(Published in Yogi Times, Nov. ‘04)
The next time you stop to smell a rose, imagine that its deep, rich floral fragrance is a gift from nature to your heart and soul. In her generosity, the earth has blessed us with over five thousand varieties of this beautiful flower. However, only a few give the world-renowned treasure sought by perfumers: the oil of rose.
The most famous of the roses is the pink-red Damascus rose. This rose is legendary for the exquisite aroma of its oil. In Bulgarias Valley of Roses, this rose and the white rose are cultivated side by side, as their companionship strengthens each others resistance to harsh weather and disease.
Roses, like all flowers, have a biorhythm that dictates their cycles of blossoming and production of fragrance molecules. The harvesting of roses for distillation begins in the early dawn at the time the Vedas call Brahma muhurta, Gods time, as the peak production of oil in the petals is in these pre-dawn hours. Roses produce their maximum levels of damascenone, the primary molecule of rose fragrance, on the mornings of the full moon. Ayurveda observes that the full moon radiates a special kind of energy, called soma, which is said to have a cooling, nourishing, and relaxing effect on the mind and body. It is fascinating to consider the biological connections between the cooling influence of the moons rays, the biorhythmic production of damascenone molecules in roses according to the moon, and the effects of rose oil, which, like soma, are cooling and relaxing to the mind and body.
This, then, is one way to think of the feminine oil of roses: it is the moonlight absorbed by the flowers, the dew on their petals at dawn, and the flavors of the soils in which they grow. It is a well-known fact among farmers and perfumers that organically cultivated roses produce a superior oil, while those raised with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers lose the essence of soma. A pure rose oil from healthy soma-rich roses is an elixir for ojas, the nutritional essence that supports the immune system. Rose oil is tridoshic, meaning that any body type can use it without concern for causing physiological imbalances.
As we are in the Thanksgiving season, it would be appropriate to mention a few statistics about rose oil as we savor its aroma. It requires 1,400,000 handpicked blossoms to produce a liter of oil. A single ounce of the oil contains the essence of 40,000 blossoms, and sixty-seven blossoms give only one drop. If we remember these numbers as we inhale the precious perfume, we will naturally feel a sense of gratitude toward all those who have labored hard to bring us such a treasure.
There is an analogy between this labor and the symbolic meanings of rose in spiritual traditions. Rose oil is a gift of healing and joy from the flowers, but this essence does not come easily. Likewise, roses symbolize the open heart filled with love and sattvic consciousness, which, like a gradual alchemical distillation process, must be cultivated with yogic diligence, sincerity, and mindfulness. Roses are also a paradoxical symbol for the apparent duality of worldly and spiritual realms: they represent the essence of purity, innocence, and sattvic qualities, yet their oil is also one of the most famous ingredients in alluring and sensual perfumes. Like the symbolism of lotuses, which are said to open their radiant petals above the mud of worldly concerns, roses offer their enticing beauty, but warn us of samsaras dangers with their thorns.
There are many ways for yogis and yoginis to use rose oil to enhance their practice, all of them enjoyable. A drop applied to the heart, throat, or third eye centers deepens any meditation, especially those contemplations that develop love and compassion. Rose has renowned powers as a sexual rejuvenator and romantic aphrodisiac; it is the perfect anointing oil for yourself and your beloved before tantric lovemaking, helping to transform the impulses of sexual gratification into deeper levels of emotional intimacy. An application of rose oil as a simple perfume is an antidote to the rajasic aggravation that disturbs the mind when we follow the news too closely, something to remember in this election month. A few drops of oil or a sprinkling of fresh petals on the bath restores equanimity and joy lost in the course of a typical modern workday.
Wearing this exquisite oil is not only a treat to yourself; everyone you come in contact with will be affected positively by the aura of this sublime flower. Remember this next time you stop to smell a rose.