The aromatics you use to set your meditation setting are more significant to the practice than you may think. When you use natural aromatic essences produced in the sophisticated chemical environment of a root, fruit, flower, or tree trunk you are accessing a primordial connection that humans have with the plant kingdom.
The fascinating and powerful aromatic essences found in the plant kingdom provide humans with solutions to a variety of physical and mental conditions as well as a spectrum of other needs great and small. Over the course of human evolution, the use of these organic compounds has been enjoyed and explored extensively.
Highlighted below is an overview of how terpene-rich substances like essential oils can be used to enhance your meditation sessions.
Natural Fragrances in Human History
The deep connection humans have with aromatics and their various uses goes back hundreds of thousands of years. For example, fire releases the potent properties of some plants. Early humans soon found that as the roots, bark, leaves, and berries of certain plants were burned, the smoke that wafted through the air had an uncanny effect on the mind, body, and even the flavors of foods being cooked.
It didn’t take these early humans long to zero in on the unique substances behind these aromatic effects, which gave rise to the very first uses of fragrant smoke. Originally, fragrant bits of plants and aromatic resins collected from trees in the local environment were burned as the very first incense.
In fact, the term incense, comes from the Latin word “incendere,” meaning “to burn.” Another aromatic product whose name alludes to the smoky origins of natural fragrances is “perfume.” The Latin terms “per” and “fumare” combine to mean “through smoke.”
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Incense is also one of the first treasures that merchants transported along the Silk Road from the first cities of the Indus Valley civilization to civilizations in the Mediterranean and Northern Africa. Additionally, the spices and incense troves found in the tombs of the great pharaohs illustrated the significance of natural plant essences in the cultures of Ancient Egypt.
As history advanced, the value of carefully collected plant essences increased and the demand grew very high. The profundity of aromatic plant essences exceeded mere sensory pleasure because specific fragrances and plant essences were considered gifts for the gods. For instance, the ancient Romans had a system that dictated the proper incense for each god, petition, and purpose.
Another use for aromatic plant substances that is continued into the modern is the use of these substances in aromatherapy, or the treatment of physical conditions through the use of essential oils in massage or diffusion in the air.
Terpenes and Secondary Metabolites
In order to better understand why plants and the aromatic products they contain are so effective at remedying human conditions, it is essential to look closely at their constituents.
Within the plant are two different sets of chemicals that allow the plant to live and survive in its habitat. The first are primary metabolites which are chemicals that keep the plant growing and producing energy. These do not different very much from plant to plant.
The second set of chemicals are called secondary metabolites. These chemicals are specific to certain plant species and are the compounds that ensure for long-term survival in their environment. Secondary metabolites are what provide the rose with its fragrance or cinnamon with its spicy sweetness.
Most secondary metabolites belong to a class called terpenes, which exist in most plants on the planet. Terpenes are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), meaning they evaporate easily into the environment, releasing their aromatic properties.
Most importantly, terpenes benefit the ecosystem. A-pinene, for example, helps the forest create effective cloud cover, cooling the environment, and encouraging the cycle of precipitation.
However, terpenes provide benefits to human health as well. When inhaled into the lungs and assimilated into the body, a-pinene is an important anti-inflammatory and bronchodilator which greatly enhances respiratory function. Additionally, a-pinene has also been studied for its capacity to relax the body and mind.1
Other terpenes have properties that can improve the mood, stimulate the mind, or relieve stress—all of which can provide great benefit to a meditation practice.
Benefits of Using Terpenes During Meditation
In the practice of meditation, terpenes can be used to invoke a variety of emotional or mental conditions and even states of higher awareness.
In times past, these special effects were viewed very seriously and played an important part in religious practices and the path to spirituality.
Today, the physiological adaptations induced by these plant substances are well-understood and measurable in a variety of studies. Some of the benefits of adding essential oils into your meditation practice are highlighted below.
Positive Mental Attitude
Leaving the science aside for a moment, individuals can still appreciate the way a pleasant fragrance wafting through the air can increase pleasure and relaxation in the moment. Just as unpleasant smells make the mind nervous and uneasy, the scents of sweet oranges, jasmine, or a pine forest can make the meditator happy, calm, and positive.
Probably one of the oldest and most important reasons that potent organic compounds have been used in meditation practices is because of their grounding and relaxing properties.
For example, in addition to the stress-relieving terpene linalool, lavender essential oil contain the terpene myrcene.2 Myrcene is known for its sedative effects and is also an effective remedy for pain. Thyme, ylang-ylang, and chamomile essential oils are also all rich in the myrcene.3,4
Studies have shown how secondary metabolites in frankincense can modulate the brain in areas that control stress and anxiety, resulting in a noticeable adjustment in emotional states. This is not an isolated occurrence either, sandalwood and cinnamon essential oils have also been found to sharpen the mind and increase creativity in much the same way.5,6
How To Use Terpenes in Your Meditation Practice
While incense may be traditional, its frequent use indoors has been greatly discouraged by the medical community. On the other hand, essential oils contain higher concentrations of the terpenes and other secondary metabolites that provide many health benefits, making them a better alternative to incense.
Try using some of the essential oils mentioned above topically right before your meditation practice after diluting them with a carrier oil like almond, coconut, or jojoba oil. Alternatively, add a few drops to a room diffuser or inhale them through a personal diffuser like Zen, Relieve, or Vibrant MONQ.
Once your mind has been effectively elevated through these potent aromatic blends, you will be better able to counter stress and fears while cultivating greater positivity. This can form the solid foundation for your adventures in the mind through the practice of mindfulness.
In the end, meditation and mindfulness will be the tools that build a life conducive to optimal performance, high-quality relationships, and greater enjoyment in life.