How Incense Can Help Your Daily Meditation Habit Stick

Meditation is Medication

You already know that meditation is good for you. You already know that it helps to decrease stress, inflammation, blood pressure, anxiety, depression and a plethora of other ailments. Plus, it increases well-being and makes you an overall happier person, contributing to the increased happiness of those around you, as well.

So why is committing to a daily practice so dang hard?

It's not unlike creating a habit of exercise. It takes time and commitment for the habit to actually stick. But for a habit to actually become a habit, it takes something more.

Creating The Habit

According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, the creation of a successful habit requires a cue (or trigger), routine, and reward. The cue is something that happens before the habit or routine you are attempting to create, in order to prompt you to do it.

If you are trying to develop a habit of running, he says in the book, leave your running shoes by the door. Then, after you complete the routine, in this case, running, give yourself a reward. It could be a square of chocolate or the euphoric high you feel after completing the run. In time, your brain will learn to associate the cue (shoes by the door) with the reward, so that you actually crave going for a run.

We can apply this very concept to developing a habit of meditation by using incense as the cue. Sometimes it can seem like a pretty big leap to go from thinking brain to quiet brain, which is why (I think) many people struggle with developing a habit of meditation. But adding that simple yet powerful physical step of lighting incense is the perfect way to encourage mindfulness and set the stage for a relaxing meditation.

As far as the reward is concerned, meditation is a powerful reward in and of itself. And after experiencing those feel-good brain chemicals that are released as a result of meditation, your body will begin to crave the reward that it associates with the incense cue. But if you need to take it a step further, feel free to reward yourself in whatever way makes sense to you after the fact. Just remember to be consistent.

Perfecting the Cue

Not unlike the running shoe example in the book, it is a good idea to have a meditation space set aside where you go to do your practice each day. It doesn't need to be elaborate. A cushion or chair in the corner of your bedroom with a small table to hold your incense (I have this $20 one from Ikea) works perfectly.

The incense you use as your meditation trigger is a personal choice and you have many options to choose from. But I recommend starting with an herb wand or palo santo stick and lighting it prior to meditation in order to set the stage. The beauty of this method is, you get a little smoke as you are preparing to meditate but it will normally go out within a few minutes, so you don't have to breathe in smoke throughout the entire meditation if you don't want to. After experimenting with adding incense smoke to your meditation, you may decide you want smoke throughout the duration of your meditation, at which point you can try stick, cone or rope incense.

Stay Consistent

The key to making any habit stick is to remain consistent. It will take some time for your brain to associate the lighting of incense with the blissful after effects of a meditation, so set yourself up for success:

  1. Schedule your incense meditation for the same time each day. Write it in your calendar or put a notification in your phone. First thing in the morning or right before bed are the easiest times to start a routine becuse you are already doing those things at roughly the same time every single day.
  2. Do your meditation in the same spot each day. Whether you set up an elaborate meditation room or dedicate the corner of your bedroom to your daily practice, you will be most successful if you always do it in the same place. Having a window nearby for smoke ventilation is a nice feature to have as well, depending on the type of incense you choose. Once the routine is established you can mix things up later on, if you want, but while your habit forming is still in its infancy, keep things as simple and routine as possible.
  3. Choose the right incense. Scent is so personal that it's vital you choose the right incense for your practice. It needs to have a fragrance that's enjoyable to you, natural plant-based non-harmful ingredients, and an appropriate burn time. Palo Santo sticks and other all-natural herb bundles are a great place to start

Incense has its Own Benefits

Incense is the perfect precursor to a successful and restful meditation but that's not where its benefits end. Natural plant-based incense also includes the benefits of the plants from which it is made. All common incense ingredients, from sage to frankincense to palo santo to lavender have their own unique healing properties. But one thing they all have in common is the ability to ease anxiety and increase feelings of well-being in those who burn them. A benefit that goes hand in hand with meditation.

Long before essential oils came into the spotlight, incense was the original form of aromatherapy. And while today, in the United States, we tend to shy away from smoke due to its negative connotation with cigarettes, there are reasons to use it in place of diffusing essential oils. For one, burning incense allows us to breathe in the whole plant and all of its beneficial properties, rather than the distillation or essence of its fragrance alone.

Our ancestors believed that burning plants released the soul of the plant, therefore connecting its user to the spiritual realm. Yet another complementary benefit to meditation.

In Practice

If you have been struggling to stay consistent with your daily meditation practice, I hope you will give incense a try and see how it works for you. Feel free to reach out and share your experience!