What are the all-natural herb and wood incenses all about? We're finding out!
Spending more and more time in Yoga shalas, doing my Oms and trying so damn hard to stand on my head, I’ve noticed the different smells (not talking about sweaty yoga mats or body odors) that sometimes appear, seemingly out of nowhere. Burning herb or wood incenses is something I have zero experience doing myself, but it makes me super curious; what do they do?
No matter if you’re open to their spiritual meanings or not (I’m undecided) the following instances – all natural and derived straight from nature – can also be burned for pure ambiance instead of scented candles, room spray or incense sticks. I’m gonna give it a try.
Starting with my biggest curiosity, Palo Santo, which is frequently burned at my Yoga studio. I first recognized the amazing scent from my own hair (?!), and after a quick check on my Rahua shampoo bottle it was confirmed: Palo Santo oil is on the ingredient list.
The all-natural wood incense has sweet notes of pine, mint and lemon, and the tree, which belongs to the citrus family, grows in select parts of South America. Palo Santo means “Holy Wood” in Spanish, and its smoke is said to cleanse and energize spaces, bringing positive vibes, and helps you relax and open up your mind before meditation or creative pursuits (as stated here). It also works as a natural insect repellent!
Use it for smudging (waving it around the room), or to smolder on a heat resistant surface or in an incense burner.
Feel the need to clear the air? Burning cedar is said to purify spaces, clear negative emotions and attract positive energy. It also symbolizes wisdom and strength. Give me some of that! Cedar incense can be made of wood from different kinds of cedar trees growing all over the world, and comes in several different forms: ropes, sticks, cones, smudge sticks…
It’s seen as a sacred plant, and has been burned by Native Americans for centuries in ceremonies of cleansing, clearing, and blessing. It’s also used in sweat lodge ceremonies and during meditation. The smell? Like a campfire.
Dried white sage is another popular space cleanser that’s been used in rituals and medicine for thousands of years. Need to get rid of negative energy? Then this is the thing for you. It’s also said to be relaxing and clearing, purifying both ones self and the atmosphere.
Now, what’s the smudge about? White sage is most often sold as a “smudge stick”, which puts out soothing smoke when burned. To use it you lit the tip, blow out flame and either wave it in the air or place it in a heat resistant container that’s been filled with for example salt or sand to hold the smudge stick upright. When done, put it out by gently tapping it in the sand or salt.
Sweetgrass also goes by the name hierochloe odorata, meaning “fragrant holy grass”, and is a perennial herb that smells almost like sweet vanilla. Just like the other sacred plants, it’s been traditionally burned by Native Americans to purify spaces and drive away negativity – something we could all probably use some extra help with…
The sweetgrass is usually braided and dried, and smolders as it burns, creating a sweet scent said to attract positive spirits (if you believe in that) and good energy. I imagine it’s a great way to start a day, yoga session or, well, ritual of any kind.
Make sure the room is well ventilated. Light one end of the incense and let burn for a few seconds before blowing out the flame. Palo Santo wood should burn for 30-60 seconds before you blow it out and can be relit many times. Always burn on a safe, heat resistant surface, for example on a bed of soil, sand, salt or ash, or sticked into a glass or metal container filled with one of these substances.
Extinguish thoroughly by gently tapping the smoldering end of the incense into the bowl or container.
Tip! If you have a herb or flower garden, you can easily make your own smudge sticks or herb bundle to dry and burn using things like sage, lavender, rose, thyme or rosemary.
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