The history of using scent in spiritual practices
There is power in scent – choosing the right combination can take weight from our shoulders, evoke creativity and help with emotional healing.
The practice of aromatherapy can be beneficial to many and its significance to spiritual practices has been present for thousands of years.
The ancient Indian meditative practice of Pujna involves the offering of the senses to the divine. In this practice a blend of herbs were burned to purify the sense of smell and to aid the concentration of worshippers.
Over time, these herb blends were made into pastes called ‘dhoop’ which were then moulded into large cones and lit to produce ritual smoke – much like the incense cones we see today.
With the rise of Buddhism in India around 300 BC, incense burning as a Buddhist meditation practice spread all over the world. Bamboo incense sticks, colloquially known as ‘joss sticks’ were burned in temples to support meditation practices.
Incense burning has now spread from religious rituals to modern homes and can be found in many yoga and meditation classes.
Traditional scents used in yoga and meditation include sandalwood and frankincense, though there are now of course many more to explore for your yoga practice.
Candles are also commonplace in yoga and meditation classes, with rich symbolic history. A lit candle flame can represent the light of the teachings and is symbolic of the state of Enlightenment.
Scent is an essential part of yoga practice, as smell can promote strong emotional reactions, such as relaxation.
Whilst incense is traditionally used in yoga, as it’s believed to purify the air and soothe the mind, body and spirit – some can find it a little overpowering. Candles for yoga and meditation are a perfect alternative for creating a soothing space.
Calming scents for yoga practice
Many studios consciously choose candles for yoga to create a peaceful atmosphere for meditation and yoga classes.
The ambience and mood can be set with just a few candles, but it comes down to knowing which scents will help to support different types of yoga and meditation.
We spoke to the owner of Now Studio, a yoga studio and wellness centre in Bristol, about using candles and fragrance as part of her practice for her own insight on the topic.
As Pip says: “I find scent is a huge anchor to state… we all still recognise the scent of places we’ve been, the smell of holidays and suncream.
I always use the same scent at my studio so that when folk walk through the door – bam! Their olfactory senses are already calming their nervous system before they even know it.
Fun fact – I had decided on the studio scent before I even started on the build!”
Scents are powerful, and often our experience of scent is a very personal one. Consider what makes you feel calm, places you’ve been that have made you feel the most relaxed, memories that are soothing to you.
For some of us, memories of childhood involve summer days, which evoke the smell of wildflowers, sweet sticky ice lollies, and long beach days. Perhaps a holiday you always reflect back on – a happy place – is full of the smell of wood fires, leather sofas, and hot chocolates.”
Pip says in her yoga sessions, she gravitates towards candles that are “woody and earthy – vetiver is my go-to.”
You can visit Pip at Now Studio in Bristol to enjoy the beautiful yoga space she has created – nowstudiobristol.com
Scents like vetiver and sweet marjoram have woody and earthy qualities, perfect for creating a warm and relaxing atmosphere.
There are other scents that are well known for being stress-relieving, relaxing, and unwinding, such as lavender, sage, and sandalwood, and we have a number of candles specifically designed for supporting a peaceful state of mind which we’ve listed below.
How to use candles for meditation
As we’ve noted, using candles for meditation can help to transport your mind to a soothed space, signalling to your mind that now is the time to sit, to be still.
Historically, candles have been a significant and traditional element of rituals and spiritual practices. Whether placed at an altar, lit at shrines and statues, or the flames to honour the memory of loved ones, candles have long been richly symbolic.
Pip says “the lighting of a candle is a ritual as I settle onto my mat”, and use that as a focus at the start of your meditation or yoga practice.
Start your practice by dimming any lights, whether closing curtains or turning off artificial lights so you can focus on the light of the candles.
Set up your candle or candles across the room so you create a soothing ambience of flickering light, or set one candle in front of you to act as a focal point during your meditation.
Next, make sure you’re in a comfortable position and wearing loose, soft clothing. Pick a candle to gaze at, as a starting point to settle your thoughts. Let the flickering candle occupy your mind.
From here, you can shift your meditation into one with your eyes closed or choose to focus on something else other than the candle’s flame.