Aromatherapy has been used for many centuries to treat various disorders. It can be used to treat stress, relieve pain and enhance feelings of calmness and relaxation. Aromatherapy is powerful, because the sense of smell, beyond detecting odors provides the quickest and easiest pathway to the brain. Many Ayurvedic practitioners believe that inhaling certain aromas can balance one’s dosha, reduce stress, and promote overall healing.
Aromatherapy in ayurveda has a holistic view for treating disorders. For example, a Vata predominant person might develop stomach upset and or he/she might need grounding oils based on the wind/ether elements. The groups of the essential oils that are chosen are carminative, grounding and warming. Having the heating quality, a Pitta predominant person might have fever during a common cold episode. Many essential oils that are chosen in this will be febrifuge and anti-inflammatory. A Kapha predominant person has tendencies to have respiratory imbalances in the common cold. Hence, the essential oils that are chosen will be naturally decongestant and expectorant.
Essential oils, the main product used in aromatherapy, are extracted from plant materials by applying steam to force out their essences into highly concentrated liquids. Humans have been using aromatic plants since time immemorial, however, the distillation of essential oils was not widely practiced until the 18th century. Ayurveda has used a wide variety of herbs as remedies for 5000 years, hence, it is reasonable to assume that Ayurvedic physicians recognized the benefit of using such natural plant essences and we can use aromatherapy to balance doshas.
Essential oils are used in ayurvedic therapeutic formulations for their ‘yogavahi’ value which means their ability to help transport the healing wisdom of herbs and herbal oils to the cells and tissues of the body. They play an important role in transdermal formulations and skin care, similar to what spices do for cooked preparations and compound herbal formulations that we eat.
Beyond their role as yogavahis, many essential oils are important for their own healing wisdom. According to ayurveda, good health comes from physiological balance. All of us are made up of the same five fundamental elements that the universe is made of: ether, air, fire, water and earth.
Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha, are combinations of these elements and refer to the three psycho-physiological principles that govern all the activities of mind and body. Each one of us is born with a unique composition of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Maintaining that original unique balance is vital for ongoing good health. Diet, lifestyle, herbs and essential oils are modalities used in ayurveda to help restore this optimum balance.
Essential oils help create balance through the sense of smell, and many offer targeted benefit for different sub-doshas, subcategories of the three main doshas. The rose, for example, is renowned in ayurveda for its ability to pacify Pitta dosha, and in particular Sadhaka Pitta, the sub-dosha of Pitta that governs the emotional heart. Sandalwood is another aroma that helps pacify Sadhaka Pitta. Lavender helps pacify Prana Vata, the subdosha of Vata that governs the mind and nervous system, and thus helps promote restful sleep.
The Science Behind Aromatherapy Healing Dosha Imbalances
Essential oils have chemical components such as monoterpne, sesquiterpene, esters, aldehydes, alcohols. The property of particular chemical components determines the action of the essential oil. For example, clary sage is high in esters. Esters have the property of relaxing, anti-spasmodic, equilibrating, and anti-fungal.
Ayurveda recognizes that some essential oils are cooling and some are heating. Moisturizing and drying can also be observed in the response of the essential oil by placing a drop on the water. No essential oil is perfectly water-soluble, however, more hydrophilic oils such as rose when placed in the water will disperse into the water. Lipophillic oils such as pine, on the other hand, will float on the top of the water, forming a ring.
In Ayurveda, it is believed that same dosha activity increase the very same dosha. Conversely, the very opposite energy decreases that particular dosha. When the particular dosha is in imbalance, it is at advantage to add something opposite. For example, if a person has primary Pitta dosha, and is out of the balance of that dosha, he/she might be very irritated, angry, feeling hot, and having heartburn. In this situation, eating very spicy food could aggravate the condition. Instead, cool foods and drinks could restore the balance.
In the same fashion, essential oils can be selected based on the dosha balance. Being wind and ether, Vata is cold and dry. To reduce too much Vata, it is best to use the oil that is heating and moisturizing. Pitta is the combination of fire and water; therefore, it is hot and wet. To reduce excessive Pitta, it is best to use the essential oils that are cooling and drying. Kapha is the combination of water and earth; therefore it is cold and wet. To reduce excessive Kapha, it is best to use the essential oils that are heating and drying.
What sort of Base Oil must I use for Ayurvedic Aromatherapy?
The traditional base oil that has been used in Abhyanga is sesame oil. It can be compared to linoleic acid, which makes up about 40% of the oil, and is known to inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, especially pathogenic bacteria. Linoleic acid also is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent; some researchers have compared its potency to indomethacin.
Each base oil has a specific action to either increase or decrease specific doshas. For example, for the Vata dominant individuals, sesame oil and flax oil are recommended. For the Pitta predominant individuals, olive oil and sunflower oil are recommended. For the Kapa predominant individuals, she recommends canola oil, safflower oil, and sweet almond oil.
Ghee, also known as clarified butter, is the most penetrating base oil, and is commonly used in India. It is widely used in Ayurveda as an ingredient in skin care preparation as well as in cooking.
Ayurvedic Aromatherapy for Vata Dosha
1. Vata Imbalance
Vata is out of balance when too much air has accumulated in mind, body, and environment. The result is a sense of not feeling grounded. The best way to balance excess Vata is to bring more earth and stability into the physiology.
2. Nature of Vata
.Vatas tend to be emotional and excitable. When out of balance, they can experience stress, anxiety, and fear, so they should choose scents that are calming and sweet with a hint of sour.
.Vata has symptoms of approaching sinility and is known to be of two major types. The first one is blocked vata wherein the passages of the body are obstructed due to the deposition of poisonous substances which may be the consequence of an upset stomach, diarrhea, wrong eating habits etc. In the second type of imbalance there is extreme aridness and loss of water in the body tissues.
3. Oils for Vata
.Oils have to be damp, soothing and warm.
.Oils like Bergamont, lemon, orange, ginger, sandalwood, cinnamon, rosewood, turmeric, basil, eucalyptus, frankincence, cajeput, angelica, vetivert, anise, camphor, amber, angelica, anise, basil, cardamom, chamomile, cinnamon, clary sage, coriander, eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, ginger, jasmine, jatamansi, lavender, lemongrass, myrrh, neroli, patchouli, rose, rosewood, sandalwood, sweet orange, tangerine, thyme, vanilla, vetiver, ylang ylang can be used for treatment of vata.
.You can also use flower scents, such as rose and geranium, are calming and also may help with insomnia, a common problem for vatas. A sweet citrus scent like orange may also help balance energy.
4. Carrier Oil for Vata
Sesame, avocado or castor oil can be used as a carrier for vatas; add approximately 12 drops of essential oil to one fluid ounce of carrier oil.
5. Aromatherapy for Vata
.Try equal parts of Ylang Ylang and Frankincense (2-4 drops each) mixed in 2 oz. of a light massage oil such as Jojoba or Sweet Almond for a relaxing, therapeutic full-body massage.
.A combination of 2 drops of lemon, 2 drops of sweet orange and 4 drops of jasmine can help you unwind, try this blend as an infusion in a late evening bath.
.Add 10-12 drops of essential oil (fewer if you have sensitive skin) directly into a bath, making sure the water temperature is warm enough for the oil to become fully immersed and for a steam with aromatic vapors to be produced.
.You can also apply essential oils, mixed with a carrier oil, to your skin as part of a self-massage. (Essential oils can be harsh when used directly on the skin.)
.A complex Vata blend can include as many as seven or eight oils in a precise combination for optimum balance.
Ayurvedic Aromatherapy for Pitta Dosha
1. Pitta imbalance
When Pitta is out of balance, too much fire has accumulated in mind, body, and environment. The result is a sense of internal and external combustion. The best way to balance excess Pitta is to bring more space and coolness into the physiology.
2. Nature of Pitta
Associated with the element of fire, pittas are passionate and intense, and subject to anger, jealousy, and hotheadedness when out of balance. There’s often a need to cool, clarify, and ease the mind.
3. Oils for Pitta
.The ideal scents are sweet, bitter, or astringent. Oils that have a cooling and dry effect and oils that allows excessive heat escape out of the body are ideal.
.Oils like sandalwood, chamomile, tea tree, chamomile, yarrow lily, honeysuckle, coriander, lime, lavender, neroli, peppermint, sandalwood, iris, or jasmine, birch, brahmi, champa, clary sage, fennel, geranium, jatamansi, lemon balm, lemongrass, mandarin, myrtle, neroli, peppermint, petitgrain, rose, sandalwood, spearmint, tangerine, tea tree, vanilla, wintergreen, yarrow, ylang ylang are good.
.Pittas are very visual, so it’s great to have real flowers on your desk or bedside table, or burn a candle scented naturally with these aromas.
4. Carrier oils for Pitta
Sunflower, jojoba, almond coconut and olive oil are ideal.
5. Aromatherapy for Pitta
.Try 4 drops each of Ylang Ylang and sandalwood for a bathwater infusion on hot days.
.Blend equal parts of vetiver, sandalwood, rose, jasmine and fennel, and use the quantity directed in an aroma diffuser for creating a calm environment and diffusing intensity.
Ayurvedic Aromatherapy for Kapha Dosha
1. Kapha Imbalance
When Kapha is out of balance, too much earth has accumulated in mind, body, and environment. The result is a sense of sluggishness, congestion, and dullness. The best way to balance excess a Kapha is to bring more movement and circulation into the physiology. Think invigoration.
2. Nature of Kapha
The heavy, solid, moist nature of earth characterizes kaphas. When kaphas get out of whack, they tend to be sluggish and more susceptible to depression.
3. Oils for Kapha
.Oils that are essentially light, warm and dry.
.Camphor, cardamom, saffron, juniper berry angelica, anise, bay, bergamot, birch, camphor, cardamom, cedarwood, cinnamon, clary sage, cypress, fir, frankincense, geranium, ginger, grapefruit, hyssop, jasmine, juniper, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, lime, marjoram, neroli, myrrh, myrtle, petitgrain, peppermint, rose, sage, sweet orange, tea tree, wintergreen, yarrow oils are good for healing kapha.
.Kaphas can also benefit from pungent, stimulating scents like eucalyptus, cedar, pine, and sage, basil, clove, niaouli, hyssop, rosemary, savory.
.Peppermint is a stimulating odorant that increases motivation to perform physically.
.Because kaphas tend to be moist and oily, they have trouble absorbing large amounts of additional oil.
4. Carrier oils
Mustard seed, almond and grape seed are ideal.
5. Aromatherapy for Kapha
.Add just a drop or two of essential oil to a bath or to a carrier of olive oil.
.Massage may be an especially good method for kaphas, as it helps the oil penetrate the skin.
.Sandalwood can clear nasal passages and help relieve cold and allergy symptoms.
.Try four drops of peppermint and 2 drops each of frankincense and ylang ylang as a bath infusion in a morning bath or as part of your shower gel (use 4-6 drops per 2 oz. of unscented cleanser), you’ll feel the invigorating aromas subtly balance your body and mind long after you’ve bathed or showered.
.A drop each of Eucalyptus and Basil works wonders in steam therapy water on moist cold days. This blend will help you feel fresh, alert and clear.
Essential Oils That All Doshas Can Use
Some scents offer aromatherapy benefits for every dosha. For instance, rosemary opens the mind and enhances memory (although, vatas should use it sparingly), while ginger oil is considered a universal treatment for soothing the effects of jet lag and other travel related sicknesses. Tea tree oil and saffron oil is also known to treat all three doshas disorders.
Essential oils are potent, so exercise great care in blending and use. Never apply essential oils directly to the skin. Instead, mix the recommended amounts in a base oil or in water. Test all oils for sensitivity, and consult your physician before using essential oils if you are pregnant or nursing or have a medical condition.