You can enhance your meditation practice in several ways by using incense.
If you haven’t tried it, you may find it a game-changer – or at least a surprisingly nice addition.
Incense hit the historical scene about 6,000 years ago in Egypt, but most anthropologists believe humans on every continent spontaneously developed the sweet-smelling fire sticks at around the same time.
Back in BCE, people used incense for practical and spiritual purposes, and the Japanese took it one step further by developing kōdō — the “high art” of incense making.
Today, we’re looking at how to use incense sticks when meditating and the ways you can incorporate incense into your practice.
Why Do People Meditation with Incense?
Since ancient times, both meditation and incense have played significant roles in various Asian, African, Indian, and First Nation belief systems.
Over the last century, the practice has also become a feature of new-age traditions practiced worldwide.
A multi-purpose product used for myriad things — like enhancing meditation — incense has become ubiquitous. In some places, you can even pick up a box at the corner gas station.
So why do people light incense when meditating? Reasons abound, including:
- Point of Focus: Some people prefer to focus on the sweet smell and smoke swirls of incense instead of concentrating on breathing when meditating.
- Sense Engagement: Engaging the human senses during meditation can enhance different types of practices, and incense is an excellent way to excite the body’s olfactory system.
- Enhanced Spiritual Atmosphere: Nobody is sure why, but there’s just something spiritual about incense that makes a room feel more cosmically connected.
- Calming Fumes: Certain incense varieties promote calmness and relaxation.
- Timing Tool: Instead of setting an audio timer, advanced meditation practitioners will use a stick of incense as a timer.
What Does Incense Do Spiritually?
Incense has long been linked to spirituality and religiosity.
Though most prevalent in — and associated with — eastern traditions, Catholics and Muslims also regularly use smoking scents like frankincense and myrrh in various rituals.
New Age adherents worldwide also incorporate incense into their practices and ceremonies.
What does incense do on the spiritual plane?
- Deepens attention and intention
- Increases spiritual focus
- Calms environment
- Clears negative energy (especially sage or copal)
- Incorporates fire elements into meditations (fire, water, earth, air)
What Incense Scents are Good for Meditation?
What are the best meditation scents?
Ultimately, personal preference will be your guiding light. But allow us to recommend the following incense for meditation options.
- Sandalwood: A favorite of Buddhist monasteries, sandalwood is a pleasant, earthy scent that calms the mind.
- Frankincense: Not only does frankincense soothe your nasal passages, but thanks to certain phytochemicals affecting the cerebral cortex and limbic systems, it also helps erode stress and improve concentration, making it an excellent calming incense for meditation.
- Lavender: Lavender balances the inner psyche, which can support a productive meditation session.
- Patchouli: People either love or loathe patchouli. Those who enjoy the scent find it calming and mood stabilizing. (Folks who hate it think it smells like bad body odor.)
- Jasmine: The classic and crisp scent of jasmine is an excellent choice for confidence-boosting meditations because the smell encourages the release of feel-good chemicals that help build positive and healthy neural pathways.
- Lemon Grass: The scent of lemon grass enhances mental clarity and relieves emotional stress, making it an excellent incense meditation option.
- Nag Champa: Associated with the rural flowers of Nepal and India, nag champa is one of the most beloved families of incense and is typically made from champaca, sandalwood, and parts of the halmaddi tree. But what many people don’t realize is that it’s not a traditional option. Satyam Setty created the blend in the 1960s!
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How to Practice Meditation with Incense
Incense can be used in a few ways during a meditation session. Sometimes people use it to enhance the atmosphere. Other times incense is used as an object of meditation.
Want to give incense meditation a try? Give this exercise a shot.
1. Get Comfortable: Get into a comfortable position. Feel free to sit cross-legged, in a lotus pose, or on a chair. Lying down is also an option.
2. Light it Up: Light a stick of incense according to the directions. Make sure it’s clear of anything that may catch fire. Also, play it safe and use an incense holder.
3. Keep Your Eyes Open: Keep your eyes open and watch the trails of smoke curl upwards. Place all your focus on the incense action.
Follow the smoke; notice how the stick or cone diminishes. Incense is a type of trataka meditation, which you can read more about here.
4. Keep Refocusing: When intrusive thoughts torpedo your mind, take note, don’t judge, and gently bring your attention back to the incense. Stay in the present moment and enjoy the smoke swirls and scents in the space.
5. Use the Stick as a Timer: The goal is to stay focused for the entire length of the stick or cone. But don’t push yourself if you’re new to the practice. Doing five or ten minutes during the first few weeks is fine. Your ability to focus will increase.
Don’t make meditation something you dread (like exercise). If you can only last a minute at first, pat yourself on the back! You will improve. The goal is to develop a habit.
Why Is Incense So Calming?
Scents have a profound effect on humans. They have the power to lift or lower our moods. For example, crisp, clean smells can be very calming.
Reasons vary, but possibilities include:
- Fresh Air Trigger: Certain smells are reminiscent of fresh air, which relaxes our parasympathetic nervous system.
- Reduces Tension: Some smells have the power to relieve tension.
- Smells Good: Do you feel more relaxed when you’re somewhere that stinks or smells delicious?
- Stimulates Pleasure Triggers: Some scents trigger pleasure areas of the brain. Moreover, if we associate a certain smell with a positive memory, the body may release a cocktail of feel-good hormones.
- Stimulates Relaxation: Incense smells stimulate areas of the brain that promote calmness.
We hope we’ve given you enough information about incense meditation options, tips, and explanations. Remember, do what feels best for you. It’s perfectly fine to tweak rituals to suit your situation.