When days darken, cold winds blow, and the damp settles into our lungs and bones, we can turn to our ancient healing allies, the Conifers for support. Their volatile oils not only nurture our bodies while uplifting our spirits, they make a perfect accompaniment for yoga. Inhaling and/or massaging their restorative fragrance into the skin before or after practice will leave you feeling warmed, supple and resilient as, well, an evergreen.
Conifers are both grounding and enlivening, and here in the Pacific Northwest, they are amongst our oldest and long-lived trees. Towering over the forest canopy, their top branches are always nourished by the sun but their roots extend deeply into the earth. And it is during winter that they offer us their offer their strength, endurance and rootedness – when we need it most.
Physiologically pine, spruce and fir oils (found in needles, bark, sap and resin) have a plethora of healing benefits that help beat back seasonal stress. They stimulate the respiratory system, decongest the lungs, boost the immune system, and balance hormones. Their needles are one of the richest sources of polyprenols which stimulate the immune system, cellular reparation and have antistress, adaptogenic, and wound-healing activity. Experiments on mice have demonstrated that polyprenols have antiviral activity, in particular against influenza viruses! And as anyone who has ever smelled their fresh-cut branches already knows, their fragrance helps to calm the nervous system, reduce stress and cortisol, and increase feelings of peace and wellbeing.
And applied topically, they can be used as oils or warming muscle salve, bringing blood flow and circulation to stiff winter bodies, muscles and joints. Plus their anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties can even help to soothe dry, chapped or winter irritated skin. (For more information see here and here).
You can also enjoy their healing aromatic powers by tossing Conifer needles (about a cup) into bath before or after practice for a revitalizing, mood soothing soaking. And blended with sea or epsom salts, they can be incredibly therapeutic and relaxing.
And considering that our skin (along with our noses) contains olfactory receptors, I find it within the realm of possibility that their aromatic powers may even promote healing. Several recent studies on our skin’s scent receptors suggests that scents can help repair damaged skin and muscles! Black Spruce Oil can stimulate our body’s cortisone to heal torn muscles, tendons and other tissue.
According to this aromatherapy site, each of the conifers offers its own energetic effects as well. The essential oils of firs are warming and invigorating, supporting a healthy flow of energy through body and “their straight-forward energy brings confidence and courage” while relieving nervous exhaustion and stress. Spruce helps support the adrenal glands, stimulate and increase energy, and are “centering, calming and focusing”.
Pines represent the “the oldest aromatic energy on the earth” and are “linked to the oxygenation of our planet”, therefore their energy is grounding and supports the heart chakra and respiratory system. Canadian Hemlock is anti-inflammatory, “stimulates the imagination and inspiration while stabilizing the nervous system” and enhances the 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th chakras, while Western Hemlock can “help dispel disturbances in your energy fields which are disrupting your health and well-being”.
So if you’re eager to add the conifers many benefits to your yoga practice you’ll be happy to know that conifer oils and salves are easy to make. Simply bundle up for a winter walk and gather a few boughs (conifers of your choice). Then strip the needles (about a cup) and infuse them with a few twigs and cones in oil, and warm on low heat for several hours or overnight. And then if you like, you can thicken the oil with melted beeswax to form a simple salve. Next strain off the plant material and pour your oil into sterilized bottles or tins . (Recipes for both oil and salve can be found here)
So on chilly winter days makes demands on our reserves of energy, endurance and warmth, you can use the oil on temples, wrists and pulse points to enhance either a restorative or invigorating practice. And massaged into the skin and limbs the salve will leave you feeling cozy, energized and relaxed – whenever you need it.
(Note: If you live in Victoria BC Gather (my wild food/wildcrafting venture!) will be offering some Comfort & Joy Conifer Bath Salts, Oil and Salve at Moonrise Creative’s Winter Market. These make a perfect seasonal gift for yourself or any yogis you know!)