With uses as varied as anti-aging, easing anxiety, and treating fungal infections, essential oils are the ultimate multitaskers. Extracted from the roots, flowers, leaves, or bark of a plant, essential oils have been used medicinally and ceremonially for thousands of years, and they continue to rise in popularity—the U.S. industry is currently valued at $3.36 billion by Grand View Research, and the group expects that value to climb to a stunning $13.94 billion by 2024.
So odds are that you’re already familiar with many of the benefits and uses of essential oils, and you may use popular standbys like lavender to lull you to sleep or rosemary to boost your memory. But did you know that essential oils could also help you access your chakras?
To better understand how essential oils are related to the chakras, I talked to Ki Yoga founder, Lululemon Ambassador, and Satyam Yoga Teacher Training co-founder Kiara McBain, whose vast and diverse experiences in the yoga world and passion for the science behind essential-oil use make her the perfect person to elucidate this often-elusive subject.
In the worldviews of both yoga philosophy and tantric religions such as Hinduism, chakras are energy centers believed to be a part of the “subtle” body. McBain describes this subtle energy as “the aspect of ourselves that we affect with our practice that may only be felt, but not seen.”
The number of chakras varies by tradition, but most practitioners count seven, aligned vertically from the root chakra (Muladhara) at the base of the spine to the crown chakra (Sahasrara) at the top of the head. “These chakras represent aspects of the self,” McBain explains. Each of the seven chakras has a distinct set of functions and distributes energy at a different frequency and to different areas of the body. McBain notes, “If someone has a blockage or injury to one of these chakras, they will experience the challenges of the darker side of the chakra.”
Performing a chakra meditation can help you tune in to which ones feel out of balance or difficult to access in your own body. Physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual issues may also indicate that a particular chakra is in need of attention. Digestion issues? You may want to focus on the 3rd chakra. Fear death? The 1st chakra, which is the seat of our survival fears and instincts, may be your focus. The seven chakras, and the qualities associated with them, are listed below.
How Are Essential Oils Related to the Chakras?
McBain prefers to speak about “accessing” the chakras rather than “opening” them, which she believes is an inaccurate way of representing chakra work. Energy and chakras are inherently abstract concepts, but McBain offers a great visual to concretize our understanding of the ways in which specific essential oils match up with specific chakras: She visualizes the chakra system as a tree growing up the spine, and takes inspiration from the plants that produce each oil to designate their positions at different points of the tree.
“The chakras move from the most gross to the most ethereal,” McBain explains. “This [tree] picture paints the assignment of essential oils to the chakras.”
So, according to McBain’s system, vetiver oil comes from the root of a low growing grass and is therefore positioned near the bottom of the metaphorical tree, with the root chakra. A little further up the tree come oils from flowers that bloom low to the ground, like clove, which is distilled from the tiny buds and stems of the clove tree. Citrus fruits hang higher up at the 3rd, or solar plexus, chakra, followed by “big, beautiful” flowers at the 4th, the heart chakra. As the tree branches near the top of the spinal column, the aromas of the oils become more “ethereal” and “effervescent,” corresponding to the 5th through 7th chakras and their more spiritual qualities.
McBain’s visualization makes finding chakra-balancing oils accessible to the layperson, and she insists that we are our own experts when it comes to knowing which oils we need. We all react differently to different oils, and you may have to try a few to hit on one that works for you. Don’t like the smell of bergamot? Does your body recoil in the presence of frankincense? “Trust it,” McBain says. “This is all very subjective, and so is the energy body. There’s no prescription that is 100% right” for you as an individual, so if you’re interested in accessing the 3rd chakra, but bergamot doesn’t appeal to you, try another citrus oil, like grapefruit or orange. At least one of them will speak to you. “Trust whatever you experience,” McBain assures. Use her recommendations, below, as starting points, but keep in mind that your intuition will guide you toward both the chakras needing attention, and the essential oils to access them.
Essential Oils for Each Chakra
1) Root chakra (Muladhara)
- Location: Base of the spine, at the perineum
- When imbalanced, you may experience: Insecurity, fear, and abandonment
- When choosing an oil, think: Grounding, woody smells, and oils from the root of the plant
- Try: Vetiver or cedar wood
2) Sacral chakra (Svadhisthana)
- Location: Center of the sacrum, below the naval
- When imbalanced, you may experience: Lack of creativity, jealousy, anger, and sexual dysfunction
- When choosing an oil, think: Warm, sensual smells, and oils from small flowers that bloom low to the earth
- Try: Cinnamon or clove
3) Navel chakra (Manipura)
- Location: Upper abdomen, just above the navel
- When imbalanced, you may experience: Shyness, lack of courage, being overly forceful or controlling
- When choosing an oil, think: Citrus
- Try: Bergamot or grapefruit
4) Heart chakra (Anahata)
- Location: Behind the heart
- When imbalanced, you may experience: Isolation, loneliness, broken heartedness, sadness
- When choosing an oil, think: Big blossoms
- Try: Geranium or rose
5) Throat chakra (Vishuddha)
- Location: Base of the throat
- When imbalanced, you may experience: Expressing too little or too much
- When choosing an oil, think: Refreshing, purifying scents
- Try: Peppermint or spearmint
6) Third-eye chakra (Ajna)
- Location: Between the eyebrows
- When imbalanced, you may experience: An overactive mind, inability to concentrate, lack of inspiration
- When choosing an oil, think: Ethereal and spiritual
- Try: Frankincense or arborvitae
7) Crown chakra (Sahasrara)
- Location: Crown of the head
- When imbalanced, you may experience: Feelings of disconnectedness from the world
- When choosing an oil, think: Transcendent
- Try: Palo santo or clary sage
Note: Some oils are universal, corresponding to all seven of the chakras. McBain calls lavender oil a “super oil,” and also includes arbor vitae (“tree of life”), clary sage, and palo santo in this category.
HOW DO I CHOOSE AND USE ESSENTIAL OILS?
When buying essential oils, “look up the company and see if they have any purity standards,” McBain recommends. “See if they tell you where the plants are grown, see if they’re sustainable—or are they demolishing the earth in an effort to create a thousand rose buds so you can have rose oil?” It’s not a good sign if the company isn’t upfront about their manufacturing process, McBain warns.
Before using, check out this article on essential oil safety, and consider mixing your essential oil with a carrier oil to dilute its concentration. McBain prefers fractionated coconut oil because its lack of scent doesn’t interfere with the aroma of the essential oil.
McBain recommends incorporating essential oils into a seated meditation: “Take one to seven different oils, one at a time on a cotton ball, and smell the chakra aromatherapy [while visualizing] the corresponding chakra.” She notes, “Traditionally, if using a different oil for each chakra, one would start at the root chakra and work upward; however, if you have an overly-active mind, try starting at the crown of the head and working downward.” To access the whole chakra system using universal oils like lavender or clary sage, “place the oil on the skin (soles of the feet, back of the ears, or chest) and visualize the entire chakra column while practicing nadi shodhana breathing.”
No matter how you use essential oils, pay attention to how your mind and body feel (and listen to your nose!) to better understand which oils will best benefit you.