Why Essential Oils have no place in Yoga Classes.

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Are we causing harm by spritzing essential oils on folks during a yoga class?

This question has been on my mind for a few years, and it’s time to address my concerns.

In the study of yoga, we learn the eight limbs; the first is the yamas: the moral issues. There are five yamas; one is ahimsa, or non-harming, to self and to others.

So, how might we be creating harm with a simple (we think), kind offer to spritz a pleasant essential oil on students’ wrists as they settle into savasana, the final resting pose of the practice?

Ahimsa is in our words, silence, actions, non-actions. We may think our use of a lovely smelling fragrance near the end of a yoga practice is bringing delight and joy to all those folks getting comfy on their mats—but that’s not usually the case.

Here are my concerns:

1. Not all instructors mention they will be doing this, thereby, they are not asking consent. Consent is key; it is a respect for the other person, and it allows them to have autonomy. There is a legal component here as well, since not all instructors carry liability insurance, and if we do, have we read it?

Some do not cover the use of topical or oral products in the group setting. Some gyms do not allow the spraying of essential oils in the fitness rooms. Yet, this is often ignored by the yoga instructor, and sometimes, the boss looks the other way. This could be a potential legal issue.

Not all participants may hear or understand the instructor as she/he makes their way around the room. Hearing could be a problem due to hearing loss, loud music drowning out the instructor, and/or, soft-spoken instructors.

2. Some people are highly affected by scents and, even if they decline, can smell the scent from the neighboring yoga students. I have been on my mat and can smell strong scents, such as eucalyptus, on the resting students near me. I appreciate the scent, but not if I am trying to rest.

3. Some essential oils have contraindications, and could cause harm to those who are pregnant, have depression, or have asthma, as a few examples. Has the instructor chosen essential oils with fewer contraindications? Lavender is a popular scent and touted for its calming notes, yet, there are people who are sensitive to it.

4. Dilution is needed for some oils. Is it properly diluted? Could the carrier oil have contraindications for some people? Most of the instructors I have asked use water to dilute. Is water enough to dilute some essential oils?

5. The quality of essential oils vary greatly. Is it tested as a quality grade or is it filled with synthetic substances?

6. Knowledge of working with essential oils is important. Has the instructor done some research on the oil they are dispersing that day?

7. Have we thought about why we use essential oils in class? Is it because others do? Did we enjoy it in classes we took? Are we convinced that essential oils are in the yoga practice because everywhere we look, there are ads and displays of these products?

Quite a number are in advertisements and articles in yoga magazines and displayed for sale in yoga studios. Suddenly, the use of essential oil in the practice space has become synonymous with creating a great yoga class. The sale of essential oils has skyrocketed, but I do not see the education of it spiralling alongside that escalating sales chart.

Are we buying into the use as good teachers/instructors, or are we just good consumers? Have we lost the ability to create safe spaces for the practice or are we hyped on the latest trend?

I am not suggesting all yoga instructors take extensive training in essential oils; however, checking out a few resources to learn the basics of them and the safety concerns is crucial. Find a couple of books or websites to explore. Question everything, do your own research. Try everything on yourself.

Full disclosure: I love to experiment with essential oils and use them daily. Usually, it’s all good, and sometimes, not so much.

We, as yoga teachers/instructors need to keep those coming to our classes safe. We need to create a safe environment, use care in our use of words, in how we lead a practice, in how we work as partners, and in the room, and allow people to have choices.

I say, let’s leave the essential oil use out of the yoga practice in group settings. Enjoy learning about them and using them for yourself, family, and friends.

~

author: Jann Dolk

Image: @elephantjournal/instagram

Image: Someecards

Editor: Naomi Boshari

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Margaret Stapleton Feb 11, 2019 10:12pm

I love this. I’ve had many of the same thoughts while teaching yoga. Thanks for writing!

    Janice Dolk Feb 12, 2019 3:43am

    Thank yo Margaret and thank you for taking the time to read. Thank you for taking the time to respond too.

dinaknutrition Feb 10, 2019 7:41am

I’m glad to read an article like this. As much as I enjoy a whiff of essential oil on a tissue waved over me at the end of a yoga class, or breathing in pure lavender oil from a diffuser, I also have asthma. I’m sensitive to strong scents and synthetic scents.

Recently I attended a workshop with about 4 people.

The woman next to me told me she was using eucalyptus, because she was sick and doesn’t believe in antibiotics.

She used it a couple of times during the workshop and it was very uncomfortable for me. The scent was extremely strong.

It’s her perogative to use EOs or not take antibiotics, but I didn’t understand her thinking that it’d be ok to effect other people with this.

If Yoga studios are using them safely and giving people the option to opt out, I think they’re a nice addition to savasana or meditation. Using EOs to help us trigger our sense of smell to reach a meditative state is no different than using a sounding bowl to trigger our sense of sound to reach that same meditative state. Are there CEs available for yoga instructors to learn how to safely use them?

    Janice Dolk Feb 10, 2019 4:58pm

    Thank you for reading and responding. I have seen workshops posted for EO use in various fields, such as massage and definitely they make their way in to various yoga ones as well. I think a workshop, or, a class that clearly mentions it in the title/description is great. You made me recall a time period where I was practicing at an amazing studio that keeps the door open, (I love that!), I am super sensitive to mosquito stings, as in, major histamine reaction. I researched and made a spray of EOs to put on my exposed areas right before practice, I told and apologized to those around me. It was very strong, I think it may be also part of my subconscious need to write this article. I feel the kind remarks of my fellow mat-mates were great, but, I probably had many unhappy. Learning from my mistakes. Thank you again. PS- I go to classes clean and scent free 😉

airfun Feb 9, 2019 9:01pm

This is an excellent and timely article. I am extremely sensitive to synthetic scents, and the issue is largely trivialized, people don’t realize that for someone with this sensitivity they are made ill by concentrations the average person isn’t even aware of.

While I don’t have the same reaction to essential oils I write this because I know there are some who do. Its easy to roll ones eyes and say they should just stay away then…and in truth, we do, its how many of us live.

    Janice Dolk Feb 10, 2019 6:57am

    Thank you airfun, I too am extremely sensitive to synthetic fragrances as well. And also, like you, not to EOs, but some folks are and sometimes I just do not want to smell them when I am trying to relax at the end of a yoga class. I do/will go to a class or workshop that specifically states the EOs are part or the focus of the class, but that a different focus: maybe to learn something, maybe for CEUs and the class description caught my attention. Thank you so much for taking the time to read the article and taking the time to respond.

rosevancutsem Feb 9, 2019 11:46am

Oh come on don’t be a downer some people go to yoga for the little essential oil massage alone!

    Janice Dolk Feb 9, 2019 2:00pm

    So true rosevancutsem! I agree. I am actually the opposite of a “downer”, but this subject has been on my mind for too long to not share it, but, I wrote with kindness in my heart. Thank you for reading, and, thank you for responding. (And, I really do love essential oils) 🙂

thesagegarden Feb 9, 2019 10:51am

Thank you Jann for bringing up these important questions. I practice and teach yoga as a deep listening practice, a spiritual practice of being present with what is. I also love and use essential oils in my daily life. I ask the question, “Are the essential oils in the yoga practice a distraction from being present with ourselves simply as we are? ” When I was hired to teach a year of yoga classes by a local, women’s collective of creatively inspired women who wanted to introduce their essentials to the attending students, we came up with the solution to offer an optional EO ritual after the yoga. After savasana and our closing om and moments of silence, the essential oil of the day was introduced with a discussion and then passed around to anyone who wanted to partake before heading out into their day.

    Janice Dolk Feb 9, 2019 11:03am

    I love the idea to use them as an option post class! Thank you for sharing that idea. And, thank you so much for taking the time to read, and, taking the time to respond.

spiritheart Feb 9, 2019 9:58am

As a long-time Professional and Certified Aromatherapist, I am in total agreement with the author.
I see and hear so many stories almost daily of reactions, burns, sensitivities, etc.
Please do not use oils without training. And when I say ‘training’, I do not mean from MLM’s.
I am in Canada and we have many professional schools. I am currently upgrading my studies with a couple of schools in the US.
You have access on-line and/or in-person to learn with extremely knowledgeable teachers. There are professional associations that provide listings of schools that meet professional standards in the industry.
Check them out.
Thank you Janice Dolk!

    Janice Dolk Feb 9, 2019 11:05am

    Thank you so much for reading and I am grateful for your respond. Good information and great advice on every point.

Debbie Johnson Feb 9, 2019 9:40am

I enjoy using essential oils and the studio where I practice uses them in many classes. My daughter has nasal allergies and can’t use them. She and I both practice at the same place. Teachers there keep us both happy by careful use of high quality, properly diluted oils. One teacher passes oil around at the beginning of class, always identifying the oils or blends used, and usually the carrier oil. Students are invited to put it on their hands or wrists to enjoy during practice. It isn’t spritzed and seems not to bother those who pass on it. Another teacher who applies oil to our skin at the beginning of shavasana always announces that she will be doing so and asks that anyone who does not want oil to raise a hand. These simple precautions seem to work for us.

    Janice Dolk Feb 9, 2019 11:08am

    Debbie, thank you for taking the time to read, and, to respond. And, thanks for sharing how the studio you and your daughter attend address the use of EOs. It sounds like it truly is a win-win for you both and a great experience. Thank you.

Kristen Schneck Feb 9, 2019 8:36am

I teach classes with EOs monthly. I am educated and experienced in both yoga and essential oils. People know what they are signing up for and there is an overview and basic education at the beginning. A lot of people love it and come back and bring their friends. Certain oils used thoughtfully can deepen and enhance the yoga experience. I appreciate and agree with what you are saying here . Consent is required and some education helpful. Using them randomly and without consent is unacceptable. Unfortunately the headline caught my eye because it rubbed me and what I do and seems like a gross generalization but I get what you’re saying.

    Janice Dolk Feb 9, 2019 11:01am

    Kristen, thank you for reading and thank you for your thoughtful response. I agree with how you approach the use of EOs, and if someone comes to your class and doesn’t agree, they at least know, or could choose not to return. I actually love separate workshops/classes they announce there will be education on and use of EOs. So, I agree with you too. I was a bit concerned about the title, but, I am grateful you read it. My purpose was to be kind, I know plenty will disagree with my article, and that is fine. Thank you. PS- I use EOs daily for my self-care, they are amazing!

Laura Boies Feb 9, 2019 7:55am

I use EOs myself, and have done so for years, but I cannot imagine applying any before a yoga class, let alone a teacher using them in class. I’m really surprised that anyone would think this is ok. Clearly this is an important article. Thanks for writing it!

    Janice Dolk Feb 9, 2019 8:10am

    Laura, thank you for reading the article and for your reply. I am so glad to hear how many agree, I go to so many classes where the instructor is using EOs. Different story if I was attending a yoga workshop that specifically stated it would be about, and would use them in the class. And, I too use them for myself, but most of my EO use is before I go to sleep. I also, like you, would not use them before going to a class. Thanks again, I appreciate you taking the time to read it.

Genevieve Brummel Feb 9, 2019 7:19am

I think about this all the time in class. I love when my teacher uses them, but I’m sure not everyone around me loves having lavender rubbed on them. Any recommendations on essential oil books?

    Janice Dolk Feb 9, 2019 7:39am

    Genevieve, valid point. I love the scent of lavender as well, but I have a friend who is very sensitive to lavender, eucalyptus and detests the smell of chamomile and tea tree. Books: there are so many good ones out there. My local library, even though very small actually carries at least three! I downloaded several on my e-reader, the information varies as to depth in each one. A good way to start, is search online for essential oil courses, there are several people who sell oils who will run a free series of anywhere from 4-10 videos. It is interesting to watch some free online series from various speakers and hear the similarities and the differences. Which can get confusing, I try to get a good feel for how many AGREE with some ideas on use. Thank you for reading and posting.

Judy McCord Feb 8, 2019 3:14pm

This is an important article! Thank you for putting it out there for those of us who are sensitive to scents.

    Janice Dolk Feb 9, 2019 7:31am

    Thank you Judy, it felt good to share this, too many of us have sensitivities to various scents. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

Madeline Lane Feb 7, 2019 9:12am

I really liked this article. I found it very informative, to the point, and the author was spot-on about legal safety practices. At the end of the day we want to “do no harm” to our clients.

    Janice Dolk Feb 7, 2019 10:30am

    Madeline, thank you for your thoughtful response. I truly appreciate that you took the time to read this article. Thank you so much.

ajroberts27 Feb 7, 2019 8:55am

I agree completely! I love essential oils in my diffuser and use it daily. But it is a very personal choice of which one to use and when.

    Janice Dolk Feb 7, 2019 10:32am

    Thank you so much for reading and commenting. We are in agreement. Thanks so much for taking time out of your day to read it.

Jody Larson Feb 7, 2019 5:51am

I dislike lavender oil, and the last yoga class I took it was always offered at the end. As you point out, there is no escaping the scent from a neighbor, even if I declined the oil myself.
I also take issue with those infusers that puff out scented oils throughout a room. Some scented oils can bring on an asthma attack in sensitive individuals.
It’s like anything else. Just because someone believes it’s “healthy” or “spiritual” doesn’t mean it’s good for everyone.

    Janice Dolk Feb 7, 2019 7:05am

    Jody, thank you for reading and responding. I so agree with you, and yet, I make my facial cleansing products with EOs. I use them before bed.

Jacqueline Ruppert Feb 6, 2019 8:00pm

I totally agree. There are people with allergies, sensitivities to smell, emotional triggers to smell…a whole host of issues including, as you point out, teachers who are not trained in how to properly use essential oils or who don’t use carrier oils when they should. Great tips!

    Janice Dolk Feb 7, 2019 7:08am

    Thank you Jacqueline! I was so certain my initials comments would come from the ones who disagree with me. It has been good to start with those who agree. I do hope those who disagree will comment so I can learn why.

thewebb_98 Feb 6, 2019 3:49pm

I love my essential oils but I really agree with this. They are potent and as aromatherapy it’s one thing (and even then could be detrimental to some people) but you shouldn’t use them without some knowledge. (For example water doesn’t dilute them properly). Maybe a diffuser in the corner and ask if it bothers anyone before continuing. Good tips and food for thought.

    Janice Dolk Feb 6, 2019 4:36pm

    Thank you both, thewebb_98 and Sheila Delaney Duke. I appreciate that you read the article, and, it was felt good to have the first 2 readers agree 🙂 I know plenty will disagree and that’s ok, I hope they write in as well; always good to have both sides.

Sheila Delaney Duke Feb 6, 2019 1:34pm

Wholehearted agreement, here.

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Janice Dolk

Jann Dolk is a teacher and practitioner of yoga, pilates, barre and movement. She moved to Florida, lured by the call of the palm fronds. She lives in a small apartment with her two feline fur kids, and loves to walk the neighborhood.