When people think of yoga they often imagine a dark room with burning incense, chimes ringing and waif-like students chanting. But while this isn’t a true picture of your average yoga class, incense is an important tool which can help awareness as well as promote energy and concentration, says writer Helene Hodge.
The presence of incense creates a favourable atmosphere which calms the mind and makes it suitable for enjoying the meditative and exercise experience.
There is nothing better to cleanse a space than incense. It can neutralise the smell of fear, grief, arguments, disappointment, tiredness, loneliness and longing.
One school of thought believes incense actually discharges airbourne ions and has an extraordinary soothing effect on the mind. Certainly it conveys tranquillity to the senses.
While a candle creates a positive visual impact, it’s been proved that certain fragrances impart positive impulses to the brain. More importantly, over time, these positive impulses become a natural response to that particular smell.
The smell from incense is absorbed by the mucous membranes of the nose and moves directly to the centre of our brain, where it influences our emotions, hormones, our nervous system and our perceptions.
It has several medicinal properties too. Many earlier civilisations used incense as a herbal medicine for treating health disorders. And it is this that forms the basis of aromatherapy.
Certain incense ingredients are used as medicines all over the world. In Ayurvedic medicine, for example, myrrh – which comes from a stumpy tree which flourishes in dry rocky locations – is thought to increase pitta, or energy, and is used as a tonic and for stomach complaints.
Similarly, calmus, the root of flag, is added directly onto charcoal to overcome the side effects of some prescribed medicines and because it is considered a strengthening smell.
It is long been said that incense has the power to comfort, quicken, rouse and purify our senses so that we might go readier into contemplation.
During yoga exercises its presence is thought to heighten consciousness and help direct personal energy, creating an appropriate mental state necessary for successful yoga practice.
Choosing the right incense
Cinnamon, lemon and sage are considered stimulating and work by increasing the beta waves in your brain which is associated with a more alert state of mind. Perfumes such as lavender, marjoram and sandalwood promote a more relaxed state.
The most common grain or resin incenses you are likely to use are frankincense, myrrh, pinon, copal and sandalwood. As another example, you may choose to accompany Salute to The Sun with a simple sunny incense such as frankincense.
Another, elemi, is regarded as the primary incense to be used in hatha yoga practice. Grown in the tropical regions of Asia it produces a lemony, woody fragrance and has energising and tension-relieving properties.
To discover the best fragrance for you, try and sample a variety of incenses. Burn each of these for the length of their duration – about 7-10 minutes. This will be more than sufficient to get a complete feel of the fragrance
Helene Hodge’s specialist areas include alternative and complementary health, women's issues, lifestyle, new age and spirituality. This article is taken from the author’s forthcoming book on incense.
Image Source: Pascaline Lopez - FOTOLIA