Aromatherapy: Balancing Yin and Yang - a TCM Approach

Aromatherapy is an art and a science, and in addition to the physiological effects essential oils have on the body, essentials oils also expand our consciousness, and can help to balance our energies.

In this modern world it is easy to become imbalanced with so many responsibilities such as family, work, friends, house duties as well as distractions everywhere - from social media, to gossip, as well as bad news, and social issues. Too much doing (yang), and not enough time being (yin) leads to imbalance (emotionally, mentally and energetically) and physiological stress. On the contrary, too much sitting around (yin) and not enough exercise (yang) also leads to imbalance and lack of energy (to gain energy, you need to use it). There are ways to live life in positive yang, such as doing some exercise, doing some work - especially work that you are passionate about, creating, and so on. Just as there are ways to live life in a more positive yin, such as getting enough sleep and relaxation, doing a relaxing yin yoga class, taking an aromatherapy bath, having a massage, being with people in a supportive space and so on.

As it is now Spring which is a time of growth, where life force is abundant in nature and people, this is an auspicious time for new beginnings. Therefore it is also a great time to invite more balance into your life and take in different perspectives. I’m introducing how you may use essential oils based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is over 2000 years old and has evolved over time, and essential oils can be used in this framework, to help bring ourselves back to a state of balance. 

Before I get into that, I would like to begin with part of a speech on essential oils that I found inspiring, thought-provoking and poetic. The speech was delivered by David Crow, a master herbalist, aromatherapist and acupuncturist. 

"Many processes of life have made it possible for the oil to come to us and many more processes continue as we inhale it. If we were able to see the entire process we would know that this oil originates in the sun and reaches its fulfilment in our awareness. Light evolves into consciousness.

The sun's light flows into the atmosphere and across the surface of the earth. It could fall on a planet that was entirely stone, or gas, or ice, or fire and it would never find it's way into any form of living consciousness through which it could perceive itself. Instead, it falls on this most perfect of worlds where ions of time made the elements harmonic and out of that harmony the photosynthetic beings emerged. Now the sunlight falls on earth's blue and green surface and the plants harvest it with their upturned hands.

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Plants descend from ancient ancestral lineages and their role in life is agents of nature's self organising intelligence. Day after day, year after year, generation after generation, the sunlight awakens their abilities to synthesise molecules out of air and water. In the process they regulate the elements of the biosphere. Then through human labour the plants are cultivated and harvested and processed into food, medicines, and essential oils. We bring the foods and herbs to our tongue and the perfume strip to our nostrils and our cells recognise the tastes and fragrances, as the flavours and aromas of light because metabolism is combustion of sunlight that has reached us across the bridge of plants. And then there is more... 

As we inhale, the chemical energy of aromatic molecules is converted in the enzymatic fires of the olfactory receptor sights into neurological currents that flow inward to the brain. Finally, somewhere in the mysterious interface between mind and matter this neurological energy which was once aromatic molecules in a plant, which were once rays of sunlight, arises as a perception of fragrance...

If we understand the stages of how light evolves into plants then into our metabolism and then into our consciousness, it is impossible to say where intelligence begins and ends. In reality its all intelligent and much more than we are because it is a profound life-giving and life-sustaining intelligence so its nature is sacredness." - David Crow (2014)

I would recommend you listen to the whole speech (see references below) if you would like both a scientific and poetic perspective on essential oils, sustainability and how we need to be in harmony with nature if we wish to keep having an abundance of medicines from the earth.


 lavender essential oil is produced by a method known as steam distillation. Most essential oils are extracted this way.

lavender essential oil is produced by a method known as steam distillation. Most essential oils are extracted this way.

Plant Medicine

Many plants have medicinal qualities that are in biochemical harmony with us, because they existed long before us and evolved over millions of years. Many of the active ingredients in pharmaceuticals are plant derived or plant inspired (scientists often create synthetic chemical compounds imitating natural ones). Even though therapeutic grade essential oils and herbs are natural, we do need to understand the role of each plant and how it interacts biochemically to determine if it will be beneficial for an individual. In Ayurveda (which originated in India over 5000 years ago) and Traditional Chinese Medicine it is recognised that each person has a dominant constitution that can help guide decisions as to what will help keep a person in balance and therefore in good health. It also understood that when a person is out of balance adjustments to diet, exercise, life style habits and taking up meditation or other mindfulness practices really makes a difference and can often reverse health problems. However the focus is on prevention - preventing health problems is always easier than cure. You can take quizzes online to find out what your constitution is, and what that means for you if you are interested.


Traditional Chinese Medicine - the principle of Yin and Yang

There are different ways that we can choose an essential oil for a particular issue. One healing system is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is based on several principles that make sense when you observe the nature of life. One of the principles is about balance - your energies need to be balanced to remain in a good state of health. You may have heard of acupuncture, which works on the meridians in the body. The meridians are channels for energy, called Qi (pronounced "chee").  Qi is the life force throughout nature and our bodies. It is invisible, dynamic and moving. The twelve major meridians each run through a particular organ in the body and all the meridians are connected like a network. The Qi needs to be balanced and flow freely to ensure you stay in good health. It is believed that stress and negative emotions can lead to energy blockages and if you ask any TCM practitioner, many bodyworkers and other natural medicine practitioners we can confirm that we see evidence of this all the time. The more people reduce stress, do things that feel good, spend time with people who treat them well, look after their bodies with bodywork, get enough exercise and have a balanced healthy diet, generally the healthier they are and the more energy they have. 

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Yin and yang forms the basis of TCM, and one cannot exist without the other. Yin and Yang do not remain fixed - they are ever changing and are interdependent. The qualities of Yin and Yang are:

  • Yin is: energy condensing - it is slower, descending, cooler, more moist, and a state of being. It is material and substantial.

  • Yang is: energy expanding - it is faster, rising, warmer, more dry, and a state of knowing. It is immaterial and non-substantial.

Yin is the feminine energy and yang is the masculine energy, and they complement each other. All things can be considered more yin or more yang, including parts of the body. So the organs and cells are yin, while the vital force - Qi is considered yang.

Energy is always evolving and sometimes energies become imbalanced within the body. TCM aims to treat that imbalance. For example if the yang energy is overactive a person may feel hot all over and have a red tongue, in which case yin plant medicine would help them - to cool down the overactivity and increase the yin energy. In the case of aromatherapy we would therefore use yin essential oils (essential oils that are more cooling, moist and feminine energy). However it goes deeper than this as there are essential oils that are good for a particular organ that is imbalanced. Depending whether the energy is overactive or deficient is also a factor that is used in determining which essential oil to use. So a deficiency in yang would present itself as a chilly body and lethargy and could be treated by essential oils that will boost the yang energy, such as ginger, rosemary, or cinnamon. However that imbalance may be related to a particular area or organ, and there may be a more specific essential oil that could be the most beneficial. 

The energetic roles of yin and yang tells us what essential oils may do (the therapeutic action) depending on whether the oil is more yin or more yang.

  • Yin: is cooling, calming, promotes sleep, inhibiting, absorbing, storing, generating and moistening.

  • Yang: is warming, energising, stimulating, transforming, transporting, eliminating and protecting.

Nothing can be classified as completely yin or completely yang, they move in and out of each other, they are polarising and in Traditional Chinese Medicine health can be restored when yin and yang are in balance, in harmony. However conditions are always changing both within our bodies and in our environment and so we are constantly adapting. In our very busy, predominantly yang lifestyles we need some yin practices to bring our body back to balance so practices like gentle yoga and tai chi, getting plenty of sleep, meditation, receiving massages, taking aromatherapy baths and reading can help balance our energies.  


Yin and Yang Essential Oils

For what better way to influence the mind and Spirit than through a physical medium that captures with such evocative power the very essence of Nature? Essential oils, too, are “vital substances” - the natural alchemical synergy of plant and sun.
— Mojay (1997)

Essential oils affect your body physiologically -  creating change in the mind, emotions, and hormones via the limbic system in the brain as well as making their way into the bloodstream and affecting the different systems in the body such as the respiratory system, digestive system, musculoskeletal system, and so on. However this life force (Qi) that runs through the meridians in the body is also influenced by essential oils. 

Each essential oil can be classified as predominantly either yin or yang or can be neutral. For example most floral essential oils are yin such as roman chamomile, everlasting, lavender, rose, geranium, ylang ylang and so on. The spicy essential oils are yang, such as cardamom, cinnamon and ginger. Citrus essentials are usually yin, such as bergamot, grapefruit and lemon, whereas orange oil is neutral - neither yin or yang and orange oil is known to relax the nervous system and promote feel good emotions. Many of the herbaceous essential oils such as bay laurel, marjoram, rosemary, and thyme are yang. Whereas cypress is yin and clary sage is neutral. The woody notes could be yin or yang for example sandalwood is yin and atlas cedarwood is yang. Frankincense is yin and myrrh is yang. Peppermint and spearmint are yin with their very cooling properties. 

 Lemon essential oil is produced by cold pressing lemon peel

Lemon essential oil is produced by cold pressing lemon peel

A person's constitution can help in determining which plant is the best remedy for them - because several plants will be helpful for a particular ailment or emotional issue, but some will have a cooling (yin) quality whilst others will be warming (yang). I immediately think of ginger and peppermint as an example. Both of these herbs are great for digestion whether used internally as a herbal remedy (such as a tea) or externally as essential oils (such as abdominal massage, the essential oils diluted in a vegetable oil). However ginger is warming and peppermint is cooling. So if a person has cold hands and feet and digestive issues - ginger may be the most beneficial herb to use (depending on other factors) as it will increase circulation and warm the body, however ginger could be overly warming and stimulating for a person of the opposite constitution.

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Looking at a person holistically we would also assess their mind, mood, energy levels, sleep patterns, stress levels and so on, to really choose the best essential oil/s for them. It is also important which essential oil the person is drawn to - which aroma they find pleasing. The body knows what is best, as long as we go with our natural instinct and don't bring the mind into it! In my practice, when a client comes to see me for an aromatherapy massage and we are addressing a particular issue I will be drawn to some particular essential oils for them quite immediately, they will discuss what the issue is and then I will also ask them to smell some essential oils to confirm what I've chosen. What I usually find is the oils I was drawn to are perfect for the issue they would like treated, and they also enjoy the aroma of the essential oils I have chosen and there may be a particular oil that they really love and that gives me more information. 


The Five Elements

In TCM there are five elements and each element rules certain organs, seasons, qualities and so forth. Each element is also a particular phase of yin or yang and there is a creation cycle and a control cycle. I won't go into great detail here, however each essential oil has a ruling element too which also helps in determining which oil to use for a particular issue.  

Water Element

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  • Season: Winter

  • Yin Organ: Kidneys

  • Yang Organ: Bladder

  • Rules: The Will

  • Highest Expression: Wisdom

  • Negatives emotions: Fear, Stress

  • Positive emotions: Gentleness

  • In Harmony: determined, resourceful, wise

  • Disharmony: apathetic, unconfident, apprehensive, restless, driven, insecure

  • Universal Energy Force: gathering

  • Essential oils: cedarwood atlas, geranium, ginger, juniper, thyme

Wood Element

  • Season: Spring

  • Yin Organ: Liver

  • Yang Organ: Gallbladder

  • Rules: The Ethereal Soul

  • Highest Expression: Compassion

  • Negative emotions: Anger, Envy, Frustration

  • Postive emotions: Kindness, Generosity

  • In Harmony: motivated, organised, easy going

  • Universal Energy Force: generating

  • Disharmony: tense, frustrated, angry, rigid, repressive, compulsive

  • Essential oils: bergamot, chamomile, everlasting, grapefruit, sweet orange, yarrow

Fire Element

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  • Season: Summer

  • Yin Organ: Heart

  • Yang Organ: Small Intestine

  • Rules: the Mind

  • Highest Expression: Love

  • Negative emotions: Hate, Impatience

  • Positive emotions: Joy, Love

  • In Harmony: sensitive, well-integrated, joyful

  • Disharmony: nervous, anxious, agitated, hypersensitive, despondent, lacking self-esteem

  • Universal Energy Force: prospering

  • Essential oils: jasmine, bay laurel, lavender, melissa, neroli, palmarosa, rose, rosemary, spikenard, ylang ylang

Earth Element

  • Season: Late Summer

  • Yin Organ: Spleen

  • Yang Organs: Pancreas, Stomach

  • Rules: the Intellect

  • Highest Expression: Empathy

  • Negative emotions: Worry, Anxiety

  • Positive emotions: Openness, Fairness

  • In Harmony: attentive, thoughtful, supportive

  • Disharmony: vague, confused, worried, over-protective, dependent, self-doubting

  • Universal Energy Force: stabilising

  • Essential oils: benzoin, cardamom, frankincense, lemon, sweet marjoram, myrrh, patchouli, peppermint, sandalwood, vetiver

Metal Element

  • Season: Autumn

  • Yin Organ: Lungs

  • Yang Organ: Large Intestine

  • Rules: the Bodily Soul

  • Highest Expression: Reverence

  • Negative emotions: Sadness, Depression

  • Positive emotions: Courage, Righteousness

  • In Harmony: communicative, vital, positive

  • Disharmony: melancholic, regretful, pessimistic, vulnerable, unresponsive, remote

  • Universal Energy Force: contracting

  • Essential oils: cypress, clary sage, eucalyptus, pine, tea tree, thyme

Note most of this comes from Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit referenced below. If you are interested in further study I highly recommend this book. 

It is believed and experienced by many that our organs also process emotions. So for many of us when we feel an emotion we may feel it in a particular area in our body. Here are the emotions and their related organs:

  • Anger: Liver

  • Joy: Heart

  • Grief/Sadness: Lung

  • Worry/Pensiveness: Spleen

  • Fear: Kidneys

  • Fright/Shock: Gallbladder

It is important to express emotions in a healthy way so that they aren't stored in the body, creating blocks. It is also important to experience many positive emotions to balance out the negative ones that naturally arise. Suffering happens, it is a part of life however we need to cultivate gratitude, presence and find things we enjoy to balance out the negativity. This is one aspect of health that isn't addressed by allopathic medicine but is more known and treated by natural medicine practitioners. That is okay, and it is partly why allopathic and natural medicine are complimentary to each other.


Safety of Plant Medicine

Importantly I'll mention that just because plant medicine is natural, doesn't make it harmless or weak. Plant medicine is very powerful indeed and should be used mindfully. Some herbs are helpful for most people and relatively harmless. Other herbs will be contraindicated for people on certain medications because they interact with the medication or are just inappropriate because the person has a certain condition. Also some herbs are not considered safe for pregnant women because they affect hormones. The same goes for essential oils even though we apply them externally they still reach the bloodstream and therefore need to be used in appropriate dosages and certain essential oils are hazardous for some people (e.g. we don't use rosemary essential oil for people diagnosed with epilepsy as it is very stimulating and may result in a seizure). Essential oils also need to be diluted before applying to the skin as they are just too concentrated to use neat. 

Herbal medicine is taken internally and utilises the plant as a whole - for example in a strong herbal tea or tincture. Whereas, essential oils are the concentrated extracted essence of a plant, and are administered differently to herbal medicine because essential oils can be up to seventy times stronger than the plant. Essential oils are volatile and aromatic - so it makes sense that inhalation is the best way to reap the benefits of the essential oil, and well the scent of essential oils are very enjoyable. Aromatherapy is the art and science of using essential oils therapeutically, predominantly by inhalation, and via topical use (e.g. aromatherapy massage, compresses, natural essential oil perfumes, body and face oils, chest rubs, etc.).  I'm constantly surprised that some MLM companies get away with encouraging the ingestion of essential oils like it's a common and riskless thing to do, which is not the case at all. I would recommend you take advice from a health practitioner and not a corporation who clearly has an interest in making maximum profits and the majority of people involved in those MLM companies are not practitioners and know very little about health. 

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Each essential oil may share many of the uses of the whole herb - for example chamomile tea (herb) is very calming and so is the essential oil (Roman Chamomile) however to use the essential oil you would diffuse it, use up to 4 drops in the bath, or dilute it in some vegetable oil and rub on your chest. You wouldn't ingest it like you do the herb. Note however that the essential oils are not a complete match to the herb/plant from whence it came. For example, frankincense as a herb extract has been helpful in fighting cancer but the essential oil does not contain the boswellic acid which was the ingredient attributed to the results.  


 Photo by  Jordan Heath  on  Unsplash

Intuition and Aromatherapy

Intuition plays an important role in aromatherapy. We are often drawn to the essential oil that our body needs. We may discover this by smelling several essential oils and having one particular oil stand out to us. I often find this is the case with clients. I may already have an essential oil in mind for them to help with a particular issue, and I ask them to smell some essential oils and find that they are drawn to the same oil. The body knows what it needs, as long as you approach it with an open mind. For example you may have a favourite essential oil, but that oil may not be the best one today so when you go for an aromatherapy massage follow what your body wants on that particular day. Leave assumptions at the door. I have clients where the blend I create for them one week might completely change the following week because their needs have changed. They may have needed relaxation and essential oils that help digestion in one session and the next they may be feeling lethargic and scattered and needing stimulating and mind-clarifying essential oils. Energy is always in motion. We are different every day.

Healing is about balance. When the mind, body and emotions are in complete balance, we feel healthy and full of vitality. When something gets out of balance we can utilise plant medicine (among other things) to help bring us back into alignment. 


Spirituality and Scent

In pretty much all spiritual traditions around the world scents are used in sacred ceremonies, meditation, church gatherings, sweat lodges and so on. The aroma used is often consistently used for that ceremony - it is an aroma that helps set the mood and is considered sacred. As scent and memory are intrinsically linked using the same aroma for the same ritual will help trigger your consciousness to reach that state of presence and connection you are searching for. So consider incorporating aromatherapy in your yoga, meditation or other sacred practices. Frankincense and Sandalwood are popular essential oils for these purposes, and there are many others that are also great to use.


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A little bit about my services…

I offer aromatherapy massage (and products), oncology massage, Swedish/relaxation massage and remedial massage. Where needed, I also massage my client’s acupoints - the same points treated in acupuncture - to essentially get the energy flowing again where there may have been blocks. I have integrated my knowledge of Eastern and Western philosophies and bodywork approaches and when I work I am drawing on my knowledge and my intuition to guide me in providing bodywork that is holistic, nurturing and very beneficial. I love giving aromatherapy massages as I feel they are very nurturing and balancing, especially for women as many essential oils help balance women’s hormones. So if you’ve never had an aromatherapy massage I encourage you to give it a go. I still use my remedial massage techniques to sort out your tense muscles, and I use lots of relaxing Swedish moves to keep your nervous system relaxed. I choose essential oils to benefit your mind and emotions or other issues such as sleep disorders, digestion issues, headaches or hormone imbalances. Essential oils are especially amazing with how they affect our mood and our energy.

Essential Oils - Where to Purchase

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Most essential oils found in shops are not therapeutic grade. I sell Essential Therapeutics essential oils directly to my clients as these are a trusted Australian brand (non-MLM) and are 100% pure and first grade oils. If you are living in Australia and interested in purchasing essential oils and would like a products price list sent to you, please email: info@essentialrestorativemassage.com.au

 Face oils available at my home clinic and online at my etsy shop

Face oils available at my home clinic and online at my etsy shop

I sell other products too, including organic herbal teas (detox tea, and calm & digest tea), amazingly nourishing natural botanical face oils, natural aromatherapy perfumes (very popular), French clays, Epsom salts and essential oil diffusers. You are welcome to test the face oils and perfumes at a massage appointment or get into contact if you would like to drop by and try them.

My teas and Face oils are also available on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/EssentialRestorative

Thanks for reading.

- Belinda


References

Battaglia, S (2003). The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy (second edition), Brisbane, Australia: The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy

Mojay, G (1997) Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, China: Gaia Books Limited

Worwood, V, (1999) The Fragrant Heavens: The Spiritual Dimension of Fragrance and Aromatherapy  London: Bantam Books London

Crow, D (2014) YouTube: Essential Oils As Expressions Of Botanical Intelligence with David Crow, NAHA Conference Keynote


Information provided by Essential Restorative Massage is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have a health condition or symptoms of one, please consult with your doctor before using complimentary remedies and therapies.

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