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.
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