How to Meditate With Incense

Woman meditating with incense

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There are many different ways to meditate. As long as a meditation technique provides the opportunity to quiet the mind and relax the body, there are many benefits of meditation for health and stress relief. One strategy that some people enjoy is meditating with incense.

This article explores some of the benefits of meditating with incense and how to do it. It also discusses some of the research behind the potential risks and benefits of this type of aromatherapy.

What Is Incense?

Incense is a type of aromatic substance that is burned to fill the air with a fragrant scent. It can refer to both the material that is burned and the aroma that results.

Incense has a long history of use for a wide variety of purposes. While it is sometimes used purely for aesthetic purposes, it is also often used in religious or spiritual practices, including while meditating. 

There are some purported benefits to meditating with incense, but also some potential risks.

How to Meditate With Incense

The following technique combines the benefits of aromatherapy with the simplicity of focused meditation. It is a simple meditation that can be helpful for those who are new to meditation or find the practice to be challenging. 

  1. Get into a comfortable position and light a stick of incense according to the directions.
  2. As the trails of smoke curl and waft upwards, just focus on watching. Let yourself become immersed in the different paths and patterns the trail of smoke begins to take.
  3. If other thoughts come into your head, gently bring your attention back to the trail of smoke left from the incense. Do your best to stay in the present moment and enjoy the simple and elegant display.
  4. Maintain this process for as long as you’re able to (taking into account the time you have available and your ability to focus).

You may want to spend only five to 10 minutes a few times a week at first. As your ability to focus and remain present grows, lengthen your sessions and try the practice more often.

While the main idea of this meditation is to stay in the present moment, your thoughts will wander at first. As this happens, rather than being critical of yourself for losing focus, congratulate yourself for noticing that your thoughts have crept in and redirecting your focus to the present.

Practicing this type of meditation regularly may help you feel less stressed in the present moment and build greater resilience to future stress.

Benefits of Meditating With Incense

Proponents of incense suggest that it can produce a number of beneficial effects, especially when combined with other mind-body practices such as meditation. Some of these possible effects include:

  • Easing stress
  • Improving concentration while meditating
  • Improving mindfulness
  • Invoking pleasant memories
  • Promoting relaxation

While incense is often used in meditative and spiritual practices, there is not a great deal of research on the impact and potential benefits of this form of aromatherapy. Research has shown that scent can be a powerful cue for triggering memories. An incense scent that reminds you of a pleasant, relaxing, or joyful memory may help evoke those feelings in the present. 

In one older animal study, researchers found that a substance found in frankincense had psychoactive effects in mice. The substance created a response similar to that of an antidepressant in areas of the brain associated with depression and anxiety.

Frankincense and myrrh also contain compounds that can produce an anti-inflammatory effect in mice. Such research suggests that the components of incense might be beneficial, but this does not necessarily mean that incense smoke may produce those same effects in humans.

Recap

Incense meditation may promote some mind-body benefits such as improving focus and relaxation. More research is needed, however, to explore the potential effects of this practice.

Potential Risks of Meditating With Incense

While incense is a popular daily activity in many parts of the world, research suggests that it is not without health risks. While more research is needed, some evidence suggests that incense smoke and its constituents can be harmful to health.

  • A 2021 experimental study found that inhalation of incense smoke led to damage to the bronchial epithelial barrier in the lungs of mice.
  • A 2021 review published in the Journal of Inflammation Research noted that incense has adverse effects that arise that stem from inhaling incense smoke.

Potential adverse effects that may be connected to contact with incense smoke include eye irritation, allergic contact dermatitis, asthma, and nose and throat irritation. It may also contribute to an increased risk for respiratory problems, cardiovascular conditions, cancer, and neuropsychological conditions.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that burning incense can be detrimental to health and increases the risk of asthma, contact dermatitis, and cancer.

Tips for Meditating With Incense

There are steps you can take to get the most out of your experience of burning incense while meditating. The following tactics can help you enjoy the pleasant effects that incense may provide while minimizing the potential health risks:

  • Limit yourself to one stick of incense per day: Inhaling more incense may increase your risk of experiencing detrimental effects. You can minimize this risk by limiting your use of incense products.
  • Keep incense away from babies and young children: Using incense poses potential burn risks and is also linked to adverse effects on respiratory health and gross motor development in young children. Additionally, some of the ingredients used in incense are potentially dangerous for young children. For example, peppermint essential oil is linked to health concerns in children including an increased risk of seizures.
  • Use a scent you enjoy: Some aromatherapy proponents suggest that the best scents for relaxation are lavender (for calming properties), sage (for cleansing abilities), and peppermint (for mental focus), but you can use any scent that resonates with you. 
  • Only practice meditating with incense in a well-ventilated room: You will inhale more of the smoke if you are in a small, poorly ventilated area. Open the windows or even consider meditating outdoors.
  • Keep the smoke away from your face: Because the scent from stick incense is distributed via smoke, be careful not to get the trails of smoke too close to your face. If you are in a well-ventilated room, this should be no problem.

Finally, if you have problems with burning incense (due to respiratory problems, for example), try a different type of meditation. You might also consider using an alternative to incense such as a wickless candle or essential oil diffuser.

Recap

While inhaling incense smoke can be detrimental to health, you can take steps to lower the risks. Limiting your incense use and not inhaling the smoke can help, but you might also consider a different type of meditation if you are concerned about these risks.

A Word From Verywell

Meditating with incense can be a pleasant way to enhance your meditation experience. You may find this approach particularly useful if you use scents that are believed to help promote relaxation, such as lavender and sage.

Being aware of the possible downside of using incense is also essential. Because inhaling smoke poses health risks, focus on only doing this type of meditation in a properly ventilated area.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.