When one is taught about mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, smell is rarely mentioned. Nowadays, with immense focus on the physical practice, smelling is easily overlooked by those searching to go deeper into contemplative practices. Our noses know the powerfully compelling films of memories to play in our minds, alerting us of threats in the environment, spoiling us with warmth and comfort, and ultimately becoming a part of our identities. Incorporating scent into your meditation or yoga routine can truly transform your practice.
Throughout history, aromas have been used in medical, spiritual, and cosmetic rituals to calm the mind, connect with higher consciousness, and beautify. Ancient Egyptians adored fragrance and used spikenard, frankincense, and cassia to ritualize this life and pay homage to the next one. Ancient Greeks viewed perfumes and oils as gifts from the gods, offering them up in holy worship rituals. Tibetan Buddhists even added juniper berries to incense to aid in achieving meditative states. As history shows, aroma is a powerful transporter of mind, body, and spirit.
Incorporate some sacred scents into your own ritual! Here are five essential oils that will certainly add a new element to your mindful practice.
This oil is a go-to for diving deeper into spiritual practices. Often used in meditation blends, frankincense is renowned for supporting reflection and introspection—the name frankincense even comes from the French word meaning "pure incense." Beyond its renowned Judeo-Christian uses, frankincense is also incorporated into Shinto meditation rituals in Japan. The woody, otherworldly aroma soothes the spirit and blends well with lavender, cistus, and myrrh. Beyond having deep roots in mystical rituals, frankincense has an affinity for healing the skin and supporting compromised immunity.
How-To: To promote serenity, use in a prayer blend. Add 5 drops to an ounce of sesame oil and anoint on pulse points before or while engaging in spiritual practice.
2. Buddha wood.
Also known as Australian Desert Rosewood, the viscous oil is distilled from a small tree native to Australia. The aroma has hints of sandalwood and rose. If you’re looking for a grounding oil that isn’t vetiver, try Buddha wood. The smoky and mossy aroma is well-balanced and promotes harmony and inner peace. Is your intention to be more present? Reach for this.
How-To: Are you a yogi? Zen out with a Shavasana blend. Add a drop or two into an aromatic diffuser—it blends well with sandalwood, patchouli, and sweet orange. If your oil is too thick for diffusing, try adding it to a relaxing aromatic spritzer instead.
Sometimes called Jatamansi, this oil hails from the Alpine Himalayas and has long been used in ayurvedic and Unani medicine. It is sometimes used in anointing rituals in ancient Persia and Turkey. The oil is distilled from the roots, and the aroma is truly full-bodied and powerfully earthy. A nervous system sedative that has a deeply tranquilizing effect, Spikenard is a great addition to relaxation and sleep blends. Beyond that, it works on a more subtle energetic level of healing. Looking to encourage some compassion for yourself or others? Are you looking inward to encourage forgiveness? Spikenard can help.
How-To: Use in a sleep blend. Create a bedtime ritual that promotes sleep and calms the mind. Add 3 drops to 1 ounce of jojoba. Feel free to blend with lavender and roman chamomile and anoint on pulse points before sleep.
4. Palo Santo.
Palo Santo means "sacred wood," which makes it fitting to incorporate into a mindful practice custom. For years, this oil and wood has been used and worshipped by Incas and Andean shamans for its healing properties. It's distilled from dead wood fallen off the tree, and the aroma is musky but crisp. The smell alone uplifts and provides expansion in the mind’s eye. Often used in meditation, Palo Santo is said to enhance creativity and help sustain attention.
How-To: Looking to explore new meditations or spiritual practices? Add 7 drops Palo Santo to an aromatic inhaler and use when trying a new activity. I’ve recently done this while trying qigong! I’ve found that it helps open the heart and mind and provides a sense of security when trying something different.
Perhaps one of my favorite essential oils, galbanum is truly sacred. Its resinous, exotic aroma takes you back in time. Common in Old World rituals, it’s mentioned in the Bible and in the writings of Hippocrates. Nowadays, you can get whiffs of galbanum in modern perfumes by luxury designers like Cartier and Balmain. Lauded for being protective and purifying, galbanum is a go-to oil for meditation—particularly for letting go of past hurt and trauma.