One of the ‘silver linings’ of the recent months of lockdown has been the fact that nature has had a chance to recover from some of the effects of human activity. Pollution levels in large European cities dropped to the lowest levels recorded for decades; in urban places, bird song could be heard above the usually constant hum of traffic and machinery; and many people began to re-discover the simple pleasures of walking in the countryside, their local woods or in a nearby park. A slower pace of life has also enabled many of us to find the time to plant seeds in our garden or window boxes and to re-connect with nature in all sorts of individual ways.Today, walking, hiking and gardening are the most popular forms of exercise in the UK and these, together with other outdoor activities, have all seen a boom in recent months.

It is well known that endorphins (the hormones that makes us feel happy) are released when we exercise,and research has shown that being active on a regular basis can actually change the structure of our brains over time. The general consensus is that exercisingfor just one hour a day, three days a week can improve the healthy functioning of our brain, encourage mental relaxation and provide a good basis for long-term fitness and longevity. The critical point is that we need to find a form of exercise that we positively enjoy! We all know that many gym memberships last less than a few months and that simply using will power to try to maintain an exercise routine frequently backfires if we don’t work with ourselves creatively and according to our natural inclinations. So it is good to select a type of exercise that is right for you and that suits your age, fitness level and existing lifestyle ... and there are plenty to choose from, including cycling, tai chi, running, swimming, martial arts, rowing, football … the list is endless. My favourite forms of exercise are walking orhiking in wild places, gardening … flowers rather than vegetables … as well as practicing Tibetan yoga, which I have been doing for over thirty years.

All essential oils are derived directly from nature, so they fit seamlessly into an eco-friendly, health-conscious and sustainable active lifestyle that respects the environment in which we live. A good way to start the day or make us feel uplifted and ready to ‘get going’ with any type of activity is to use essential oils that are members of the citrus family. Citrus oils are renowned for their vibrant, fresh and zesty aromas and very often they offer the same revitalizing therapeutic properties. All citrus fruit oils are extracted from the peel of the fruit. The little sacswhich contain their aromatic essence, are visible to the naked eye, lying just beneath the outer skin of the fruit. The essential oil is obtained by ‘expression’, where the peel is simply pressed to release the natural oil. This is the reason why so many citrus oils have such a ‘true to nature’ scent: another words the aroma is just the same as the scent that fills the air when you peel an orange or slice a lemon.

Grapefruit oil, for example, has a lovely, sharp invigorating aroma, that can help to kick start the day. It can help relieve feelings of tiredness, emotional fatigue or the lethargy of a hangover. I adore the smell of grapefruit, especially our organic grapefuitoil. Lime is another one of my all time favourite citrus oils: it is sweet, fresh and more subtle than lemon. Lime helps revive me if I am in low spirits and can help me feel motivated to do exercise. Our wild cedrat oil is a more unusual citrus treat with a delightfully soft, lemony, long-lasting fragrance. Used on the skin, it improves the circulation and has a cleansing and toning effect. The green, mellow citrus aroma of petitgrain, which is produced from the leaves of the orange tree, has a ‘classic’ refreshing, eau-de-cologne scent. Petitgrain oil is indicated as a tonic for those suffering from stress, anxiety or depression ... much in the same way as bergamot, another very popular and useful citrus oil. Bergamot is also useful to include in any body oil blends where stress is affecting the muscles, such as those areas of tension commonly found in the shoulders.

All these citrus oils can be added to a room diffuser as a morning pick-me-up especially if you have had a late night and are having difficulty waking up fully! I formulated our diffusion blend ‘Brighten’ with exactly this kind of remit in mind. Alternatively, a few drops of any of these oils (or a blend) may also be added to the bottom of the shower tray or to a sponge or loofah first thing in the morning, so they emit a wonderful refreshing fragrance in the steam and impart a hint of citrusy perfume to your skin. However, do not use certain citrus oils (even in minute amounts) on your face or any parts of your body that will be exposed to the sun. There is one safety measure that needs to be highlighted in association with using citrus oils: several of them are phototoxic … another words, they can discolour the top dermal layer of the skin if they are applied to an area which is then exposed to direct sunlight. It is therefore important to always check the specific safety data carefully before applying any citrus oil to your skin: therefore, at Aqua Oleum we clearly state all contra-indications on the label in precise manner, including phototoxicity data. For example, it is vitally important to always be sure to use a ‘bergapten-free’ form of bergamot oil to avoid potential phototoxicityissues. On the other hand, petitgrain (despite it’s citrus-like aroma) is entirely free of such issues being produced by steam distillation from the leaves of the orange tree.

At the end of the day, of after a workout or any form of exercise, essential oils can also help you to wind down and bring relief to tired, aching muscles. I formulated our body /massage oil ‘Aches and Pains’ for specifically this purpose, which includes lavender, rosemary and black pepper in the blend recipe. Lavender is of course our most popular soothing and relaxing oil, ideal to help de-stress at the end of the day or to use on the pillow to encourage a restful night’s sleep. But it is also a good oil to use for general aches and pains, strains and sprains, arthritis and rheumatism. It can also be blended effectively with a variety of different oils according to the therapeutic effect required. Rosemary, for example, is a valuable invigorating and warming oil that increases the circulation and helps bring blood to any troublesome area. Rosemary is good to apply to areas of localized pain and more generally for back pain, especially when the pain is worse during cold, damp weather. When applied to the body, in the form of a rub, massage oil or even in a bath, it will quickly help the muscles recover after a workout.

Both lavender and rosemary combine well with small amounts of spice oils such as ginger or black peppertoo. When applied to the body, these spicy oils help bring warmth and comfort to tired muscles, as part of the post exercise winding-down process and to avoid stiffness. ‘Vitality’ is also an excellent read made blend to apply to the skin either pre or post exercise, containing black pepper and bay oil, which both bring warmth to the entire system, as well as helping to tone and strengthen the muscles. Peppermint oil is particularly useful when you want to cool an inflamed area in a gel (pure aloe vera gel is ideal) in combination with lavender. Another aromatic that I like to recommend for post exercise is sweet marjoram, being a warming, restorative oil that helps soothe the muscles: it is especially good for muscular pain, strains, sprains and over exertion. It blends well with soothing oils such as lavender, bergamot or chamomile, either applied to tight muscles in combination with a carrier oil, or simply added to an evening bath, ideally with some Epsom salts. It also works well with more stimulating and rubefacient oils such as rosemary, ginger or black pepper for a more invigorating blend. Remember, body oils are always best applied to warm skin after a hot bath or shower!