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What Is Incense? Everything You Need to Know

Incense burning has been an intrinsic element of ancient Egypt religious rituals. This ancient ritual eventually spread through the Roman Empire and many countries in Asia. You probably have many questions if you are a newbie in incense burning. For example, what kind of incense to use, is there a best time to burn incense, or are there spiritual benefits of burning incense? You might also wonder if there are specific incense types to use; is there an incense for meditation or incense for protection?

Read on to learn the answers to all these questions to guide you in choosing the best incense type and form that suits your needs.


Table of content:


What Is Incense?

The etymology of the word incense came from the Latin term “Incendre,” which means “to burn.”

Incense is any plant material that produces a fragrant, smoky scent when burnt. Traditionally, incense is made from aromatic herbs, woody plants, and tree resins. Today, most incense is made from unsustainable plants and artificial scents.

Did You Know? The resins used in making incense come from the Burseraceous family of flowering plants, trees, and shrubs.

Types and Forms of Incense

Generally, there are two primary types of incense, and both come in different forms. 

Direct Burning Incense

Direct burning incense is the most common type of incense you can purchase in-store or online. This type is directly ignited. It exudes a light smoke as soon as its flame extinguishes. The light smoke releases a pleasant scent until it burns out.

The typical ingredients of incense include resins, roots, seeds, flowers, and other plant-based ingredients from plants like musk, Sandalwood, myrrh, cinnamon, and Frankincense, to name a few. Combustible organic materials such as wood powder or charcoal are added to ignite and burn, thus producing smoke.

The most common forms of direct burning incense are:

  • Incense Sticks. Incense sticks are the most popular form of this type of incense. Made traditionally from bamboo cores rolled using essential oils, resins, and other plant-based ingredients. The burning time of an incense stick depends on the ingredients used and their form. Generally, a stick of incense should last between fifty to ninety minutes.
  • Incense Cones. Incense cones are more complex to prepare than incense sticks. Its advantage is its fragrance intensifies as the ember descends on the base of the cone. You need an incense holder with sand to hold the ash as it burns and keep the heat even.
  • Incense Coils. The coil form is spiral in shape and lasts longer than sticks and cones. Although similar to the incense sticks, the burning time varies depending on its size or diameter. Coil forms are usually sold with holders to hold the incense and ash. It is most suitable to use in outdoor spaces or large areas.

Indirect Burning Incense

The indirect burning type of incense requires an external heat source to keep it burning. You can use an incense burner or charcoal burner to burn the incense. These incenses have no glowing embers like sticks, coils, or cones. 

Indirect burning is common in contemporary settings. Native Americans use an indirect burning type of incense, including dried herbs for smudging. They use a metal base for the charcoal and then place the dried herbs (usually dried sage) and charcoal. Sand is added to keep the heat even. 

Some examples of indirect burning incense are:

  • Resin Incense. This is incense in its purest and most natural form. They come from wood trees, bark roots, shrubs, sap, and plants. They are not combustible and require a heat source to burn. The most commonly used resins are Palo Santo, Frankincense, Myrrh, Dragon’s Blood, Styrax, and Copal.
  • Powdered Incense. As the name connotes, this incense is in fine powder form. It is made from natural resin, wood, and aromatic plants. The ingredients are mixed and then ground into fine powder. Heat up your charcoal burner. Spread some ash or sand on your charcoal burner to disperse the heat. Sprinkle the powder incense on top and let it burn.
  • Kneaded Incense. This ancient form is traditionally used for Japanese Tea Ceremonies. This soft incense is blended and then kneaded until it forms into balls. The balls are placed in earthenware jars and buried to mature for about three to five years. This incense has a sweet, creamy scent and cannot burn on its own. It is burned using a charcoal heater or wood chip heater. 
  • Granular incense. Granular incense is generally made by blending aromatic, natural ingredients such as Aloeswood, Sandalwood, ginger, and clove. You can also make it using resin, wood, and floral wax. Granular incense is hard, bead-like in appearance, and cannot burn on its own. It often uses a burner when lighted in Buddhist altars for purification.

Uses of Incense

The use of burning incense is often for spiritual or aromatherapy purposes. There are many reasons to burn incense, but let us sum it up into three reasons:

  1. To relax the mind and focus.
  2. To heal the mind.
  3. To cleanse and purify.

The limbic system is the part of the brain where emotions, memory, and behavior are controlled. The limbic system is directly linked to the olfactory senses creating a reaction in the neuro system. However, the neuro system reacts; differently, so different scents produce different responses.

Uses of Incense

Meditation and yoga have often been complemented with the burning of incense. Burning incense adds a layer of centeredness or focus by inhaling its scent. 

The scent of burning incense can aid in curbing stress or decrease anxiety. Coupled with a meditation session, it brings the mind and the body to a calm and relaxed state. There are specific scents you can use as incense for meditation.

Another reason to burn incense is to help cleanse and purify. There are two reasons why you cleanse and purify – to vaporize and drive away bacteria and insects and to ward off negative energies. You use incense for protection to cleanse and purify your mind or any space. An incense for protection helps purify and keep negative energies out, giving you protection against evil.

We can surmise that the two crucial incense you need is incense for meditation and incense for protection.

Incense for Protection

Frankincense, Myrrh, and Sandalwood are popular scents used as incense for protection. However, we want to provide you with a broader range of choices and not include them.

You can use incense to cleanse and purify sacred spaces and the mind and remove negative energies to allow protective, harmonious, and positive energy vibrations.

Nag Champa Incense Sticks
Hem Nag Champa Incense Sticks

Nag Champa

Nag Champa incense is often used in yoga studios and other sacred or spiritual spaces. It emits a purifying vibration similar to White Sage. Its powerful protection properties help ward off negative energies, allowing positive energies to enter and remain.

Nag Champa is deemed a sacred incense suitable for removing blockages and balancing the chakras.

Palo Santo Incense Sticks
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Palo Santo

For many years, Inca Healers and Shamans used Palo Santo or “Holy Wood” incense. It has been part of Incan healing and ceremonial rituals. It is said to remove bad energies and provide energetic protection.

You can also use Palo Santo for meditation to enhance creativity and uplift your mood.

Dragon's Blood Incense Sticks
Hem Dragon’s Blood Incense Sticks

Dragon’s Blood

Dragon’s Blood is a red resin from the “dragon tree” from the regions near the Arabian Sea. It emits healing and replenishing vibrations when burnt. This means it cleanses all negative energies and replaces them with protective ones. It can restore to health all negative vibrations in your home.

Dragon Blood is also used for purification, boosting courage, enhancing psychic awareness, and increasing sexual appetite.

Juniper Incense Sticks
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Juniper

The Juniper shrub sheltered the prophet Elijah and the baby Jesus in the Bible. Its berries are also often used for cleansing, recognizing it as a symbol of protection and purification.

Juniper is used to break hexes and curses cast by those who wish you ill. It also helps you deal with conflict and increase your psychic powers. You can use Juniper to smudge areas to protect against negativity.

Cedar Incense Sticks
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Cedar

Cedar originates from the Hebrew word “qatar,” meaning “to smudge.” This shows that Cedarwood has been used in cleansing and purification rituals for a long time. Cedar is considered timber of the Gods in the Himalayas, attesting to its sacredness.

Cedar is burned for balance, clarity, strengthening psychic powers, healing, attracting love, grounding, and protection. Burnt Cedar is often used in cleansing and blessing a home before moving in. A Cedarwood wand is placed above the door for safety reasons in the early days. It is also used to create good luck charms and talismans.

Cedar incense is also an effective natural insecticide, protecting you against insects and pests. 

Sweetgrass Incense Sticks
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Sweetgrass

Sweetgrass is known to remove negative ions and replaces them with good ones. It is used for spiritual prayers, smudging, purifying, home and personal blessing, and protective amulet or home totem.

Native Americans often combine the use of sage with sweetgrass – while sage drives out negative energies, sweetgrass draws in positive ones.

Copal Incense Sticks

Copal

Copal is said to draw out negative energy and replace them with positive energy. It offers protection against negative energy and other outside influences by freeing the chakras from blockages and stagnant energy. Copal is known to help open the Sahasrara chakra or crown chakra.

Eucalyptus Incense Sticks
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Eucalyptus

Indigenous people representing the division of heaven and Earth consider eucalyptus sacred. It helps create an atmosphere filled with positivity and freshness. It ignites positive thoughts to bring out a better you.

Eucalyptus is said to have cleansing and purifying effects akin to sage, clearing negative energy in spaces and areas where it is burnt.

Bergamot Incense Sticks
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Bergamot

Bergamot is associated with the Sun. It is used in cleansing and purifying rituals to dispel shadows of depression, fogginess, and misery to clear the spirit and the mind.

Bergamot has antioxidant and antiseptic properties that protect you against bacteria and infections, help repair cells, and speed up healing.

Burn Bergamot incense and immerse yourself in its scent before leaving the house. You can also burn Bergamot incense while cleaning or tidying up the house.

Styrax Incense Sticks
Styrax Incense Sticks

Styrax

The resin of Styrax or snowbell emits a warm, sweet, balsamic, flowery, slightly grassy, and intense fragrance when burnt. It soothes sadness, anger, and grief. It opens up the heart, melts blockages, and promotes emotional balance. It is suitable for cleansing, and purifying, and works well as incense for protection.

Burn incense for protection to keep jealous people, haters, and enemies away. You can also burn them to cleanse and purify a new home, yoga studio, bedroom, or any area where you can feel negative vibrations.

Incense for Meditation

Meditation is a technique practiced in many cultures worldwide for spiritual and religious purposes. Meditation is intended to heighten the state of awareness and improve psychological well-being.

You can incorporate many elements to make meditation more successful. Location, timing, environment, and incense for meditation are some of the essential details you can include.

There are many scents of incense for meditation you can choose from, depending on the purpose of meditation. 

Lavender Incense Sticks
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Lavender Fragrance

Lavender fragrance is an excellent incense for meditation. Lavender is said to have curative and therapeutic properties that include relaxation. If you are new to meditation, your feelings of anxiety, stress, or depression are high.

The scent of lavender can help de-stress and relax you. The soothing effect of lavender can also aid in your sleep. Lavender is one of the most popular choices of scent when meditating because it is widely available and less expensive.

Frankincense Sticks
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Frankincense

Frankincense is one of the most popular choices for incense for meditation. It has a calming effect that promotes relaxation, peace, connectedness, and grounding like lavender. However, Frankincense can be pretty expensive, making lavender the better choice.

Hem Myrrh Incense Sticks

Myrrh

Myrrh is just as popular as Frankincense due to its association with being gifts given to the baby Jesus by the Magi. Ancient Egyptians used myrrh in embalming, believing the scent could help protect the soul in its journey into the afterlife.

Myrrh’s calming effect is thought to awaken higher self-awareness and strengthen the chakras. However, myrrh is expensive like Frankincense.

Vetiver Incense Sticks
Vetiver Incense Sticks

Vetiver

Vetiver promotes tranquility. Meditation requires silence and a tranquil environment, and Vetiver’s calming properties can help create this. The setting is an essential element in meditation. It helps keep focus to help your mind transition into a higher plane of awareness. 

Vetiver is deeply connected to the nervous system, which directly affects dreams, the subconscious mind, and the connection to the Divine. It serves as a bridge between the physical and the spiritual.

Sandalwood Incense Sticks
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Sandalwood

If the purpose of your meditation is to cleanse and purify, Sandalwood is your scent of choice. Sandalwood is also called “Chandan” in Sanskrit, which means “sacred wood.” Burn Sandalwood incense during meditation or cleansing rituals to overcome feelings of aggression and irritability.

The scent of Sandalwood invigorates and cleanses the mind against harmful residues of anxiety and stress.

White Sage Incense Sticks
White Sage Incense Sticks

Sage

Native Americans have been using Sage to ward off evil spirits. If you are doing meditation for cleansing, Sage incense is an effective accompaniment. Burning sage is believed to help cleanse the energy field of anger, illness, and evil.

There are two sage varieties often used – white sage and blue sage. White sage is deemed a sacred plant. Burnt white sage is believed to be a powerful spiritual cleanser of negative vibrations from spaces, auras, and crystals. Blue sage or “desert sage” is less intense than its white sage relative. It has the same purifying and protective properties with a milder scent.

Jasmine Incense Sticks
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Jasmine or Violet

Meditation to induce sleep is made powerful by burning incense. The fragrance of Jasmine and Violet incense is said to help induce sleep, so they are excellent choices of scents.

The Greeks believed that Violets’ relaxing and calming effects could send someone off to sleep. Meanwhile, some German researchers found Jasmine has similar neurochemical properties to barbiturates.

Hem Patchouli Incense Sticks

Cinnamon, Musk, and Patchouli

Mindful meditation can help improve sexual desire and increase libido. You can combine this with burning incense using scents associated with passion and lust. Musk enhances a woman’s sexual desire, and Patchouli is referred to as the “horny” incense.

Cinnamon has often been associated with fire elements like sexual desire, warmth, and passion. These scents are your best option if your meditation session is intended to increase your sexual desire.

Watermelon Incense Sticks
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Floral and Fruity Scents

If Cinnamon, Musk, and Patchouli are too much for you, don’t fret. You can use floral and fruity incense fragrances to accompany your mindful meditation for sexual desire. Rose scent boosts fertility and libido. It also helps manage the nervous system, making a person more responsive to touch.

The smell of oranges can help increase blood flow to your sexual organs and increase sensitivity to any stimuli. Lily of the Valley is said to contain powerful aphrodisiac effects. A controversial study showed that the flower attracts sperms, thus increasing the likelihood of pregnancy in women.

Amber Incense Sticks
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Amber

Amber incense is the perfect choice if your meditation session is about a journey to self-discovery. The negativity you feel in the present is related to your past. Reflecting on your past can help teach you how to let go to embrace the present.

Amber is associated with history and knowledge, making it ideal if you are seeking information from the past and embracing the changes during your self-discovery.

You can choose from a wide array of incense for meditation, although some of their uses overlap. The two things you need to consider are:

  • select a scent that fits the purpose of your meditation session
  • choose a fragrance that resonates with you

Did You Know? The most expensive incense is Agarwood, which is more expensive than Frankincense and Myrrh.

Best Time to Burn Incense

You can burn incense anytime you feel like it. There is no specific rule concerning time. However, the best time to burn incense depends on your needs and purpose. You can light a stick in the morning to start your day or light one in the evening to cap off the night.

Some people burn incense when they visit temples to pray or honor a deity. This is done whenever one visits a temple, so there is no specific time.

You can burn incense before you start your meditation. Most do meditation early morning when everything is quiet and calm. Focus on the smoke wafting around the room, and let the fragrance of incense for meditation wash over you.

Burn incense for healing or cleansing stick if you feel anxious, depressed, stressed, or have a headache. Lighted incense can help balance your chakra. Vetiver and Cedar are particularly good for grounding. Light them in the morning before your day starts.

Burn incense for protection stick for your new house or if you feel negative vibes surrounding you. 

Burn incense before sleep to help counter insomnia. Herbal and floral fragrances like lavender emit a calming and soothing effect on both mind and body. The best time to burn incense is one to two hours before sleep.

How Many Incense to Burn

Perhaps the biggest question in burning incense is how many to use and if you can use them daily.

Most burn incense daily for aromatherapy purposes. The fragrance brings a soothing balm inside the house, thus soothing your mood. 

But, how many to use? It depends on two factors:

  • the size of your space
  • the scent you chose

The bigger the size of your space, the more incense sticks you need to use. As a rule of thumb, 1 (one) incense stick for a room, 2 (two) incense sticks for a house, and 3 (three) incense sticks for a yoga studio. 

As mentioned before, choose a scent that resonates with you. If you are combining scents, check if they will complement each other. Just because they sound good together does not mean they would complement each other.

Did You Know? As a rule of thumb, light 1 incense for a room, 2 for a house, and 3 for a studio.

Safety Measures

Burning incense presents some safety hazards. You should take precautions when lighting incense sticks. This can also help you determine the best time to burn incense. Some safety measures you can employ are:

  • Do not light an incense stick unattended. The burning time of an incense stick varies on the type and make, but generally, it should last an hour or so. It may sound tempting to leave the house and leave it to burn, but it is not safe.
  • Light your incense stick in a well-ventilated area. The smoke emitted by the incense stick can be harmful and could cause you to suffocate. 
  • Do not burn incense if you have respiratory problems or use them sparingly. Choose one that uses natural ingredients.
  • Cut or press the tip of the incense stick off to put it out. You can also use water or sand to put out the flame.
  • Consider the size of your room. Do not light more than one stick in small spaces. 
Spiritual Benefits of Burning Incense

Spiritual Benefits of Burning Incense

The practice of incense burning has always been associated with the Divine and sacred tradition. Since ancient times, their use has been witnessed in early civilizations for religious purposes. Its intense aromatic scent has been said to be cherished by the Gods. The aromatic vapors opened a communication pathway with the Kingdom of the Dead and the Divine.

The spiritual use of incense can be traced back to Ancient Egypt. They burn incense to ward off demonic and evil spirits. It was widely used in many cultures to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

Here are five spiritual benefits of burning incense:

Incense enhances meditation and yoga.

Incense is often used during meditation or yoga to connect with different spirits and reach an altered state of consciousness. The scent of burning incense helps calm and relax the mind. It gives the reason a feeling of being elevated into a higher plane of consciousness. 

Create a sacred shield

Lighting incense can act as an insulator between your consciousness and spiritual enlightenment. The smoke emanating from the burning smell creates a protective shield against visible and invisible beings. Burning incense is believed to offer a layer of protection by expelling negative energies and drawing in positive energy.

Guide the spirits of the deceased

All throughout various cultures, it has been a ritual to burn incense during funeral wakes and at gravesites until the dead body is fully decomposed. The practice is believed to ward off evil spirits and helps light the way of the deceased person.

Cleanses the mind and the heart

Burning incense shields you from negative energies that could disrupt your daily life. Negative energies often manifest in headaches, depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Incense is made from natural herbs that have healing and medicinal properties.

Creates a pleasant and clean atmosphere

Whether you are burning incense at home or in a place of worship, burning incense can help remove negative energies within the area. Native Americans often burn sage leaves to purge a spot of bad memories. The scent of incense smoke can work as a natural air freshener in your place of worship, home, meditation, or yoga room. Select scents like Sandalwood can help repel insects.

Takeaway

Burning incense is fundamental in ancient ceremonies and rituals as it is today. It is an old age ritual believed to cleanse, purify, and relax the physical and spiritual mind. Burning incense is also believed to ward off negative energies, keeping you protected from anyone who wishes ill.

In this new era of mindfulness, burning incense continuously complement the practice of yoga and meditation. The ritual of burning incense remains to be for spiritual and aromatherapy use. An old age ritual that never grows old.

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