01/17/2019 Mind-Body Health
Everything about being warm, energized, grounded, and relaxed helps alleviate the winter doldrums. The practice of aromatherapy can help cultivate those feelings.
As the new year gets underway, you may think that the thaw of spring is well on its way. But winter has only just begun! In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice in December marked the beginning of the return of light and the coming of longer days. Even so, you may still struggle with this cold, dark, and potentially lonely, dreary time of the year. If you are fortunate enough to be able to travel, head to the warmer, tropical climates of Costa Rica and India. If you are stuck or staying put, you can create a toolkit of wintertime wellness rituals to bring some of the warmth directly to you.
Essential oils, or the natural oils derived by extracting or distilling the fragrance of a petal, root, or other part of a plant, can be a wonderful element of that toolkit. In The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide to Ancient Self-Care, authors Emma Loewe and Lindsay Kellner suggest that winter is a time to “slow down, reflect, and start this year from the inside out . . . drink hot tea in bed . . . make your home into a sweet spiritual sanctuary . . . eat warming food . . . light candles—lots and lots of candles.” Essential oils with scents that are pleasing, warming, and energizing can help to counter any damaging effects of winter. They may even help make this season one you look forward to and inspire you to manifest the life you want to be living.
How Aromatherapy Works and Its Benefits
Aromatherapy, or the therapeutic use of scents, has many benefits. Studies have found that aromatherapy can provide relief from anxiety and depression, improve sleep, and reduce pain. Essential oils can be inhaled directly or via a diffuser, and applied to the skin directly or through lotions and soaps. Some oils can even be taken internally.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Aromatherapy is thought to work by stimulating smell receptors in the nose, which then send messages through the nervous system to the limbic system—the part of the brain that controls emotions.” Scents can seemingly transport you to a specific time and place because the olfactory bulb has direct connections to the amygdala and hippocampus, both areas in the brain strongly connected with emotion and memory.
During the cold, windy, and dark wintertime, the use of essential oil aromatherapy can be particularly beneficial. According to Ayurveda, the ancient, holistic health system with origins in India, winter is dominated by the Vata dosha, which is characterized by cold, dry, light, clear, and moving qualities. In order to balance the effects of Vata, which can include dry, cracked skin; anxiety; and insomnia, you can choose foods, activities, practices, and essential oils that are grounding, centering, and warm. Since aromatherapy is useful in combating depression and anxiety, the regular use of essential oils may be particularly beneficial for those dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Scents that are warming, sweet, and/or sour are best for the winter. The list that follows includes scents that will help to balance the effects of Vata season. That being said, the scents that will be the most beneficial for you are the ones you actually like. So choose any scents that you are drawn to and that help you feel grounded and calm this winter. Set up a diffuser in your bedroom or carry a small bottle of the oil in your purse or car for sniffing on the go. Enjoy!
Cinnamon is warming and invigorating. Inhaling cinnamon oil can be both grounding and energizing. Make sure to dilute cinnamon as it can create a burning sensation if you put it directly onto your skin.
Tip: Add a drop or two to your morning coffee for a wintry treat.
Clove oil is warming and invigorating. Inhaling clove oil can be grounding and relaxing. This is another oil that you want to be sure to dilute as it can burn you if you put it directly onto your skin.
Tip: Mix clove oil with cinnamon oil in fractionated coconut oil (a type of oil made from regular coconut oil with most fatty acids removed) and apply it onto the bottoms of your feet for a grounding and relaxing foot massage.
Ginger oil is warming and invigorating. Inhaling ginger oil can be both grounding and energizing.
Tips: Add a few drops to hot water in the morning or evening to make ginger tea to aid in digestion, or add a few drops to your oatmeal for a little bit of spice to wake you up in the morning.
Orange oil is warming, sweet, and light. Inhaling orange oil can be energizing and can boost your mood.
Tip: Mix several drops of orange oil with Epsom salts as you draw a bath, and soak in the light scent of sweet orange blossoms.
If you have used peppermint oil, you know that it is invigorating. Inhaling peppermint oil can not only be energizing, but it can also clear your nasal passages. Make sure to dilute this one as it can create a burning sensation if you put it directly on your skin.
Tips: Carry a bottle of peppermint oil when you travel to ease a flight-induced stuffy nose, or add a drop or two to hot chocolate for an instant peppermint kick.
Sandalwood oil is sweet and earthy. Inhaling sandalwood oil can be grounding and relaxing.
Tip: Dab a few drops on your inner wrist for a perfume that keeps you relaxed.
Whether you choose to make your own essential oil or purchase high-quality essential oils, adding oils to your daily routine or spiritual rituals can bring a spark to the dark days of winter. Enjoy the delights of incorporating oils into your bath, yoga, or bedtime routines.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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