Aromatherapy, in the form of floral and herbal extracts and incense, has always been an integral aspect of Ayurvedic healing. From sandalwood incense burned during meditation to water infused with holy basil for air purification, essential oils have long been a pleasant way to infuse your home with the healing wisdom of plants.
Your sense of smell is highly sensitive, making it one of the quickest, and easiest channels for balancing both mind and body. When it comes to essential oils—pure, plant-based extracts that can be diffused, added to massage oil, worn in a locket, or otherwise to elevate the sense of smell—a little goes a long way! A few drops is often all it takes to make a big difference.
Below, you’ll find some of the most common ways essential oils are used in Ayurveda, along with some recommendations on how to incorporate them into your natural wellness regimen.
You can completely transform the character of a room in just a few minutes by using a few drops of your favorite aromatherapy essential oil or synergy blend in an aromatherapy diffuser. Diffusers disperse essential oils into the air in a number of different ways—with a cool-air stream or gentle warmth. They are ideal for cleansing and purifying the air and for creating a mood-enhancing, fragrant atmosphere.
Use four to eight drops of essential oil on the replaceable cartridge or pad for cool-air diffusion. Use 25 drops or more in a micro diffuser (atomizer or nebulizer). Use three to eight drops in aroma lamps (with candle or electric). Refresh as needed.
Massage is considered by many to be one of the best ways to experience aromatherapy due to the combined benefits of touch and the therapeutic effect of the essential oils. Massage relaxes muscles and improves muscle tone, circulation, and lymph flow. It relieves physical tension and relieves mental stress. Essential oils should always be diluted in a good-quality vegetable carrier oil before applying to the skin (i.e., sweet almond, sesame oil, jojoba, olive oil, etc.).
The standard dilution is 1-3% essential oil, or about 20-30 drops of essential oil to 2 ounces (60 ml or 4 tablespoons) of vegetable oil or fragrance-free lotion. Sensitive skin may require a lower amount, such as 10 drops in 2 ounces, or even less.
Use two to five drops of essential oil to 1 ounce (30 ml) carrier oil (e.g., almond or jojoba oil).
Facial steam bath
Add one to two drops of essential oil to 2 litres of hot water; put your face over the water.
Mix bentonite clay, healing earth, or oatmeal with water to form a smooth paste and add two to four drops of essential oil for a DIY facial mask.
Baths combine the restorative effects of both water and essential oils in a most pleasurable way. They are perfect to relieve muscle strain, soothe skin conditions, and promote emotional balance.
Use five to 15 drops to a full tub of water and three to five drops for a sitz bath. It is best to mix the essential oils with some carrier oil, a little cream or pure organic raw honey, or with bath salts to help them disperse in the water, and add the essential oil after you have immersed yourself, so you receive the full benefits of the oils as they begin to diffuse in the warm water.
After your shower, put three to five drops of essential oil in your hands and rub them together. While your skin is still damp from the shower, quickly and evenly spread the oil over your arms, legs, and torso. Allow to dry.
Foot and hand bath
Foot baths are a wonderful way to pamper yourself—perfect when you do not have time for a full bath.
Remember: when your feet feel good, you feel good all over—and the feet are a very important area in aromatherapy, because their reflex points affect every area of the body, and because the skin on the feet absorbs essential oils rapidly.
Hand baths can be soothing for people with aching joints or circulation problems. Use three to five drops in a bowl of water. Adjust the temperature of the water to suit your needs; cool water invigorates and energizes, while warm water sedates and relaxes.
Many essential oils are recommended to assist respiration and relieve congestion, such as eucalyptus, fir, rosemary, and spike lavender. In these cases, a chest and upper back rub is beneficial. Dilute 10-20 drops of essential oil in 1 ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil and rub on the chest and upper back.
Direct inhalation and steam inhalation
Inhale the fragrance, three or four times, through the nose directly from the bottle or from a tissue sprinkled with four drops of essential oil. Alternatively, add three drops of essential oil to a bowl of hot water, cover your eyes, place a large towel over your head and inhale the steam deeply. Repeat as required. (Excellent in case of a cold.)
Certain situations require a specific direct application. In these cases, a stronger dilution is used for a brief period of time. The essential oils can be diluted in a carrier oil or other medium such as Aloe Vera gel or witch hazel. Certain essential oils such as lavender and tea tree can be used undiluted for small areas such as an insect bite or scratch. Experiment with the strength and adjust to a higher dilution if there is skin irritation. To start: 10 drops of essential oil in one teaspoon of carrier oil.
A compress is a clean, damp, folded cloth that has been infused with essential oils and is then applied to the problem area. It employs either warm or cool water, depending on its use. Fill a small bowl with water and add two to five drops of essential oil. Stir briskly, soak the cloth, wring, and apply. Repeat this procedure as needed.
The antiseptic and antibacterial effect of essential oils can be perfect for freshening the breath and helping to maintain healthy gums. Simply add a few drops of an essential oil to a cup of water and swirl around in the mouth. Do not swallow.
Thoroughly mix the essential oil in a teaspoon of organic raw honey, then dilute with lukewarm water until the honey is dissolved. Use one to two drops per 1 ounce (30 ml) of warm water.
Mix 10-20 drops of essential oil in 1 tablespoon of jojoba oil. Apply to one or more of the pulse points — behind the ears, underside of the wrist, inner elbow, behind the knees, and on the backs of the ankles.
Add to cosmetics
Essential oils can be added to pre-made, fragrance-free products. Use 10-15 drops per 2 ounces (60 ml) of moisturizer; 20-30 drops per 8 ounces (240 ml) of lotion; 20 drops per 8 ounces of shampoo; and 20-30 drops per 8 ounce of conditioner.
Misting is a convenient way to impart the enticing aroma of essential oils in the room or on your skin. Fill an 8-ounce mister bottle with 20-30 drops of essential oils. Add water. Shake vigorously each time before misting.
Put one drop of essential oil on the hot rocks or mix five drops of essential oil in one cup of water and pour over the rocks.
Cooking and food flavoring
Use ½-1 drop essential oil for salad dressings, sauces, sweets, and drinks.
Using aromatics for meditation practices and spiritual experience has been done for thousands of years. Ayurveda has several oils well suited for this purpose, such as frankincense, patchouli, sandalwood, and myrrh. Diffuse the oils in the meditation environment or put a drop in your hands, rub the hands together, and inhale the aroma.
A true aromatherapy hydrolate (or aromatherapy hydrosol) is the water that is collected when plants are steam-distilled for their essential oils. Hydrolates (also referred to as flower waters and hydrosols) have a delicate nature and a light aroma.
They are ideal for situations that require gentle aromatic care—especially for children, the elderly, and the highly sensitive. They do not require dilution and can be applied directly to the skin. Some of their most popular uses are:
- To hydrate and moisturize the skin
- To soothe sunburn
- To cool the effects of hot flashes
- For refreshing facial toners for all skin types
- For soothing eye-pads
- For facial masks
- To flavor natural yogurt
- To mist house plants
- For home fragrance (room sprays)
Medicinal uses of essential oils
According to the laws governing the sale of essential oils, there are very strict guidelines concerning what vendors of essential oils can claim about the medicinal properties of the products that they sell.
While we are happy to abide by these guidelines, we would like to point out that authors of books on aromatherapy are not subject to the same constraints, and there are many books available which have a wealth of information about essential oils and their known effects in all areas of life.
Dosha-balancing Ayurvedic essential oils
Although single-aroma incense and floral waters are not uncommon in Ayurveda, it is more typical to see blends or combinations of several different aromas. The benefits? Synergy and balance.
A synergistic blend of healing substances, according to Ayurveda, delivers a holistic benefit that is greater than the sum of its parts. And careful balancing of ingredients is reported to counteract possible side effects from a single healing substance. Here are a few of our top essential oil blends:
Vata-balancing blends generally include sweet, warming oils that soothe the mind and emotions and enhance serenity—sweet orange, geranium rose, ylang ylang, and frankincense, for example. Try equal parts of ylang ylang and frankincense (two to four 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 couple of drops of the Maharishi AyurVeda Calming Vata Aroma Oil blend in hot water works well for facial steam therapy in cold windy weather.
A combination of two drops of lemon, two drops of sweet orange and four drops of jasmine can help you unwind—try this blend as an infusion in a late evening bath. A complex Vata blend can include as many as seven or eight oils in a precise combination for optimum balance. One drop of Vata Aroma Oil in hot water works well for facial steam therapy in cold, windy weather.
Pitta tends to get out of balance in situations of extreme heat, whether it be weather-related or emotions-related. Aroma blends for balancing Pitta include sweet, cooling oils such as rose, fennel and sandalwood, often with smaller amounts of soothing oils such as ylang ylang and frankincense and some uplifting oils such as lemon or peppermint. The combinations are designed to keep you calm, yet focused and alert.
Try four drops each of ylang ylang and sandalwood for a bathwater infusion on hot days. Or 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. Try our Cooling Pitta Aroma Oil blend!
Kapha blends are generally warm, spicy, and invigorating, designed to wake you up on damp, cold, grey spring days. They contain vital oils such as rosemary, eucalyptus, peppermint, and basil, with smaller amounts of balancing oils such as frankincense or ylang ylang.
Try four drops of peppermint and two drops each of frankincense and ylang ylang as a bath infusion in a morning bath or as part of your shower gel (use four to six 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. Our Stimulating Kapha Aroma Oil, including eucalyptus, rosemary, and frankincense, creates an uplifting awareness, balancing body and mind while leaving us feeling fresh, alert, and clear.
Note: Safety first!
Essential oils are potent substances, and less is more with many of these oils. Exercise care in both blending and use. Test for sensitivity and always dilute oils before bringing them in contact with your skin. If you are pregnant, please consult your physician before using any essential oils. These oils are for external use only.
As you can see, there are endless possibilities when it comes to the application of essential oils to rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit. Discover new oils, candles, incense, and more to deepen your wellbeing.
© 1999, 2021 Maharishi AyurVeda Products International, Inc. (MAPI). All Rights Reserved. MAPI does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. See additional information.