12 Reasons to Burn Incense (Explained For Beginners)

I have always loved the smell of incense, but I did not always feel comfortable when burning it. Mostly I saw it used for purposes that were specific to certain groups, and I wasn’t sure that I had the right to also burn the fragrant aromas that always made me feel good inside.

Incense use dates back to the Ancient Egyptian civilization and practically all cultures since then have assigned their own meaning to the act of burning it.

So in this list of twelve reasons to burn incense, I hope to help you see that incense burning is for everyone who chooses to take part in this activity. Incense is available for you to define and engage as you please. 

Reasons to Burn Incense

Reasons for burning incense vary as much as the number of people who burn it. So the items listed here are in no particular order because the importance of each is subjective. This list was compiled to give you some ideas and help you better understand how incense has been used. 

1. Freshen the Space

Burning incense is a simple and efficient way to fill a space with pleasant aroma. 

As an alternative to air freshener incense fragrances typically linger longer. After you spray some air fresheners, the scent fades pretty soon thereafter. But with incense, the scent can linger for hours after the flame goes out.

Instead of using electricity to operate plug-ins or wax warmers, you can simply light a match or point a lighter at the tip of an incense stick, blow it out, and have instant fragrance.

Another low-maintenance aspect of incense is that if a person doesn’t have an incense holder on hand, they can fill a bowl with rice or sand – either can hold an incense stick in place as it burns. 

Lastly, incense fragrances are usually more accurate than air fresheners, which can smell artificial. 

2. Cleanse the Interior In Preparation for Rituals

Those who practice Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism engage in worship rituals called pooja, which is also spelled puja. Incense burned for this ritual is called havan sámagri.

Used in India, it is an organic mixture of barks, sandalwood, botanical petals, herbal roots, leaves, ghee, spices, and more.  These ingredients cleanse the air, making it sacred for ritualistic practice. The smoke is also said to energize the space in preparation for various types of rituals ranging from reverencing the universe to celebrating a baby’s first rice feeding.

Although there haven’t been many scientific studies that support the claim that this incense actually cleanses the air, there are a few studies that at least partially support this assertion. 

Scientists have found that burning this specific incense mixture for at least an hour in a confined space significantly reduces the amount of bacteria in the air by 94%. What’s even more interesting is that bacterial levels remained low for at least thirty days. 

3. Ease Anxiety & Reduce Stress

When burning incense made using organic materials, you can enjoy some of the same benefits experienced when diffusing essential oils. Inhaling certain scents sends signals to the limbic system. This is the system that regulates and connects memories and emotions. These connections are what helps a person to relax, feel joyful, etcetera.

Similar to diffusing, incense that is made using lavender, chamomile, or rose can help you feel less anxious while reducing stress levels. Ylang-ylang, lavender, and frankincense also have sedative effects to help you calm down.

But you don’t have to stick to these scents. Burn whichever fragrances help you feel at ease. Just know that it’s not a figment of your imagination; when you notice that you feel relaxed that’s your limbic system at work.

A tip here is to choose Japanese or Chinese incense because they produce softer scents and less smoke than American and Indian incense.

4. Enhanced Focus

Just as there are scents that can help you relax, there are others that can invigorate you and increase your focus. Some people burn incense to help them study, read a novel, or get through the work day.

Mint and citrus oils are known to help a person perk up and feel more energized.

If you want to feel more alert, positive, and refreshed, you might want to try Nippon Kodo’s Mikan Orange from their Kayuragi collection.

For a slightly more subdued invigorating scent, try Oakland Garden’s Sage & Citrus.  It’s a combination of lemon, lime, and clary sage with powdery base notes.

Gonesh makes a brisk fragrance called Arctic Chill as part of their Adventure Collection. Its primary fragrance notes are bergamot and lemon. Mint is secondary, mellowed out some by sandalwood and musk. It’s a light and airy blend.

5. Combat Insomnia

Burning incense about thirty minutes before going to bed can help you to fall asleep. 

Floral and herbal fragrances are most often used for this purpose. For instance, lavender is the tried and true fragrance for sleeping because it calms the nervous system. Inhaling lavender can calm the mind and soothe the body.

The scent of rose is also deeply relaxing. Both lavender and rose help to slow breathing, decrease heart rate and blood pressure.

If you have ever drank a cup of chamomile tea before bed, then you probably know about its sedative effects. In its essential oil form, the effects are the same. So if you are able to find chamomile incense made with essential oils you might be on your way to a good night’s sleep. 

6. Meditation Practice

Some people use incense sticks or cones as a timer during their meditation practice. 

Shorter incense sticks that are three to five inches long usually burn for ten to fifteen minutes can gently guide a person out of their meditation practice one the incense has stopped burning. This can be helpful if a person is new to meditation and would prefer to keep sessions short. But it is also helpful for those who want to engage in short mid-day practice. 

Longer sticks, usually six to nine inches, can burn for thirty to forty-five minutes. This is typically enough time to incorporate physical yoga exercises, if desired.

Whether used as a timer or not, incense has been known to pull a person deeper into their meditative chants or physical exercise. Meditation fragrances tend to lean more towards sandalwood and other earthy scents. 

7. Spiritual or Religious Practice

While meditation typically places emphasis on a person’s thoughts – calming them, expressing them, reflecting upon them, spiritual and religious practice focuses more on the complete inner world of a person and how it relates to a greater power or energy source. 

In some spiritual practice, incense is lit to carry prayers up to the heavens. It is also burned as a sacrificial offering to gods and goddesses. 

All of the major religions incorporate incense burning into their ceremonies and services for worship, prayers, or rituals like the Eucharist. Pagan and Satanic groups also incorporate incense burning to engage in invocations, alter the atmosphere, and release its energy for use in magic in order to impart some sort of change.

In most cases these practices can be done individually or amongst a group. Whatever a person’s beliefs, another way to use incense is as an offering of gratitude to higher powers.

8. Air Purification

Sandalwood, frankincense, copal, and myrrh all have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Burning them can purify the air within your home.

Frankincense and copal have crisp, refreshing fragrances but there are also complex hints of pine and citrus in frankincense. Sandalwood is warmer and earthier and has antiseptic properties to fight germs in the air. 

Myrrh’s scent is similar to vapor rub but maybe a little sweeter. Any of the four can combat germ growth within your home. In their purest form, each resin and also sandalwood wood chips can be burned indirectly to activate their cleansing properties.

9. Repel Insects

Lavender, citronella, sandalwood, and mint are the top scents that insects dislike. And in general, insects dislike smoke so beyond fragrances, smoke alone can cause an insect to avoid your patio or home. 

Since incense coils can burn for hours, it might help to burn citronella incense coils if you are entertaining guests outdoors. Everyone be protected for up to seven hours. Even if you are just hanging out on the deck or patio with family, this can be a good option. There are also citronella sticks by Satya.

If you dislike the smell of citronella, lavender, sandalwood, or mint should work equally well. 

They also help if you prefer to meditate or do yoga exercises outdoors or with windows open. Actually one of the reasons there is so much incense burning at once in temples is to deter bugs from annoying people as they pray.

Some incense suggestions:

10. Aromatherapy

As long as you are burning incense without synthetic ingredients or artificial fragrance oils, you can use it for aromatherapy.

It may also help to burn low smoke incense if you plan to frequently light it when using for aromatherapy. 

I realize that sandalwood has been mentioned quite often, but it is a very versatile fragrance and heals the mind and body. 

Additional incense fragrances that are often used for aromatherapy are cinnamon which is also antibacterial and antiviral, lavender of course but if it’s not your preferred scent, jasmine creates the same calming effects. Jasmine also relieves pain and helps a person feel refreshed. Choose vanilla or rose for softer, sweeter scents.

Since aromatherapy involves using plant extracts for overall well-being, I would say that the scent itself does not matter as much as paying close attention to the ingredients used. You may also come across incense blends that you find positively contribute to your overall well-being.

11. Health/Medicinal Use

When monitored by a healthcare professional, incense can also be used as part of medical treatment. It is still prescribed by Indian Ayurvedic healers as well as Chinese Medicine doctors. 

Scents connect our memories and emotions, which can help with the healing process when those connections are positive. There are also physical benefits to burning incense like lowered blood pressure, headache and migraine relief, and improved digestion.

12. Personal Time

You don’t have to be stressed or anxious to set aside some down time. Lighting incense while listening to music can help you to be more present as you listen. This can apply to any hobby.

Sometimes I light incense just to watch the smoke unfurl. It gives me a short break from staring at the computer screen.

Your reasons for burning incense do not have to align with any of the reasons listed here. If you enjoy burning incense, settling on your own personal reasons for doing that is just fine.

Final Thoughts

Did you find a new reason to burn incense or did this list spark ideas to help you come up with your own?

Since there are so many different uses for incense, you don’t have to feel reluctant to burn it. Whether you want to repel insects, enhance meditation practice, or simply fill your space with a nice fragrance, burning incense is something that anyone can do for any reason that they choose. 

Which incense fragrance will you strike up next? Share it below if you wish along with your reasons for burning incense. And if you liked this article, please share it with others!

Grace Young

I love candles! I have personally tried over 100 brands of candles. The total burn time of these candles is over 5000 hours. I also talk about essential oil diffusers and reed diffusers. Essential oil diffusers and diffusers are also an important part of the scent in my home.

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