Incense has been around for as long as humans have had fire. One of the most effective ways to enhance your meditation experience is by burning dried aromatic plants and items (also known as incense). Incense has a long history of use in spiritual practices and is known to have a calming and centering effect on the mind.
But how exactly do you use incense for meditation and how can it help you to deepen your meditation practice?
Though incense use was originally used to consecrate a sacred meditation space, you can use incense during your meditation as a focus point for your session. Some people may find incense to be distracting during their meditation while others find it to enhance their meditation session.
The origins of incense for meditation
Incense burning has its origins rooted in ancient spiritual practices. The original approach to using incense was to offer the incense to God, the Buddha, or the divine nature of the universe.
Burning incense was a way to offer it to whatever greater power the practitioner believed in. Burning incense was meant to be a sign of non-attachment in the form of an offering, instead of trying to get something from the burning of the incense.
The idea of using incense as a way to reject attachment is a very Buddhist way of using incense. However, most people who use incense today just like the aroma the incense gives off.
Why use incense during meditation?
Burning incense during a meditation session is not for everyone. Some meditators find it to irritate their eyes and nose especially in a small closed room. Others claim incense helps them deepen their meditation practice. But how?
Using incense to mark the beginning of a meditation session
You can use incense to mark the beginning of a meditation session. There’s just an unfathomable quality to burning incense that can help center you into a meditation.
Beginning your meditation by lighting some incense can quickly remind you of your intention for this time. If you use incense regularly during your mindful practice you will start to create a ritual associating the smell of incense with the start of your practice.
Incense will then remind you every time going forward that this session is sacred.
> see my article “Everything You Need For The Ultimate Meditation Setup”
Timing a meditation
Yes, incense may smell really good. But it has a really practical use in meditation as well. You can use different size incenses to time your meditation practice.
Light your incense at the start of your practice and use it as a timer. Short incense sticks last about 25 minutes, while long incense sticks can last around 45 minutes.
Using incense as a focus point
If you’re practicing mindfulness meditation, the smell of incense can be something to focus your attention on. Your sense of smell is often neglected during mindful practice. Incense can fill that neglected gap.
In your meditation practice try focusing on the scent your incense gives off. The smell can be an anchor point for your awareness. Every time your mind gets distracted, just bring your attention back to the breath and the smell of the incense.
By doing this, incense can be used to help center you further into the present moment.
> see my article “How to Transform Your Life With Meditation”
Choosing the right incense
Everyone has their own preferred incense. There’s no better or worse type of incense to use in your meditation practice. However, here are the most popular types of incense and what they’re used for:
1. Nag Champa
Nag Champa is probably the most well known and common type of incense available. This incense originates from incense has several combined aromas such as sandalwood, champak, and frangipani.
Nag Champa incense is used by (and originated in) Buddhist and Hindu monasteries of India and Nepal for spiritual practices.
This herb is known for its strong and earthy aroma. Sage is one of my favorite incense types, as it usually comes in a bundle of leaves unlike most other incenses that come in the form of a stick.
In my experience sage does burn fairly quickly, especially when dry. So if you’re looking for incense that burns more slowly, you may want to consider others on this list.
Sandalwood is another India native known for its woody, smooth, and creamy fragrance. Sandalwood is known for being a particularly dense wood making it perfect for slow burning. This incense has been used for thousands of years for spiritual purposes in India.
Frankincense is unique to this list because it’s a resin that comes from the Boswellia tree. Frankincense has been used for thousands of years for medicinal and spiritual practices.
Frankincense is known for its complex aroma that’s simultaneously both earthy/woody and sweet/citrusy.
5. Japanese incense
Japanese (or Zen) incense can be used as an offering, as a way to focus your meditation intention, and to time your meditation session. Japanese incense has historically been used by the Zen Buddhist tradition for spiritual and meditative purposes.
Incense sticks vs cones
There are generally 2 forms that incense comes in: sticks and cones.
An incense stick is a long piece of wood that has been wrapped in incense ingredients. A cone on the other hand is just purely incense ingredients that have been compressed into a conic shape.
Incense sticks will generally burn more quickly than incense cones as cones are denser than sticks. If you want your incense to burner more slowly and last longer you may want to go for longer incense sticks or cones.
If you also want to burn incense in its purest form, cones may be better. This is because incense sticks are burning also burning the wood that’s holding it up. A cone is burning purely the incense ingredients and nothing more.
Incense can be an excellent tool to enhance your meditation practice. It has been used in spiritual and meditative practices for thousands of years due to it’s ability to help you time your meditation, relax your mind, and recenter yourself during meditation. Remember that no incense is right for everyone and that you may find you don’t even enjoy using incense in your meditation practice. Incense is extremely cheap, so it shouldn’t be too much trouble to find out for yourself.