Yoga practitioners tend to have a greater awareness of health, and particularly of natural health, than much of the general population. Even those folks just using yoga as a physical practice, keeping themselves feeling good, are likely to have interest in what alternative medicine may offer them. So here's a look at the therapeutic possibilities of essential oils for the yogi. Essential oils are often misunderstood under the banner of "aromatherapy" -- beyond their scents, they speed healing of injuries, keep us from catching colds and flu, support detoxification, and more. This is in addition to their more esoteric uses, which can also directly support yogic practices. Here in part one of this article, we'll look specifically at healing injuries to the soft tissues.
The physical practice of yoga, when performed with proper alignment and intention, should really be an "injury-free" affair. But because we come into the practice at different stages in our lives, or for different reasons (some being to actually relieve injuries), effective medicine for healing ligaments, tendons and muscles can be incredibly helpful. Particularly when these injuries are holding us back from further progress in our asana practice. Certain essential oils can be dramatically healing to the softer parts of the musculoskeletal system. Essential oils provide scientifically-validated anti-inflammatory action, pain relief, and actually stimulate the regeneration of injured tissues.
Perhaps the most important action needed for healing injuries to our muscles, tendons and ligaments is the reduction of inflammation. By reducing inflammation, all other regenerative processes can occur more quickly. Pain is also significantly reduced. So when creating a formula for topical application to injuries, we'll select one or more oils known to be potent in this action. Some of the most popular and effective are ginger, frankincense and German chamomile. When you can find them, the "CO2" distilled oils of these plants are often the more effective inflammation reducers, and are highly recommended for this application.
The anti-inflammatory oils can be blended with oils that are know regeneratives. These are oils with a class of molecules known as "ketones". Ketones can be dangerous -- oils like wormwood and common hyssop are high in ketones that could cause malignant cell growth (these oils are rarely used, and then only for very specific medicinal purposes). Other ketones are perfectly safe; lavender contains regenerative ketones, for example. The ketones, called "italidiones" in helichrysum italicum essential oil are considered the most potent regenerative agents in aroma-medicine (the oil is also considered a potent anti-inflammatory -- it could do this job all on its own, but is enhanced with "active ingredients" from other oils; this also helps lower your formula's cost, as helichrysum is not inexpensive).
A fantastic, highly effective, formula would include the CO2 distilled oils of ginger, German chamomile, and frankincense and the steam distilled oil of Helichrysum. To make one ounce of the blend, add these oils to an empty one ounce bottle, then top it off with any seed or nut massage oil "base" (such as sweet almond or grapeseed -- or any unscented body cream or lotion). Use 5 milliliters of helichrysum, 2 ml lavender, 1/2 ml each of ginger and frankincense. (You can reduce the helichrysum to 3 ml to reduce the cost of the blend, or instead use plai essential oil).
If the cost of helichrysum is too exorbitant, the essential oil distilled from "plai" root (similar to ginger) is becoming more popular for healing, and has been the subject of research backing its use. Also, if you find you need further support for actual pain relief, the addition of sweet birch essential oil can help -- it's primary molecular component is methyl salicylate, which is liquid aspirin. You can make a very effective blend focusing on inflammation and pain reduction with this recipe -- for each one ounce of formula, use: three milliliters plai essential oil, three milliliters sweet birch, and one milliliter lavender, based in the carrier oil of your choice.
You may find that one of these formulas works better for you than the other; it's fun to experiment in this way. Creating your own blend tends to give you more insight into the medicine that essential oils really are, and will pique your interest to delve further into their healing potential. In the next parts of this article, we'll look at other ways essential oils can support the health of the yogi. These include immune system function, and both physical and energetic cleansing, and even more esoteric applications. So crack open your first bottle of oil and enjoy!
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