Aromatherapy is a modern term for an ancient healing practice that has been used for thousands of years.
The original Ayurvedic texts describe how the burning of herbs, flowers, barks, and resins not only enhances our consciousness but also benefits the healing process with the use of medicated oils, salves, and poultices.
Modern aromatherapy practice uses highly concentrated oil extracts known as essential oils that are distilled from flowers, fruits, herbs, grasses, and trees.
During distillation, the plant material is placed inside a still. Steam slowly breaks through the plant material, extracting its volatile constituents. These constituents rise upward through a connecting pipe leading into a condenser. The condenser cools the rising vapor back into liquid form, which is collected in a vessel below the condenser. Because water and oil do not mix, the water is siphoned off, leaving the oil.
When we use essential oils, the oils’ tiny molecules enter our bloodstream, initiating the production of hormones that control our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual functions and influence our consciousness, memories, desires, and creativity. Many people experience powerful results using these oils—including relief from migraine headaches, joint pain, skin rashes, anxiety, insomnia, and many other physical and emotional conditions.
The ancient science of Ayurveda is based on the five elements (ether, air, fire, water, and earth), which are found in our universe and are understood by the qualities (hot-cold, heavy-light, dry-wet, mobile-stable, etc.) that surround us in our environments.
These elements and their qualities explain the three forces that make up our individual and unique constitutions known as the doshas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha). The doshas are constantly changing based on the change of season, our physical locations and environments, what we ingest, and our mental, emotional, and spiritual balance.
The goal in Ayurveda is to keep our constitutions in balance, and Ayurveda uses the five senses and their related therapies (ether-hearing, air-touch, fire-sight, water-taste, and earth-smell) to make this happen. Some of the therapies include food, herbs, sound, massage, yoga (including pranayama), color, and aromatherapy.
During the winter season, when the Kapha dosha (earth and water) is at its peak, its inherent qualities—cold, wet, heavy, and immobility—are increased, so you incorporate opposite attributes of warmth, dryness, lightness, and movement. There are many choices of essential oils that have these qualities, but this season I have chosen clove, camphor, and anise to use in my practice.
When considering an aromatherapy practice, it is best to consult a professional to help you make a decision on which oils are best and how to use them safely. These concentrated oils are potent, and caution should be used when applying them directly to the skin. Below are the most popular avenues for using aromatherapy and adding essential oils into your daily practice, “Dinacharya.”
The use of aromatic flowers, herbs, and candles in your home. Mixing essential oils with other oils (carrier oils) for use as a massage oil. Introducing essential oils into your bath water or using them in the shower with a towel.
Using a tabletop diffuser, which distributes the oil into your environment.Using an aromatherapy mister bottle, which is portable.
Below is additional information based on each of the doshas, which might help make a decision on which oils to consider in your daily or seasonal practice.
Vata Dosha – (Air & Ether)
The Vata nature is cold, dry, quick, and irregular and is balanced by using sweet, warming, and grounding scents. Essential oils to use would be anise, basil, bergamot, cinnamon, clary sage, eucalyptus, frankincense, ginger, lavender, lemongrass, myrrh, neroli, patchouli, sandalwood, sweet orange, tangerine, thyme, and vanilla.
Carrier oils: sesame, avocado, and castor oil.
Pitta Dosha – (Fire & Water)
The Pitta nature is hot, sharp, and intense and is balanced by using cooling, soothing, and calming botanicals. Essential oils to use would be chamomile, clary sage, fennel, jasmine, lavender, lemon balm, lime, mandarin, neroli, peppermint, rose, sandalwood, tea tree, vanilla, and wintergreen.
Carrier oils: sunflower, coconut, and olive oli\il.
Kapha Dosha – (Water & Earth)
The Kapha nature is cool, heavy, and slow and is balanced by using stimulating, warming, and cleansing aromatics. Essential oils to use would be anise, basil, bergamot, camphor, cedarwood, cinnamon, clary sage, clove, eucalyptus, frankincense, ginger, grapefruit, neroli, myrrh, rosemary, sage, sweet orange, and wintergreen.
Carrier oils: mustard seed, almond, and grape seed oil.