You’ve started a yoga practice. You feel great and you’re ready to add a little oomph to your practice, what can you do? Throw essential oils into the mix!
Many people say that of all five senses, our sense of smell is the strongest. Smell can trigger different reactions from our bodies and also links to memories we’ve made.
The use of essential oils within your yoga practice can be very beneficial. If you use the same oil or blends during your practice, the smell of that oil/blend can trigger to your mind that, “It’s time for yoga!” You can also use a variety oils and blends for different effects on the body, based on the goal of your practice. More citrus-based oils can be very uplifting + energizing, softer more floral scents can be more relaxing, and the earthy oils can be very grounding.
I love essential oils, I prefer topical application over all, but diffusing oils during your practice works well, too, as it will fill your entire space with the scent you choose.
To help you get started, here’s a list of my favorite oils to use during my yoga practice — and I even get specific on the practice I use each oil/blend for, to give you an idea of what you can try!
For pranayama (breathing techniques):
Peppermint — the potency of peppermint clears congestion and allows you to feel strong and open in your breathing (who remembers the peppermint overload of Vicks Vaporub when you had a chest cold? *raises hand shamelessly* THAT. That is why I love peppermint during meditation/pranayama!)
Eucalyptus — eucalyptus is an invigorating scent and will open airways to assist in breath control
During vinyasa, my essential oil preferences vary depending on the day. I’m going to break this down into TWO separate categories “when I need grounding” and “when I need energy.”
For vinyasa when I need grounding:
Sandalwood — this is a very woodsy aroma. Seriously, this oil transports me to a wooded mountaintop.Woods are EARTHY. Earth = grounding. One of my favorite scents to use during yoga
Frankincense — it’s usage dates back thousands of years, and this oil is known for it’s calming, stress-relief
For vinyasa when I need energy:
Orange — like I mentioned earlier, citrus oils are very energetic. Using orange oil during a vinyasa practice is the perfect pick-me-up to uplift your mood
En R Gee — this is a Young Living blend that’s a mood/energy booster consisting of 7 different oils and works wonders on battling lethargy
Lavender — this is the OG in my essential oil collection. It’s an all-time favorite because it is the QUEEN relaxation oil for me. It’s the perfect aroma for calm + relaxation, which is exactly what I want when I’m meditating.
Do you use essential oils in your yoga practice? If you do, I’d love to know which ones are YOUR favorites to use. If you don’t, give it a try and let me know what you think
Tuesday night in yoga teacher training, we had class on vulnerability. It started with a Ted Talk from Brené Brown called, The Power of Vulnerability. I (despite hanging onto every word she was saying) laughed along with her comedic relief in her speech, knowing there was so much truth and so much power in her words. If you have twenty minutes to watch the talk, I highly suggest it. If not, I’ll sum it up the best that I can. As a social work researcher, Brené was researching worthiness and the driving force behind why some people felt it and some did not. The main difference was that the people who felt worthiness had the courage to be imperfect and flawed, the compassion to be kind to themselves and others, a connection that stemmed from being their authentic self, and finally, the people who felt worthiness fully embraced vulnerability as a necessity in life.
Now, let me tell you, I was prepared for Vulnerability night, or so I thought. I had been anticipating it the entire four months of teacher training. Before I committed to YTT, I did my research. I read so many articles: “What to Expect from Yoga Teacher Training”, “10 Things You Should Know Before Yoga Teacher Training”, “Yoga Teacher Training Will Change Your Life.” Each of those articles mentioned how there was vulnerability lesson to be learned. You would have to vulnerable and put yourself out there and it would be a transformative experience.
I do not like to be vulnerable. I do not like to appear weak. I do not like to show emotion outwardly if it is anything but happy or excited. In one of the articles I had read, the vulnerability class had the students scream, and I mean REALLY scream, in an effort to help them find their own voice. Scream? Have you met me? That would be no issue, I’d have vulnerability night in the bag. (If you haven’t met me, I’m loud so this would not be anything too out of the norm for me.)
But at Yoga By Degrees, screaming, was not the exercise we would partake in.
Our vulnerability exercise consisted of three things:
Tell the story of your journey to yoga.
Read a prewritten (by the instructor) affirmation out loud.
Teach a yoga position.
One of our instructors did the exercise first as an example. A pit grew in the bottom of my stomach; it felt as though my heart was at my feet. I knew that I would not be able to do this exercise without crying. I knew it would be a struggle for me to even get the words out. But, with it being vulnerability night, I decided to embrace the impending struggle and not try to “fake” it so that I wouldn’t cry. By “fake” it I mean cutting corners in my story, not telling the whole truth, or not being fully honest with my classmates. Nope. I was supposed to be out of my comfort zone, so I was going to be 100% truthful, even if it meant choking on tears trying to get the words to come out.
We had the room set up classroom style, the instructor mat at the front of the room and we all had our mats lined up as if it were a real yoga class. Whoever was on the instructor mat was the one doing the vulnerability exercise. If we had been in an auditorium, the instructor mat would have been the podium.
I was the sixth person to go. As I approached the mat, tears had already started to fall down my face. I felt a knot growing in my throat. I dropped to my knees to sit on the mat, looking at the floor in an effort to compose myself. I told my classmates I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get through the exercise.
I looked up, tears streaming, and choked on my words trying to apologize for already crying.
I grabbed some Kleenex (it was sitting next to the instructor mat for this very reason). In my head I thought about how much easier it would be for me to write it all instead of speak it. It’s easier to be vulnerable through writing. I can type everything, in any order, and just let all of the words spill onto the page. Then I can go back and organize the mess of thoughts and feelings. Once organized, I edit and make it all pretty and hit the publish button.
When you’re emotional, vulnerable, in front of a class of 19 people watching and waiting to hear your story… you barely have time to sort out your thoughts. I want to share with you what I shared with my class. While I won’t be able to rewrite my story verbatim, I will do my very best. I will not re-organize it, edit it, cut anything out or try to make it prettier than it was in class. Instead, I’ll just type it up as best as I remember it, the raw version.
Growing up, I always dealt with these feelings of never being enough. I was never pretty enough, smart enough, or athletic enough. Because I never felt like I was good enough, I always worked really hard for everything. I was always independent. I had to do everything for myself and by myself. I always wanted to be strong and because of that I carried all of that weight on my own shoulders. This eventually lead me to the gym. I turned to the weights for therapy. It was my place to go and turn everything off, but eventually that started to take a toll on my body. So, I went to yoga. In one of my very first classes, during centering, the instructor told us to ‘leave anything we had been carrying with us that day at the door. In class, it’s just you and your mat.’ I thought ‘What?’ What did she mean I could just leave it outside for an hour and just be on my mat? What a novel concept right? It was exactly what I needed to hear. The next time I went, the instructor, a different teacher this time for a different class, during centering had told us that we could go at our own pace. Life isn’t a checklist or a to-do list. Life isn’t a competition. It doesn’t matter if you can do this pose perfectly, it doesn’t matter how anyone else around you looks. You can stop for water or child’s pose when you need to. Everything she was saying was striking a chord with me. I was associating all of this yoga stuff to life off the mat. My younger brother is getting married and just bought a house and here I am still completely single. And she was telling me it’s not a race, but all of this, for me, was clicking with things happening outside of the class. After that class, I was overwhelmed with this feeling of contentment. Yoga showed me that it was okay to be exactly where I was at that moment in life. Yoga allowed me to finally find happiness with who I am and I finally felt like I was worthy and I decided to do teacher training, because hopefully, I can give that same message to someone else… that they’re worthy.
It’s funny now, typing that out, I wonder how it was so hard for me to get those words out. But, it is something I don’t ever openly discuss with anyone. I grew up never feeling good enough… for love, for happiness, for anything that I wanted really. I grew up always feeling like what I wanted was just out of reach… so, for me, everything was a competition. In my head it was as if I was challenging myself. Could I get what I wanted?
I wanted to be the smartest. I wanted to be the favorite child. I wanted the best education and the best experiences. I wanted to be the “got it on her own and didn’t need anyone’s help” kind of girl that impressed the hell out of everyone she met. I wanted to have the best body and the most dedication. I wanted to be this Suzie Homemaker that’s this perfect mixture of tomboy that boys would fall over. I wanted to live up to all of these expectations that I assumed people had for me.
Was I behind in life because my younger brother has a real home and future bride and I don’t even have a man that’s willing to take me out on a date? Am I alone because I’m not pretty enough? Because I don’t have the type of characteristics that a good man is looking for? Am I stuck in a corporate career because I’m not brave enough to follow my heart to pursue something else? Am I not fitspo enough to succeed in the fitness industry because it’s taken two years and my Instagram following has completely plateaued? If I gain any amount of weight will people just assume I’m not worthy of the admiration they once gave me? These were all thoughts that I have had at one time or another. If you notice, every thought I had concerned what EVERYONE else thought… but me.
What about me? What about how I feel? Basing my happiness off of the level of acceptance, validation, and standards that I assumed people were placing on me, resulted in self-loathing and self-hatred.
I believe your perception shapes your reality and I had single-handedly created this story in my head, ever since I was little, that I would never be enough.
Yoga changed my mindset. Yoga changed my perception. Yoga changed my reality.
And you know what? It was the hardest thing ever to look at these people who only knew me as a yoga teacher training student, to completely open up and look at them and tell them that honestly I don’t feel like I am enough of anything.
Ironically, my “never enough” journey to yoga flowed perfectly into the instructor’s prewritten affirmation that we had to read to the class. I don’t remember it word for word, but I do know that this is how it ended:
I am worthy. I am loved. I am enough.
After pouring my heart out to these people, in the most emotionally taxing way (I mean, I was full on Kim Kardashian ugly cry / choking on my words / can’t breathe or even speak because I’m crying so hard) I had to read those words OUT LOUD to the class. Everything that I had just told them that I believed I was not… I had to say that I was.
I am worthy. I am loved. I am enough.
I said it. I made eye contact with some fellow classmates. I saw the tears in other people’s eyes as I was speaking. I couldn’t believe that they were crying for me, or maybe even for them because my story resonated with them, or maybe they were crying for us both. I’ll never know and frankly, it doesn’t matter. In that moment I felt so accepted. I didn’t feel judged. In fact, I felt worthy. I was worthy of FEELING all of that. I was worthy of SHARING all of that. I was worthy of being HEARD. I wasWORTHY of being accepted and appreciated just for being who I was in that moment.
My heart felt so heavy (from the tears) and so light (from the release of the weight I’d been carrying my entire life) all at the same time. It was incredible. It was transformative.
And the key to it all? Being vulnerable. I was sincerely honest, not just with them… but with myself. I had to be okay with my story, because that story is exactly what brought me to YTT, to Vulnerability night, to that instructor mat, to that exercise. That story made me the woman I am today.
Brené Brown was right. Being authentically yourself, having compassion with yourself, and being okay with being imperfect … will lead you to the realization that YOU ARE WORTHY.
September is National Yoga Month, so I thought it would be fitting to share some of the essentials that every yogi should own if they’re really interested in delving into their own yoga practice.
If yoga has been on your to-do list, now is the time! Many yoga studios have discounted passes this month. If you’re ready to get started, here’s what you’ll need:
1. Yoga Mat
As if this isn’t the most obvious yoga essential! While many gyms and studios may have mats for members to use, if you’re really going to devote some time on the mat… it’s worth the investment to just buy your own. This way, you can practice at home, and when you aren’t at home you don’t have to worry about using a (potentially dirty) mat that’s been used countless times by others at your gym/yoga studio.
One yoga brand I really love is Gaiam. Gaiam has everything a yogi needs, for any and all levels of yoga or meditation.
Gaiam mats come in a wide variety of thickness, material, and patterns. Of course, you can just go for a basic mat, but again, if you’re going to start spending more time on a yoga mat, you might as well buy one that you like to look at! Mine is reversible: pink on one side and navy on the other. I’m very minimalistic in style, but a fun pop of color sold me on my mat. Gaiam also has lots of mats with beautiful designs.
Tip for beginners: the “basic” thickness of a yoga mat is ⅛ of an inch (2-3mm). However, the thicker the mat, the more comfort/cushion that you have. Consider this when purchasing. But also take into consideration that the thicker the mat, the harder some poses that require balance can be as the cushion can affect your equilibrium in certain asanas. If you’re looking for a little extra cushion go for a 4-5mm, but any higher than a 5 and you risk having too much cushion to successfully balance in your poses.
If there’s one awesome thing about yoga, it is that you really only need YOU and your mat. You just roll it on up and head to class. You don’t have to carry around a big gym back when you’re heading to yoga, you can simply opt for a sling to wrap around your mat so it doesn’t unroll when stored or when in transport.
However, if you’re like me, you could be ever-attached to your phone and need a little more than a sling. I just bought the Gaiam On-The-Go Mat bag, so I have an option outside of my gym bag to take to yoga class and yoga teacher training with me. It’s not a big bag, but more functional that a basic sling as it has a pocket for my keys, gym card, cell phone, etc.
Gaiam also offers gym bags with compartments to hold your yoga mat, depending on your needs.
3. Yoga Block
Yoga blocks are perfect for all levels of yogis! Yoga blocks have many different uses. They can be used as a seat for meditation, for stability purposes in standing poses, and can also be used as an extension of the floor when your flexibility just doesn’t allow you to touch the ground.
Gaiam even put together their own Yoga for Beginners Set, where you can purchase a mat + block + strap + beginners yoga DVD for less than $25! Complete steal! Add in a sling/bag and you could be getting all four of my yoga essentials for less than $40!
OR — you can just do what I did and pull together all of your favorites and curate your own yoga kit. Right now, you can Save 20% Off All Yoga Mats & Accessories At Gaiam.com! THANK YOU NATIONAL YOGA MONTH! But, this sale ends 9/13 — so don’t pass up this chance for a great savings!
Are you a practicing yogi? What are your must-haves? If you’re just starting out, why are you starting yoga? I’d love to know! Let’s chat in the comments below.