world of natural therapeutics, perfectly suited to complement their practices. Experiment and enjoy the process — you’re sure to find oils and blends that support your practice. In parts two and three of this article, we’ll look at oils for immune support and cleansing, and more esoteric applications such as releasing emotional knots, enhancing meditation, and more.
More information on essential oil news and research is available through Ananda Aromatherapy – an online source for therapeutic grade essential oils.