What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a meditation practice of using your senses to engage in the present moment by focusing 100% of your energy and attention to something. Totally free and utterly simple, mindfulness is proven to relieve stress, depression, hypertension, pain, anxiety, and many other chronic conditions that are prevalent in our busy modern society.
Origins of Mindfulness
There are elements of mindfulness in all the world religions- Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism- but many practitioners specifically cite teachings of the Buddha as foundational for mindful meditation. Mindfulness meditation is used to overcome our basic negative emotions- feelings of dissatisfaction, depression, and disappointment in ourselves and the world around us. By focusing fully on the present moment, you are able to dispel negative emotions, experience gratitude, and feel more positive.
You can practice mindfulness anywhere and anytime. It doesn’t require special equipment or knowledge. But in order to be successful you must be able to separate yourself from distractions. So silence your cell phone, leave it in the other room, and get ready to focus!
The Power of Aromatherapy
There are many recommended mindfulness activities, such as various breathing exercises, body scan meditation (focusing on the different parts of the body as you lie still), and guided imagery (focusing on your visual sense to calm the mind). For now, we’ll focus on one of the most effective ways to practice mindfulness to combat stress and anxiety- by using scents, or aromatherapy.
Why is scent so effective in controlling stress and anxiety? Our sense of smell is the only one of our senses that is directly connected to the brain. You’ve probably noticed that scent can instantly transport you to another time and place. When fragrances from the atmosphere enter the nose, they attach to receptor cells, which send electrical signals to the limbic system of the brain, the part involved in memory and emotion. Combine the powerful effect of scent on behavior and moods with the ancient practice of mindfulness, and you have a formula for truly healing the mind!
Mindfulness Activities with Aromatherapy
1. Using a perfume oil rollerball.
Sit in a comfortable position on the floor with your spine straight. Apply your perfume oil to the inside of both wrists. Bring your left wrist to your nose and inhale deeply for five seconds, with eyes closed. As you lower your wrist back down to a comfortable position on your lap, concentrate on the aroma. What does this aroma look like in nature? How did it travel to you from the plant world to you? After a few minutes, raise your right wrist, and focus on the oil gliding into the skin, sinking through the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis, touching your hair follicles, sweat glands, fat, connective tissues, and blood stream. Lower your right wrist as you exhale deeply. Repeat until you feel fully relaxed and in the present.
2. Using a smudge stick.
Make sure you have an abalone shell or bowl to set down your smudge stick when you have finished using it. Light your smudge stick by holding a flame to it until it begins to smoke. Using your hand or a feather, direct the smoke over your body from feet to head and then back down again. Imagine the smoke carrying with it any negative emotions you have been feeling. Recite positive affirmations as you cleanse yourself with the smoke. Once you have smudged your body, begin to move through your space, repeating positive affirmations as you diffuse the smoke. I recommend Shaman's Market if you're looking for smudge sticks!
3. Using a diffuser.
Prepare your diffuser by adding your scented oil and water and turn it on. Sit in your meditation posture a few feet away from the diffuser vapor and focus on your breathing, aware of the sensation of breath entering and leaving the body. Focus on the different feelings and thoughts of your mind and resolve to let them go. Imagine the diffuser vapor carrying away all of the negative emotions of the day. Inhale the fragrance for five seconds. Exhale, releasing any negative emotions. Concentrate on how the aroma traveled from the plant world to your wrists. The plant grew from seed, developing its aroma fully. It was then harvested and distilled to capture its essence. The essence exists in this moment to replace any negative thoughts with thoughts of pure plant-filled joy and goodness. It is a gift from the earth and you are enjoying it fully in this present moment. Continue breathing deeply until you feel fully relaxed.
4. Using a bath & body oil in the bath.
Remove any distractions from the bath area, including your cell phone. Dim the lights and run warm water the same temperature as your body, making sure it isn’t too hot. Drop your bath oil into the bath, and sink in, emerging your body under the water as far as you can, submerging your legs, bottom, and arms. Drop your arms to your side in a restful position, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. Breathe in slowly for five seconds, inhaling the aroma. Exhale, releasing any negative thoughts or emotions from the day. Repeat this process until your mind is uncluttered and quiet. Step out of the bath and wrap yourself in a warm towel. Remember to get dressed slowly as to retain the meditative benefits of your bath.
5. Using a bath & body oil on the body.
Sit on a chair or the floor in a comfortable position with your arms and legs exposed. Drop the oil into your hands and rub it between the hands until it’s warm to touch. Rub the oil in circular motions starting with your feet and working your way upward. As you apply the oil, focus on inhaling the scent by breathing in slowly. Imagine what the scent looks like in nature. Is it a flower? A tree? A fruit? As you exhale, release any negative emotions. Imagine the scent entering your mind and pushing out any negative emotions. After you have finished applying oil to both legs, continue in circular motions on the hands and up the arms toward the heart.
Meditative Scents for Mindfulness Practice
When selecting a scent to use in your mindfulness practice, choose something that makes you happy and gives you a sense of peace. We all have different reactions to scents, and it’s best to choose a scent that already has a positive affinity for you.
Once you start using the scent regularly in your meditation practice, you will establish a firm association in your mind with meditation. After a while, you’ll find that getting a whiff of that smell will instantly put you in a meditative frame of mind. You can then use it as a tool to calm the mind in moments when you are especially tense and don’t have time for a full meditation session.
If you’re looking for a few scents that are particularly good for meditation, try these:
Frankincense and Myrrh are two gummy saps that flow from trees native to the Arabian peninsula. Both have been traded for more than 5,000 years, their importance in trade widely attributable to their use in ancient temples and religious ceremonies by the Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Jews, and Christians, as a means to vanquish negative spirits and purify the spirit. Frankincense has been shown in modern aromatherapy studies to have a calming effect on the mind.
Attar of Roses is an ancient combination of Rose and Sandalwood. These two complimentary plants form a perfect union of relaxation. Rose is an ancient symbol of love and passion that has been used for centuries to treat anxiety and depression. Women have a particular affinity for roses, as they can be used to relieve symptoms related to PMS. Sandalwood has been shown in studies to treat stress and focus on the mind.
Eau de Provence is a synergistic combination of French Lavender, Jasmine, and Bergamot. Lavender has been studied extensively for its ability to promote relaxation and restful sleep. When combined with Bergamot, it has been shown to be more effective than lavender alone to achieve those purposes. Jasmine is a fresh, romantic scent that is an herbal tonic- it makes you feel good!
Thanks for reading! Now go forth and be present!