The Practice of Aromatic Alchemy
When we approach an essential oil with concentration and mindfulness it begins to reveal hidden dimensions of beauty, power, and intelligence that are not ordinarily noticed. As we integrate these new perceptions into a greater awareness of our own physiological reactions to the plant’s essence, we begin to understand how we are deeply connected to all of life, specifically to the photosynthetic beings that give us nourishment and medicines. By exploring this biological unity through our own senses, we come to realize directly that the processes of life occurring in and around us are truly the expressions and manifestations of an underlying miraculous and profound consciousness, as so eloquently described by the language of Ayurveda. For that reason, we call this practice “Aromatic Alchemy.”
There are two basic ways to use essential oils with meditation practice. The first is to use the oils to enhance meditative states, and the second is to use meditation to study the oils. In this program, we use both these approaches, both separately and together. All of our senses can be used to support meditation, contemplation, and concentration. Music and mantra are used to relax and focus the mind and uplift consciousness through the sense of hearing. Inner visualization and concentration on external symbols use our visual sense. Massage, acupuncture, yoga and other physical therapies utilizing the sense of touch have always played an important role in supporting a spiritual practice. Diet, herbs and the sense of taste play crucial roles in helping nourish our meditation practice.
The use of fragrance in meditation, contemplation, and devotional practices is widespread in the form of incense and altar offerings. Many of the “sacred scents” such as frankincense, sandalwood, palo santo and agarwood that are used routinely in ceremonies and rituals now have documented research confirming their psychoactive properties as antidepressants, anxiolytics (anti-anxiety) and general mood enhancers.
However, the use of specific fragrances to enhance meditation and concentration is, in my opinion, underutilized. Because of the links among olfaction, the limbic system, and awareness, when botanical aromatics are used consciously and deliberately to support meditation practice, their effects become more powerful than when used superficially as a background fragrance. Likewise, a contemplative approach that reveals the inner dimensions of the plant consciousness responsible for creating the aromatic compounds is also lacking in most aromatherapy programs. Therefore, a meditation retreat that encourages us to become focused and attentive allows the mind to concentrate more deeply and thereby learn about the hidden dimensions within sensory phenomenon more effectively. This is how we use meditation to study botanical aromatic medicines.
The basic philosophy of this system of meditations and teachings is that there exists a biological unity and interrelatedness between the influences of sun and moon and the pranic intelligence of plants; the pranic intelligence of plants and their metabolism of environmental elements; the elements of the environment and the production of aromatic molecules within the plants; aromatic molecules and the human respiratory system; the respiratory system and the olfactory pathways; and the olfactory pathways and perception of fragrance within consciousness.
In other words, when we smell a botanical fragrance with deep concentration we are able to gradually perceive all these levels, because they are all present in the oil, both as molecular compounds and the cosmological energies they convey. In this way we can study not only the fragrance and its therapeutic effects but also the underlying elemental influences that were metabolized by the intelligence of the plant; ultimately, we can come face to face with the botanical intelligence itself. Through this practice of contemplative aromatherapy, we can develop an understanding of how human consciousness is inseparable from the processes of life within the biosphere and the greater cosmos.
The Seven Best Ways of Using Essential Oils for Health and Healing
This is the use of essential oils on the hot compress, in diffusers, or in hot water for inhalation. The standard dose is 10 drops.
*Caution: prolonged inhalation of concentrated essential oils can cause headaches, vertigo, dizziness, nausea, and lethargy.
Benefits: Best for respiratory, sinus problems, and headaches.
The best way to use essential oils in the bath is to mix them first with salts or an emulsifier such as milk or sesame oil. Aromatic bath salts disperse the oils safely into the water while milk and sesame oil emulsify the essential oil so that it disperses. Without salts or an emulsifier, drops of essential oils will float on the water and then get directly on the skin. Combined with the heat of the water, this can cause dermo toxicity, especially if the oils are of a heating nature.
Recommended Herbs in the Bath: The oils that are generally considered mild and safe for bath are lavender oil, clary sage oil, rose oil, geranium oil, frankincense oil, sandalwood oil, eucalyptus oil, and conifers such as cedar oil, fir oil, pine oil, pinon pine essential oil, spruce oil, and juniper oil to name a few. A generally safe dose is 5 – 10 drops, mixed with 1/2 to 1 cup of salt or emulsifier.
Herbs to Avoid in Baths: Oils that should be avoided in the bath include spicy oils such as cinnamon oil, oregano oil, thyme oil, and tulsi; phototoxic oils such as citruses, especially bergamot oil, and those with specific irritant potential such as lemongrass oil.
Benefits: Aromatic baths are excellent for skin problems, circulatory problems, respiratory symptoms, stress and nervous tension, insomnia, muscular, and menstrual pains.
*Caution: Overuse of essential oils in the bath can cause irritation. Use only mild, non-irritating oils for baths, such as lavender oil and clary sage oil.
10 drops oil in 4 oz hot water. Soak cloth and wrap.
Benefits: Good for bruises, wounds, muscular aches and pains, dysmenorrhea, and skin problems.
4. FACIAL STEAM
1 – 5 drops of the hot water in a pot, cover head with a towel, steam face.
Benefits: Excellent for opening sinuses, headaches, and as a skin treatment.
Pure essential oils are about 70 times more concentrated than the whole plant. Dilutions are typically 2% – 10%. For adults, a 2.5% dilution is recommended for most purposes. For children under 12, 1% is generally safe. A 2.5% blend for a 1-ounce bottle of carrier oil is 15 drops of essential oil.
1% blend = 6 drops per oz
2% blend = 12 drops per oz
3% blend = 18 drops per oz
5% blend = 30 drops per oz
10% blend = 60 drops per oz
Floracopeia infuses oils of jasmine, neroli, rose and vanilla with marula oil for our different massage oil blends.
6. DIRECT PALM INHALATION
Caution: This method of use should only be done with oils that can be safely applied to the skin (see the toxicology and safety section below). Apply 1-2 drops of oil to the palms, rub together gently and inhale deeply. This is an excellent method of use for quick and easy exposure to the antimicrobial and other therapeutic uses of essential oils.
There are various types of diffusers on the market with different advantages and disadvantages.
Usually a heat resistant vessel for water and essential oils, and a heat resistant platform that holds the vessel over a small candle.
Advantages: Very simple to use; provides light background fragrancing.
Disadvantages: Does not produce strong concentration for therapeutic benefits.
ELECTRIC HEAT DIFFUSERS
Small absorbent pads are placed inside of a heating chamber with ventilation that allows the aromatic compounds to evaporate into the surrounding air.
Advantages: Easy to use; minimal maintenance; can diffuse thicker oils.
Disadvantages: Heat damages some aromatic compounds.
COOL AIR NEBULIZING DIFFUSERS
A system that uses air pressure generated by a compressing unit to vaporize the essential oils. A glass nebulizing bulb serves as a condenser, allowing only the finest particles of the essential oil to escape into the air.
Advantages: Strong diffusion maximizes therapeutic benefits in respiratory conditions.
Disadvantages: Diffusers need to be cleaned regularly. More viscous oils cannot be diffused (such as sandalwood oil or ylang-ylang oil).
Electric heat and cool air nebulizers can be purchased with timers to produce intermittent diffusion. This reduces the amount of oil consumed and prevents over-saturation in a room.
The Absorption and Effects of Essential Oils
Essential oils probably exert their most powerful and direct pharmacological effects systemically via the blood supply to the brain. They also have an indirect effect via the olfactory nerve pathways into the brain. Essential oil fragrances are absorbed through blood circulation and nerve pathways from the sinuses into the central glands of the brain, which control emotional, neurological, and immunological functions.
Essential oils are absorbed in minute quantities through the skin, depending on the oil, dilution, and application (carrier oil, compress, etc). Many of the indications for specific oils include various skin conditions.
Essential oils are inhaled during treatment, which has a direct effect on the sinuses, throat, and lungs. Many essential oils are specific medicines for respiratory conditions.
Many essential oils have beneficial effects on circulatory problems, both through dermal and respiratory absorption. These oils enhance the circulation stimulating effects of massage.