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Buddhism in the News


Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Health Benefits of Incense.

Religious leaders have contended for millennia that burning incense is good for the soul. Now, biologists have learned that it is good for our brains too. An international team of scientists, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, describe how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression.

They found that the compound significantly affected areas in brain areas known to be involved in emotions as well as in nerve circuits that are affected by current anxiety and depression drugs.

: I use incense to show my gratitude to Buddha for bringing us the Dharma but I also use it because I too have found it to be very relaxing, tranquil and thus conducive to meditation as now proven by science. I find it very rejuvenating to catch a scent of sweet smelling incense while concentrating upon my breath much like lying in a mountain meadow and taking in the smell of fresh flowers with eyes closed. And speaking of eyes closed, I have noticed that when I close my eyes in meditation that the scent of the incense stands out more in my mind. This is probably similar to how when some go blind that their other senses are heightened.

James: I have found too that incense helps me concentrate and focus my attention back to the present moment when I meditate as the incense burns throughout my sessions. This is because when I feel like my mind is doing intellectual somersaults I breath in and out for a bit and the scent brings me back to the present moment.

Also, the burning of incense helps to create a positive state of mind and helps condition the mind to associate the typical fragrance with a positive and calm mind.

James: For myself, Aloes wood reminds me of smells that I enjoyed in Africa, which was a very happy time in my life so when I burn it while meditating it helps me recognize happiness that is always present in each moment if I'm mindful enough. And Nag Champa reminds me of the Nepal-Tibet Imports store where I buy all of my incense and altar items. I always feel relaxed in that shop with all the nice smells, beautiful Buddha statues and the nice family that runs it.

Sandalwood is another favorite of mine and has been used by Buddhists, Hindus and others for 4,000 years. Its special calming effect has been used to treat anxiety and depression, and it acts as a mild sedative. It's one of my favorite incenses for those reasons but also for it's woody smell that reminds me of the woody smells of my favorite camping spot way up in the Rocky Mountains here in Colorado.

And smelling that woody smell reminds me that I am one with all things, which makes me feel small in a good way, in the sense of reducing my ego and just enjoying being no different than a sweet, woody scented pine tree. Trees are rooted deeply in the Earth and smelling that woody scent helps me feel rooted in the present moment and that there is much beauty and peace to be had in this world of suffering. It relaxes me because I have spent so many peaceful, happy days up in those mountains. It is one of my favorite places to meditate because of the fresh air, scents of sweet and woody pine trees and the crisp breeze that often blows through the area.

However, because of it being smoke I try and keep a bit of distance between myself and the burning incense. Also when the weather is nice I will crack open a window a bit to circulate fresh air.

~Peace to all beings~

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Barry said...

I do love the smell of incense, although, like you, I don't much like being directly in the smoke stream. A friend in Korea sent me some very "high class" incense - I don't know the ingredients - and every time I use it, I'm reminded of sitting quietly in retreat.

Whatever the physiological effects, certain incenses trigger in me very strong associations and memories - almost as if just the smell can drop me into the middle of a long retreat.

Thanks for this interesting post, James!


Kyle said...

I have to say I love Sandlewood and use the liquid form on that funny looking candle contraption. The wife always used to yell at me for stinking up the place, then put in her nasty glade plug-in stuff.

Nice post!

Jody Wieler said...

I've retuned to burning incense after about 8 years. I use it particularly when I am doing something repetitive - helps keep my focus on the task at present, rather than my mind wandering like it is so wont to do. Nice to know it's good for my emotional health and brain too! I am particularly drawn to the sandalwood, patchouli and lavender ones. Interesting post - thanks! I enjoy reading your blog.

They call him James Ure said...


That is so great that your incense reminds you of your retreat. Memories can be painful but they can also be very beneficial such as in this case.


Yeah sandalwood is divine and so relaxing. I burn it even when I'm not meditating sometimes. Yeah my wife doesn't like certain ones too like nag champa. She says it's too powdery for her. :)


Lavender is a good one too. It's great for tension I've found. I'm glad you enjoy the blog. :) Happy reading and burn away!!

Raymond said...

I learned from an Indian shop owner if you dip the incense stick in a glass of water for about a second before you burn it, there is less smoke and ash. A cleaner burn.

First time reading your blog, thanks for sharing.

They call him James Ure said...


Water, eh? I'll have to try that. Thanks for the tip and the compliments.

Kim said...

I am 'new' to some of these practices. I am curious about the quality of the incense that I use. Do you have any recommendations or suggestions about where to buy or what to look for?

I recently found your blog and I find that I am learning from it.

Thank you for sharing.

Peace to you.

They call him James Ure said...


I have always found "Morning Star" sticks to be great quality and they aren't too long or too short. They are better used though in a bowl with sand. So buy a little bowl, fill it with sand and place the stick into the sand and light it up.

"Morning Star" is a Japanese brand but widely available in many stores including the hippie shops. I buy mine from a Nepal/Tibet Import store. New Age stores often have them too. Hope this helps.

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I have a huge collection of different smell of herbal incense. Specially, I love Rose, Sandalwood and Lavender smell.

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