Meditation comes in many forms, and different meditation disciplines work best for different people. While virtually all forms of meditation involve relaxation techniques and clearing or focusing on the mind, external factors will often play a significant role in the quality of a session. The positioning of the body in a certain way, concentrating on or repeating a sound (sometimes called a mantra), and particular types of ambient noise can all aid a person in achieving a successful meditative state. Essential oils are also often added into the meditative mix and can if used properly, significantly enhance the quality of a meditation session.
While meditation started out – and today remains, for many people – a deeply spiritual exercise, it is also widely practiced today for its many and varied physical benefits. Valued for its ‘healing’ qualities for thousands of years in the ancient folk medicines of diverse cultures throughout the world, medical researchers, physicians, and scientists today are confirming in the Western world what many in other cultures have known for centuries: meditation can be very good for you.
What Are Essential Oils?
If you have ever searched for information about meditation – or even just spoken to a friend or relative about the subject – you have probably heard at least something about essential oils being used in conjunction with various meditation practices. Along with physical positions and certain types of sounds, essential oils are used in many types of meditation to enhance the overall experience and help to clear and / or focus the mind. They are also believed by some to have healing qualities.
Essential oils are (not surprisingly) oils that are extracted from various plants primarily for their fragrance (also called their essence – hence the name). Along with their use in various forms of meditation, essential oils are often used in making perfume and high-end ‘scented’ soaps and body washes, cleaning products, and some are used in cooking and flavoring foods and drinks. They are also widely used in an alternative medicine called aromatherapy which often utilizes meditation as part of its treatment regimen.
Depending on the specific type, essential oils might be extracted from the leaves, stems, wood, bark, flowers, seeds, berries, or roots of the plant, or from the peels of a plant’s fruit. The most common extraction method is distillation – usually using steam – although other methods of extraction are sometimes used. The extraction process can be very complicated and time consuming for some types of essential oils, which in large part determines their price. The final distilled product is then sometimes diluted in other – more common – oils referred to as ‘carrier’ oils before being offered for sale. The ratio of essential to a carrier oil in a product will determine both its potency and its price.
Essential Oils in Meditation
Essential oils and other fragrances have been used in meditation dating back to the Hindu practices outlined in the ancient Vedas, and many of the same oils that were used back then are still used today.
Essential oils – and specifically the aromas they provide – are believed by many to enhance the experience one has during meditation by promoting deeper states of relaxation, helping to focus spiritual awareness, providing greater calm and clarity, helping to cleanse negative energy from the mind as well as providing numerous other benefits.
Along with the practical experiences of millions of people over countless centuries, there is also some science to back this up. The sense of smell (or olfactory system) is believed to be the first of the five senses human beings develop, and is directly connected to the limbic system – the part of the brain that most scientists believe control emotions. Many people believe that aromas from certain essential oils work in the limbic system and, in conjunction with meditation techniques, help to influence and direct states of consciousness. Many people who have studied and taught meditation for years further believe that different essential oils can be used to provide different beneficial effects.
Essential oils are generally used in two ways during meditation: they are diffused into the air, or they are applied (in very small quantities) to certain key parts of the body that are considered to be main spiritual energy points, called chakras. It should be noted that some essential oils are very potent and can have adverse effects when applied directly to the skin, and so are almost universally diffused into the air in some way (usually through the use of a diffuser or nebulizer). Although not always the case, many of the essential oils used in meditation are not ingested (at least in their pure form) and can be very dangerous if taken orally.
There are quite a few essential oils that can be used with meditation and, as previously stated, different essential oils are believed to have different beneficial effects; the quality of those effects will normally be directly impacted by the quality of the oil you buy – as will the price you pay for them. Essential oils are often sold already embedded in carrier oils, and the percentage of the essential oil in the mixture will go a long way towards determining its quality. Mixes of two or more complementary essential oils are also available (and can easily be made at home) and are widely used, and in recent years synthetic essential oils have been developed and have made their way to the marketplace.
All of which brings us to …
The Best Essential Oils for Meditation
As is the case with meditation techniques, there is no single ‘best’ essential oil for everyone – it really comes down to the individual’s personal preference. While one person may find the scent of a specific oil to be very pleasant and effective in enhancing their meditation sessions, another person might hate the aroma – and the emotions or feelings it evokes – and find that it actually inhibits successful meditation. Most meditation instructors recommend experimenting with a number of different essential oils to find the one that helps you achieve the most beneficial meditation experience. It should also be mentioned that there is no hard and fast rule stating that a person must use the same essential oil every time they meditate. Many people use a rotation of several different oils depending on how they are feeling, what they are in the mood for, and what they are looking to get out of an individual session.
The essential oils listed below are among the most popular and widely used for the purpose of meditation. The only person who can tell you what the ‘best’ essential oil is for you would be you.
One of the most widely used and best known essential oils for meditation, Sandalwood oil is extracted from the actual wood of various members of the Sandalwood species of trees in the Santalum genus of flowering plants. Sandalwood trees are believed to be native to India and are today commercially cultivated there as well as in Australia, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and the US Island of Hawaii. Sandalwood and its oil are considered to be sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sufism, and Zoroastrianism, and are used in many of their rituals, including meditation.
Sandalwood oil has a semi-sweet, warm and woodsy aroma that is believed to promote mental clarity and focus, spiritual balance and relaxation during meditation while also helping to remove negative thoughts, stress, and anxiety from the mind. It is also effective in elevating consciousness and helping to heal old emotional and psychological wounds. Sandalwood oil can be diffused into the air, or (for most people) placed directly on chakra points on the skin immediately prior to beginning meditation. It is also one of the most versatile of the essential oils and is often mixed with a wide variety of other oils.
Pure, top-grade Sandalwood oil sourced from the Indian Santalum album tree (almost universally considered to be the best quality) is very expensive, and the actual percentage of pure versus carrier oils in Sandalwood essential oil products on the market can be quite low. In recent years Sandalwood ‘scented’ or ‘perfumed’ oils containing isobornyl cyclohexanol – a synthetic compound developed to mimic the scent of true Sandalwood – have begun to appear on the market, and are considered by virtually all meditation experts to be vastly inferior products with almost none of the benefits of the real thing.
Lavender is a catch-all name for almost 50 species of plants in the Lavandula genus of the Lamiaceae (also known as the mint) family of flowering plants, many of which are cultivated for their essentials oil. The oil is extracted from the flowers of the plant – usually by steam distillation – and is widely used in the cosmetics and soap industries, as well as some culinary applications, and has been popular since the days of the Roman Empire. Native to (and currently grown in) many parts of the world, lavender is one of the most common essential oils on the market today, as well as one of the least expensive.
Possibly the most popular essential oil in the Western world, Lavender has a sweet, flowery aroma and when used in meditation is believed to help calm and bring a sense of peace to the mind, relieve stress, ease pain, clear negativity from the spirit, and help achieve emotional balance. The relaxing effects of Lavender oil also help some users to maintain their positions for greater lengths of time, allowing for longer and more productive meditation sessions. Generally speaking, Lavender oil is safe to apply directly to the skin, or can be diffused into the air; in some cases, small amounts of Lavender water may be consumed prior to a session. Like Sandalwood, Lavender is a very versatile essential oil and can be mixed with a wide variety of other oils to produce more unique scents.
Used in religious rituals and various forms of meditation since antiquity and traded throughout Asia, Africa and what is now the Middle East for more than 6,000 years, Frankincense is one of the oldest of all the essential oils used in meditation. Also known as olibanum and sometimes called the King of Oils, Frankincense oil is extracted from the resin of members of the Boswellia genus of trees in the Burseraceae family of flowering plants – particularly the Boswellia sacra tree. Believed to be native to Central Africa – and still most commonly grown there, along with parts of the Middle East – according to the Christian New Testament Frankincense (along with Myrrh, discussed below) was one of the gifts presented to the baby Jesus by the three Wise Men (or Magi). Frankincense has also been used for centuries in various folk medicines to treat asthma, pain, and infection.
Frankincense essential oil has a spicy, earthy, slightly woody aroma and is widely used in many forms of more spiritual meditation as it is believed to help the individual connect with their inner spirit and higher self, which is necessary for finding enlightenment. It is also used to cleanse the meditation space of negative energy, promote inner stillness, and develop inner strength and peace. Frankincense can be diffused or applied to chakra and pulse points on the skin and is frequently used both ways during a single session. Though not as versatile as some other essential oils, Frankincense is sometimes mixed or used in conjunction with Sandalwood, Lavender, Ylang Ylang, and Clary Sage oil.
Compared with many of the other essential oils used in meditation Neroli is a relative newcomer; it was first introduced (initially as a bath oil and an ingredient in perfume) in the late-17th century in Italy. Neroli essential oil is extracted from the flower petals of the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium) which is believed to be native to Southeast Asia and Western Africa and is currently grown throughout the citrus fruit producing parts of the world, including the US states of California and Florida. It is widely used in the perfume and cosmetics industries today and is believed to be one of the ‘secret’ ingredients used in making the soft drink Coca-Cola.
Neroli oil has a light, sweet, slightly spicy floral aroma and is used to help promote self-love, self- acceptance, and well-being, making it particularly popular in various forms of mindfulness meditation. It also helps to ease tensions, inspire creativity and mental clarity, reduce anxiety and fears and is believed to be helpful in reducing pain and lowering blood pressure. Neroli can be diffused or applied directly to the skin, although people with specific sensitivity to citrus products will want to dilute it in a carrier oil and try it on a test area before first using it in a meditation session. Neroli mixes well with Clary Sage, Jasmine, and Chamomile oils.
5. Clary Sage
Used as a medicinal herb since the time of the Ancient Greeks, Clary Sage essential oil is extracted from the leaves and buds of the plant of the same name (Salvia sclarea) which is native to the Mediterranean Basin as well as Central Asia and Northern Africa. It is still cultivated in those areas, as well as the US state of North Carolina and widely used in the perfume industry and to flavor some wines, liqueurs, and vermouths.
Clary Sage has an earthy herbal and slightly fruity aroma and is used in meditation to help promote feelings of joy and positivity, clear the meditation space of negative energy, and help the mind remain focused and grounded. It is also believed to help promote better breathing, help lift a person’s overall mood, alleviate menstrual discomfort in women, and avoid distractions during a session. Clary Sage can be diffused or used topically and mixes well with most other essential oils.
Native to Central and Southeast Asia, there are over 200 species of Jasmine (Jasminum officinale), many of which are cultivated as decorative plants, for culinary uses including making teas, and have been used in religious and marriage rituals throughout Asia for thousands of years. The essential oil is extracted from the flowers of the plant using a solvent as opposed to steam and is widely used to make perfumes and bath oils.
Jasmine has a sweet, exotic floral aroma that is used in meditation to aid in relaxation, help lift the spirit, and banish depression and feelings of insecurity. It is also believed to help increase spiritual energy, promote inner awareness, and aid in reducing anxiety and stress. It is used both diffused in the air and topically, and sometimes Jasmine tea is consumed at the start of a session. Jasmine is believed to be a natural aphrodisiac and is frequently used in couples’ meditation sessions. It mixes well with Sandalwood, Neroli, Clary Sage and Lavender essential oils.
7. Ylang Ylang
Extracted from the flower petals of the Cananga tree (Cananga odorata) – which is native to Asia and is today widely cultivated in Indonesia and the Philippines – Ylang Ylang essential oil is used in both the perfume industry (it is one of the components of Chanel No. 5) and in aromatherapy, and is also used to flavor a type of ice cream produced in Madagascar.
Ylang Ylang has a rich fruity, floral scent that helps alleviate feelings of depression, frustration, and sadness, and relieve stress during meditation. It is also believed to help release anger and jealousy, promote optimism and a feeling of self-worth, and help the mind and spirit connect with positive energy. It can be used topically or diffused in the air. Some individuals experience mild headaches when first using pure Ylang Ylang for meditation and will need to dilute it in a carrier oil. It is also believed to lower blood pressure and is considered an aphrodisiac in some cultures. Ylang Ylang mixes well with any of the other floral-based essential oils.
Among the most ancient essential oils (and one of the gifts of the Magi to the baby Jesus) Myrrh essential oil is extracted from the resin of a number of small trees in the Commiphora genus of flowering plants which are native to parts of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Traded for thousands of years throughout its region of origin, Myrrh has been used in ancient Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat stomach and kidney ailments and blood disorders, as well as in the rites of many religions including those of Ancient Egypt, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Myrrh has a quite strong earthy, woody, musky aroma and is used in meditation to help ground and focus the mind, open the spirit, and eliminate negative and hurtful thoughts and memories. It is also effective in reducing stress and helping one to achieve calm and tranquility during a session. Some individuals find Myrrh to be a bit overpowering on its own and so mix it with Frankincense or Sandalwood. While it can usually be used directly on the skin, many people find Myrrh to be most effective when diffused in the air.
Vetiver essential oil is extracted from the roots of a type of bunchgrass (Chrysopogon zazanioides) native to the Indian subcontinent and is widely used in the soap, cosmetics, and skincare industries – particularly in the treatment of acne. It is also used in some places as a termite repellant. Vetiver has a very strong earthy, grassy aroma and is used in meditation to help balance and ground the mind and spirit, focus spiritual energy, and soothe restlessness. It is also effective in relieving stress and anxiety, combating depression, and helping one to deal with issues surrounding anger and jealousy. It helps to alleviate the negative energy that comes from insecurity and insomnia and promotes a deep feeling of relaxation and calm. It can be used both topically and through diffusion. As is the case with Myrrh, some may find the scent to be a bit overpowering on its own and so it is often mixed with other oils – particularly Clary Sage, Patchouli, and Neroli.
10 Palo Santo
Palo Santo (which roughly translates from Spanish to ‘holy wood’) oil comes from the wood of the Bursera graveolens (commonly called Palo Santo) tree, which is native to the Yucatan Peninsula in South America. Closely related to the Boswellia sacra tree from which Frankincense is extracted, Palo Santo oil has been used for centuries in South American native medicine and by shamans in religious rituals. Palo Santo oil has a relatively mild, woody aroma with hints of mint and citrus. The oil has a calming and grounding effect when used in meditation, and is also believed to clear negative energy from both the physical space and the mind and promote feelings of tranquility and positivity. It is also believed by some to have a healing effect on the spirit. Along with normal means of diffusion and topical application, Palo Santo wood chips are sometimes burned during meditation, and it is widely used in the production of incense.
Cedarwood essential oils are extracted from the wood (and sometimes the sap) of various conifer trees in the Cyprus and Pine tree families. Among the oldest and most popular is the Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica) which is native to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and has been used in various rituals since the time of Ancient Egyptians. Cedarwood essential oil has a sweet, sharp woody aroma and is used in meditation to help turn the focus inward and fully experience the meditation session. It is often recommended for use during times of personal instability and chaos, as it helps to dispel negativity, calm the nerves, and allow for better concentration and grounding. It is usually diffused in the air, and will adversely affect some people when used topically. It blends well with Jasmine, Lavender, and Neroli.
12. Roman Chamomile
Roman Chamomile oil is extracted from the flowers and buds of the chamomile plant (Chameamelum nobile) which is native to Europe and is today cultivated there, as well as North America and parts of South America. Used medicinally throughout Europe since the Middle Ages, Roman Chamomile today is used in the cosmetics and perfume industries, as a food flavoring, and in the production of herbal teas. Roman Chamomile oil has a strong sweet herbal scent and is used in meditation to help reduce stress and anxiety, combat the negative effects of depression, low self-esteem, and anger, and bring a feeling of calm to a session. Suitable for diffusion and topical application, Chamomile oil is often recommended for use in meditation sessions done immediately prior to going to bed, as it is effective in combating insomnia. Chamomile is often blended with Ylang Ylang, Bergamot, Jasmine and Lavender.
Bergamot Oil is extracted from the peel of the Bergamot orange. The Bergamot Orange Tree (Citrus bergamia) is native to Southeast Asia and is today mostly cultivated in Southern Italy, parts of South America, Africa, Southern Europe, and its native area. Along with its essential oil, it is also used to make food flavorings, marmalade, and perfumes. Bergamot oil has a very spicy, slightly sweet orange aroma and is used in meditation to promote positivity and alleviate sadness, depression, and grief. Bergamot oil is often used during times of particularly strong anxiety and stress to help calm both the mind and the spirit and allow for deeper meditation. It is also effective in easing pain and aches in the joints and muscles and can help to allow longer meditation sessions. Some people have a negative reaction to the use of Bergamot oil on the skin, and it should be applied to a small test area prior to its use during meditation.
Patchouli essential oil is extracted using steam from the dried leaves of the plant of the same name (Pogostemon cablin), an herb native to the tropical regions of Asia. Widely cultivated today in China, India, South America, and Southeast Asia, Patchouli has been used for centuries in making perfumes and traditional medicines and is today also used in the production of incense, herbal teas, and insect repellents. Patchouli oil has a deep earthy, woody and slightly fruity aroma that helps to center and ground the mind, calm the spirit, and allow for increased inner focus. Some people find the scent of pure Patchouli oil to be harsh and somewhat unpleasant on its own, and so it is very often used in commercially-produced blends. Patchouli became very popular with the ‘counter-culture’ in Europe and the United States during the 1960s, and some people ‘grow their own’ in herb gardens; instructions on how to safely extract the essential oil from the dried leaves are readily available online.
Despite the strange-sounding name, the essential oil derived from the roots of the Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi) plant – a flowering member of the Valerian botanical family native to the Himalayan Mountains region of India, China, and Nepal – has been used in traditional medicines, perfumes and religious ceremonies for thousands of years. In Christian tradition, Spikenard is believed to be the oil with which Mary Magdalene washed Christ’s feet. Spikenard oil has a gentle musty, bittersweet and woody scent, and is used in meditation to help release inner anger and turmoil, relax the spirit, and promote inner peace and gratitude. It is also used to help with issues caused by anxiety and insomnia. Spikenard can be irritating to some people’s skin and is often blended with a carrier oil (most often coconut) for topical application. It blends well with Frankincense, Patchouli, Myrrh, and Vetiver.