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Gonna let it burn

I’ve talked a lot about using scent as a means of facilitating ‘escape’, but scent is also a powerful way to alleviate anxiety and stress, which I think we can all agree is highly needed just now. 

I’ve had a couple of friends recently recommend the benefits of “focused meditation”, using the smoke curls of burning incense and watching them curl and waft upwards, becoming immersed in the different patterns and paths the trail of the smoke begin to take. The whole idea is to focus your mind on the here and now and become truly present in the moment, leaving your worries and stresses to one side for a while. It’s similar to something I like to do at my desk a lot, which is momentarily become engrossed in the flickering of a candle flame whenever I find my mind to be wondering too much, or my stress levels rising. Both rituals are about focus and clarity – clearing the mind of everything else and focusing on just being. This activity is predominantly about the visual stimulus – the flickering flame or the trail of smoke – but I think the underlying presence of scent is also significant in calming the nervous system and promoting a sense of peaceful connection.

I was sent a bundle of palo santo sticks as part of a PR gift last year, and for the longest time I didn’t really know what to do with them. Of course, they’re actually really easy to use. Spanish for holy wood, palo santo is considered a deeply sacred and spiritual tree which possesses a cleansing energy and healing properties similar to sage and cedar, although the wood itself has the sweeter scent of pine mixed with mint and citrus undertones. It’s gained a lot of popularity lately for use in ‘smudging’ – clearing a room of negative energies and infusing a space with blessings – but traditionally has been used for relieving common cold and flu symptoms, headaches, anxiety, asthma, depression and much more.

Whether on not you buy into the spiritual or medicinal properties of palo santo, the scent of the burning wood certainly is fresh and soothing. To burn it all you need to do is light one end of the stick (using a candle, match or lighter), let it burn for 30-60 seconds, then carefully blow it out. You can then walk around your home, wafting the smoke into corners to cleanse the energy field if you wish, or simply settle the stick in a fireproof dish and let the embers gently burn out and diffuse the immediate vicinity with scent. If left to rest the stick will smoulder and release smoke for around 5 minutes, but if you use it for smudging (or just continue to wave it in the air), it will smoulder for longer. There are lots of beautiful dishes, or ‘altars’, for your sticks available just now, which can also be used for burning incense cones if you’re more of a traditionalist. There’s even a new palo santo wood burner on the market (no.3 below), which has been specifically designed to avoid the smoke and mess traditionally caused by burning the wood directly, allowing the stick to heat slowly without lighting, causing the natural saps and oils to diffuse into the air for delicate and long-lasting aroma.

Having recently been converted to the joys of wax melts for infusing my home with long-lasting scent, I’ve also become fascinated with diffusing essential oils too and find that they help me more easily transition to a meditative state, making it easier to concentrate on my breath as I inhale the scent. I’ve long been obsessed with the Vitruvi stone diffuser (no.8 below) and am gutted that its still not available in the UK yet, but have been investigating other options lately to enhance my aromatherapy experience using pure essential oils. I’m definitely drawn to rustic stone and earthenware designs, but there’s also something alchemic about more scientific-inspired burners, reminiscent of bunsen burners from school chemistry lessons (no.5), that hugely appeals. I’ve also been investigating the best scents to  promote calm and serenity, with the main consensus being to opt for vetvier, clary sage, lavendar and the aforementioned palo santo.

Have you used any of these in your meditation rituals, or just generally to promote calm and clarity in your home? Which brands – or other fragrances – do you recommend?

Lead & 1/ Bashō oil burner  •  2/ Ara incense altar   •  3/ St. Palo wood burner  •  4/ The Nomad Society ceramic incense bowl •  5/ The Wild Together alchemy burner •  6/ Pampa rainbow altar  • 7/ Slowdown Studio Vorta candlestick and incense holder •  8/ Vitruvi terracotta stone diffuser •  9/ Apparatus Censer candle holder and incense burner

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