“We embody all
the elements: earth, air, fire, water, space. Through this we are the living embodiment of all of existence.”
– Anne Van de Water, Yoga Instructor.
Essential oils, used in association with yoga, can awaken our connection to the five elements and help us embody our true nature. By fully connecting to the elements in our bodies and in our lives, we can connect to the immense power, peace, and truth found within them.
“Our true nature is enlightened consciousness and we all have access to higher wisdom and Spiritual guidance. Essential oils help to clear away the stresses and tensions that can distract us from experiencing higher spiritual realities and help us to invoke the highest levels of Spiritual consciousness”
.-Anne Van de Water, Yoga Instructor
What are the 5 Elements and what do they have to do with Yoga?
Everything in nature is made up of five basic elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space. They make up our ecology and our being. Understanding of the five elements in our body, mind and spirit helps us understand and move gracefully with the flow and balance of the natural world. Yoga helps us explore the 5 elements physically, mentally, and spiritually, reconnecting us to a deep, intuitive awareness of nature – our very being. Through consciously working with the elements, it is possible to learn how to attain and maintain health and also how to consciously enjoy life.
All yoga practices work on the five elements, whether we know it or not. Knowledge of the elements (tattwas) is the basis of Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine. Many other cultures integrate a concept of the 5 Elements, such as the Celtic tradition and the Chinese (although slightly different: wood, fire, earth, metal and water).
Using Essential Oils in Yoga to Awaken the 5 Elements
Yoga touches upon the health and well-being of the entire body, mind and spirit. The familiar bending and stretching exercises (or asanas) are just one of many interrelated practices that connect and align all aspects of the practitioner into a state of complete balance. Like yoga, the practice of aromatherapy strives to support the well-being of body, mind and spirit. Aromatherapy achieves its effects through the application and diffusion of pure plant essential oils. Essential oils connect us to the wisdom, nourishment, and healing of the plant world. The simple act of using botanicals helps us pay attention to our life practices, our health, and our relationships. The transformational power of botanicals can help support the journey to our inner wisdom and wholeness. Plants have been used for centuries to help open awareness, evoke the sacred, bring joy, heal the body and uplift the spirit. Combining aromatherapy with yoga can powerfully enhance the yoga journey.
“Scent denotes certain things, so we use scent to set a mood, energy, and space,” explains Terri Kennedy, PhD, founder of Ta Yoga in New York City and Chair of the Board of Directors of Yoga Alliance. “Incense was and is still used in classes because scent often has a relaxing effect,” says Dr. Jeff Migdow, MD, who directs Prana Yoga teacher training programs through the Open Center in New York and is a holistic physician at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts. “People relax more, thus stretch more fully and move more deeply; many scents also have a meditative effect.”
Historically yoga and aromatherapy were tied together in ancient India. Using sandalwood oil as a base, Indians added various floral fragrances to create natural perfumes called attars. Early yogis prized these oils for their ability to calm the mind and enhance meditation. Attars were once considered sacred, and only the wealthy were permitted to use them in the temples. Over time, attars became more widely available to the general public.
Scent or aroma through the use of appropriate essential oils in association with our yoga practice can help activate, clear, and cleanse our energy flow on every level, allowing us to fully connect to the elements. For example, working in yoga Chakra-by-Chakra or element-by-element, we are working with, and helping to express, the elements. When working with the Earth element and the First Chakra, we can use specific scents (essential oils) to promote and provoke the experience of grounding. The same is true for the qualities of air, fire, water, and space. There are essential oils that are related to each Chakra and element. While working through the Chakras and elements, the yoga instructor or practitioner anoints the Chakra with the appropriate essential oil or diffuses the aroma into the air, while talking about or meditating on the element helping to set clear intentions. For example, when we focus on the Earth element and the first Chakra, we anoint with or diffuse an essential oil that helps balance the earth energy. We also talk about or meditate on earth-based wisdom and earth-based living to help set clear intentions in our minds. In our yoga practice, we can either focus on all the elements and chakras, or we can emphasize one and work deeply in that area.
In today’s yoga practice, there are three key methods of essential oil application:
* Diffusing – aromatic essential oils are evaporated into the yoga practice space to create an inspiring/motivating mood and to enhance breathing. Diffuse essential oils with a candle lamp or diffuser. Candle lamp diffusers consist of a bowl of water over a small tea light-style candle. Just add six to 10 drops of essential oil to a few tablespoons of water in the bowl, and then light the candle. The flickering flame, coupled with the gentle release of aroma, will create a potent ambience during your yoga practice. You can also use an electric diffuser.
* Purifying – essential oils are applied as powerful cleansing agents to wipe down and deodorize the yoga mat or used to clear the atmosphere. Create a purifying mist that doubles as a yoga mat cleanser and room deodorizing spray. Combine 12 drops of lemon, grapefruit, or sweet orange, six drops of tea tree and six drops of lavender with 4 ounces of water in a spray bottle. Shake the bottle and mist over your mat and wipe it clean with a soft towel before and after each use. Or use the spray to mist the air of your practice space to create a clean, motivationally aromatic atmosphere.
*Anointing – essential oils are used in applications of massage to enhance body stretching and recovery or worn as a scent to support visualization, meditation and focus. Blend one or more versions of your own signature massage/anointing oil formulas to support each of the elements and chakras. Start with 4 tablespoons of a light, non-greasy carrier oil such as jojoba oil and then add 12 drops of essential oils. You can customize the blend of essential oils to create several element and chakra centered benefits as described below. Use a roll-on applicator for ease in application and to keep oils off of hands. Before applying any essential oil to the skin, test a small amount first. Discontinue using any essential oil that causes a reaction on your skin. Essential oils are for external use but can be taken internally under the guidance of a trained medical practitioner.
- Some individuals have sensitivities to scents. We need to be aware of this and make sure participants in yoga classes are willing and able to participate with the use of essential oils and aromatherapy.
A Bit about Chakras
We all have an intuitive sense about what energy is and how it feels in our body. We can experience the sensation of energy traveling through our body. When we are really excited or feeling creative we get a different energetic feeling in our body than when we are sitting quietly in meditation. When we are anxious or tense, we can feel the energy flow get stuck. We experience this energy differently in different parts of our body. For example, when I feel really anxious, I have a difficult time feeling the energy flow below my belly button. When I am really calm in mediation, I feel the energy in my belly. When I experience a sense of beauty, I feel energy in my heart and shoulders. This is also where I feel the energy of open-hearted love.
Chakras are energy centers in different parts of our body. These energy centers respond to different aspects of our environment and life situations. Chakras are more subtle than the physical body but their state of balance will reflect in our physical and mental health. Each chakra responds to different essential oils in different ways. By placing our attention on different chakras, we can unwind energy blocks or create energy flow into that chakra. By pointing our attention to the chakras and the energy flowing through them, we can experience consciousness more profoundly and with more purpose.
In Tibetan and eastern thought there is Prana, Nadi, and Bindu. These aren’t physical aspects of the body but aspects of the subtle body. Prana is the “life force”. In the west we equate it with breath but it is not exactly that. It is something more subtle perhaps the “subtle breath”. Nadis are the pathway throughout the body that the prana flows through. The nadis are somewhat analogous to the acupuncture meridians. The chakras are the nexus where the nadis connect and then run out again. Bindu are “drops” or basic energies of the subtle body. The nadis can get twisted and restricted so that the prana does not flow and the result is physical sickness, neurosis etc. Yoga was developed so that the practitioner could untwist and clear the nadis so that the prana could flow once again. The chakras also get blocked and yoga helps clear them as well.
Please read safety information below before using any essential oils or practicing any of the recommendations in this article or the accompanying chart.
Connecting Essential Oils and Yoga with the 5 Elements and Chakras
The Earth Element (Prithvi)
The Earth element in the body refers to our connection with the earth, the place where the raw elements for our bodies come from. Earth forms solid structures, such as bones, flesh, skin, tissues, and hair. The Earth is our home and our mother. We are literally born of the earth. The Earth symbolizes wisdom, as well as the magic, mystery, and majesty of life.
The Earth element is represented in the first/root chakra of the body.
The First or Root Chakra (Muladhara)
The first chakra is called the root or base chakra and is located at the base of the spine a little beyond the tip of the coccyx. In most philosophies it is associated with the color red, is symbolized by a lotus with four petals, and connects to the element of earth. The seed syllable is Lam (pronounced lum). Its associated body parts correspond to all solid parts like the bones, teeth, etc and to the lower genitalia.
The root chakra is how we connect to the physical world. We connect to the Mother Earth through the base chakra and in this connection feel a love for the earth. We can experience her as an elemental force, since it is through the earth that we can grow food, build shelter, and thus are able to survive. Just as the earth is a foundation for us to build on, so the root chakra becomes a foundation for all the other chakras to build on.
This chakra deals with tribal consciousness and the understanding that one needs to belong in order to survive. Human beings began as tribal people. Tribes were created as a community primarily for safety and well-being. In a tribal order, we knew we would be cared for, nurtured and supported. The beliefs of the group became the beliefs of the individual and were rooted deeply in the first chakra. These beliefs became so established that we instinctually acted from this place of tribal principle, rather than thinking and acting as an individual. If we chose to be separate, the tribe might reject us, leaving us to fend for ourselves. This could lead to a sense of danger and loneliness, causing an imbalance to the stability of the root chakra. The root chakra when imbalanced also leads to insecurity and a materialistic greediness. If rejected by the tribe, we would then need to gather up and hold tight to as many possessions as we could, since our support system through the tribe would no longer exist. Our actions would revolve around selfishly satisfying our personal needs, hoarding compulsively so we would never be without. We would feel threatened, angry and victimized, which ultimately would take a toll on our health leading to lethargy and depression, illness and disease.
With a healthy root chakra, there is no need for selfishness or greed. We understand our connection to the earth, to the tribe, and can work in a humanistic fashion for the good of everyone. Life energy flows. Health and emotions are balanced. There is a sense of trust and security.
Earth Element and Our Yoga Practice
We may bring more “earth” and root chakra awareness into our yoga practice when we focus on grounding, building a firm base of support, connecting with the earth beneath us helping us to feel grounded and secure. In balancing postures, for instance, our stability is facilitated through deepening our connection with the Earth. It takes care of us and we take care of it in return. In these postures we can find deep gratitude for the Earth, its beauty, and what it provides us. (Chart of specific poses and essential oils coming in future blog.)
The following story Asanas for the Chakra System: A prescription of asanas to help balance the subtle energies of the chakra system, by Barbara Kaplan Herring highlights yoga for the Earth element.
“To help her ground, Anne and I began by focusing on her feet, for all poses that stretch and strengthen the legs and feet help the first chakra. She rolled a tennis ball underneath one foot and then the other, pressing into it to help awaken the soles (a mini acupressure treatment) and open the “doors” of the feet. To stimulate the toes and encourage them to spread for standing poses, she sat cross-legged and laced her fingers in between her toes, reaching from the sole to the top of the foot. Then she knelt, curled her toes under, and sat on them for a minute. Following these warm-ups, we did an hour of calf openers, hamstring stretches, and standing poses to help her open and strengthen her lower body and root her attention downward.
When our hamstrings are tight, the contraction creates a sense that we’re constantly prepared to run away. As Anne slowly stretched the backs of her legs in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose), she received some of the gifts of the first chakra: calmness, patience, and a willingness to slow down and stay in one place. As she strengthened her quadriceps and opened her hamstrings, she renewed her confidence and commitment to the next steps on her life’s journey. Her fears eased as she allowed herself to trust the earth and her body.
Anne and I ended our session with peaceful restorative poses, like Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), Salamba Savasana (Supported Corpse Pose), and Salamba Balasana (Supported Child’s Pose), all of which settle an overactive mind and encourage us to surrender to gravity.”
Essential Oil Connection
Essential oils for balancing the root chakra are:
- Brown Spikenard
The earth element and root chakra, which deals with base needs and survival, connects us to the Earth which sustains those survival needs, so we would use essential oils that help us align to the Earth’s energies to feel supported by her. Some oils that harmonize with the Earth and the base chakra are obtained from trees that have deep roots into the Earth such as cypress and cedarwood.
Other essential oils that help combat a sense of isolation from the group (tribe) when the base chakra is imbalanced, which leads to fear, depression and anxiety are frankincense, clary sage, geranium, rose, vetiver, patchouli, and ylang ylang.
These essential oils support the root chakra and earth element by aligning us with our connection to our physical bodies and to the earth’s body. They encourage us to feel good about being on this earth, being part of society and being secure in ourselves.
By Kim Stokely
Information on chakras and essesntial oils supported by Suzanne Bovenizer cmt, cst
The FDA has not evaluated the statements in this article. No claims are made as to any medicinal value of the essential oils. Information, and descriptions presented here are for educational purposes only and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information should not be used as a substitute for medical counseling with a health care professional. Individuals with serious illnesses should consult a qualified health care professional.
Essential oils are very highly concentrated and potent and it is important to always check the specific safety data provided. Keep out of reach of children, the elderly, and pets. For external use only. Avoid contact with mucus membranes and eyes. If any essential oils have contacted your eye, wash out with a vegetable oil such as olive oil, not water. Please read our safety information.
Not all exercise is suitable for everyone. To reduce the risk of injury, consult your doctor before beginning this or any exercise program.
The content provided in this article and chart are for information purposes only and is in no way intended as a substitute for appropriate medical advice or examination from a medical healthcare profession, or personal instruction from an experienced yoga teaching. Ancient Ways Botanicals encourages you to be cautious when using yoga and physical information. If at any time you are unsure about your ability to practice yoga or meditation in a safe way, consult an experienced yoga teacher or medical healthcare professional.
In addition – if you are dealing with any sort of mental, emotional or physical disorder, or are undergoing psychotherapy, are experiencing seizures, or have any other neurological or neuro-respiratory disease, we suggest that you consult your doctor or therapist, and use this information under their supervision. Ancient Ways Botanicals does not assume responsibility for your improper use of this information.
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Enjoy your Practice!