Yoga feels good for a lot of reasons: Stretching relieves tension, and you get the combined benefits of working out and meditation in one class. But there’s another part of yoga class that’s so good, it rivals the bliss of exercise endorphins and deep breathing. It happens during Savasana (the laying-down-eyes-closed part at the end of class) when essential oils are applied to skin or clothing via a mini-massage to the neck, temples, shoulders, or even feet. Not all instructors do this (to my great personal disappointment), but most recognize the power of aromatherapy and its effect on their clients.
If, like me, you’ve ever spent your Savasana in a half-dream hoping the teacher would hurry up and do the little scented-massage thing already, you get it. The brief experience feels like a thousand lavender eye masks, times a hundred whiffs of fresh farmers’ market herbs, plus well, a massage — a.k.a. heaven. Happily, it’s also easy to simulate at home. To help you achieve yoga-studio-level good vibes, we talked to experts in the field about their favorite oils and oil blends (plus a few scents in other forms) that anyone can use for massaging their own neck and feet, or to simply make their apartment smell like a relaxation palace.
Sarah Calandra Fine, studio manager and private instructor at Good Karma Yoga in Peekskill, New York, grew up with a massage therapist for a mom, so she knows the power of healing touch. “I do aromatherapy and healing touch at the end of my classes, some teachers don’t, but I’m definitely a touchy-feely person. I think that that kind of physical touch is really important for grounding at the end of class. People can get a little bit floaty there. I live by the brand Young Living. They’re amazing. They are therapeutic grade oils, so you can actually eat them, which is important because anything that we put on the skin digests into our body.”
Fine makes her own blends using different base oils for their cooling or warming properties. “I use Banyan Botanicals as a base. They’re a good Ayurvedic brand. Coconut oil is more of a cooling oil. I often use it because if there are sensitivities, it’s much gentler on the skin. However, in the colder winter months, using something like a sesame oil, which is really warming on the body, can feel great. I’m really connected these days to cedarwood and sandalwood. I find them to be really earthy and centering in a way other oils aren’t. I’ll mix lavender with one of those for a really simple blend.”
Krissy Jones of Sky Ting Yoga keeps a roster of her favorite essential oils on hand, some for calm and others for improved focus. “My favorite oils are jasmine, rose, and frankincense. I put jasmine and rose on as my perfume. Recently, I’ve been diffusing different scents in my home from my friend’s essential oil company called Helias. I diffuse lavender before bed or when I’m in the bath relaxing, and I diffuse this blend called Passion when I’m doing work and trying to focus. They’re so effective.”
Beau Dobrikov, a yoga instructor at Align Brooklyn, diffuses oils at home and enjoys the activating properties of bergamot. “Many yoga instructors apply essential oils to the temporal lobes and/or the back of the neck, as it is often where students store stress. It’s a great way to induce relaxation. As more students are opting to not be adjusted or may have allergic reactions to the oils, more teachers are applying essential oils to their hands and simply holding the scent over students during Savasana or choosing to massage over clothed parts of the body. When at home, I often diffuse rosemary and lavender to relax, and bergamot is a personal favorite for activating and remaining alert. A great source for essential oils is Mountain Rose Herbs. All of its products are organic and can be diffused or used topically.”
A set of six different scents is a great way to get to know your personal scent preferences. It’s also a good housewarming gift for a friend who could use a little self-care.
The founder of Yoga Agora, Nick Velkov, is a big fan of Savasana neck massage. He’ll even extend the pose to make sure everyone gets a turn. “I happen to use oils only at the end of Savasana. For me, it makes the transition from Savasana into upright seat nice and gradual. I will give as many neck rubs as I can, time permitting. In my Friday-night yin class, I give a neck rub to everyone, even if it means we have to take a longer Savasana. I just don’t give any neck rubs if I have a cold or flu. My absolute favorite oil is the Jivamukti aloe lavender lotion.”
When it comes to making the yoga studio inviting, palo santo is a common favorite, in its original form or diffused as an oil. “Most of our Sky Ting teachers give a bit of a massage or adjustment in Savasana at the end of class. I don’t use oils when I give Savasana adjustments because I know some people are sensitive to lotions, oils, and smells. We let each teacher decide whether to use oils or not, massage or not. We use palo santos to clear our spaces at the end and beginning of each class. We are careful about which scents we use because we know everyone is sensitive to different smells.” —Krissy Jones, Sky Ting Yoga
Plus some Strat-approved diffusers
If you’re looking to get started on diffusing your essential oils at home, this Strategist-approved diffuser, with its calming yellow glow and timer settings, is worth the cash.
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