We’ve all been to a yoga studio where you’ve had the amazing fragrance of a burning incense stick. You probably even lit one up yourself already. But what about these sticks that burn and what are they doing? Find it out in this article.

The History of Incense

To answer this question we have to take a look back in history. Many cultures and religions have been using some kind of incense. So if you thought it is just a hype, then you were wrong about that. The first people who have been using incense are the ancient Egyptians. And the thing they’ve all got in common is that they were used to worship the gods.


Incense in Ancient Egypt

incense egyptian

So the place where incense was first used was in Egypt. Which isn’t that surprising as they were one of the first civilizations to start documenting what on earth they were doing. Before that, we don’t know that much, and it might be that it started earlier.

However, the Egyptians were pretty much getting more advanced regarding their ancestors. They were one of the first who were thinking about creating systems, like mathematics. They were the first who decided to use algebra into creating their constructions. And this also has been a great thing as the Sphinx is still standing after all those years, or well, sitting.

But that wasn’t the point of this article :). The point is that they documented first of all that they were using incense. This was mainly to worship the gods. However, there are also claims that they would use incense as a medicine. It has been written down that they thought that burning incense could cure snake bites (which were quite poisonous). I don’t know if this worked, as I have my doubts here…

Incense in the Chinese Dynasty

The Chinese, with a bit of Buddhistic influences, were the first who made the incense sticks as we know them today. And just like with the Egyptians they were primarily used to worship the gods and as medicine.

incense chinese dynasty

Again this medicine thing, I think I should give it a try. Well, if we go and see traditional Chinese medicine, we can see a practice that is still quite common these days. Maybe not that common, but I’ve had a couple of treatments and it’s not that hard to find as well. It’s called moxibustion. With a moxa stick they treat those meridian points that are out of balance with heat and herbs.

It sounds a bit like Mojo Jojo, but in fact, Traditional Chinese Medicine is one of the oldest forms of medicine there is and they’ve always been very holistic. The different forms are acupuncture, herb medicine, Tai Chi, and many more.

As you can see, TCM is still used very often!

Incense usage by Native Americans

The native Americans used incense differently and with a different name as well. This term today is still known as smudging.

They often used sage incense to cleanse themselves. The way they did this is also a bit different. They bundled sage together with some strings and they lid them. With this smoke, they purified themselves of the negative energies that were surrounding them.

native american smudging

So in a way, it’s also a bit as worship, it’s just not to worship the gods. The native Americans were thinking more in line of spirits, which they also thought were of their ancestors. They were a lot more connected with nature and from here comes there usage of herbs as well.

This technique is still used within a lot of spiritual practices and is mostly known within shamanism.

Incense in India

indian incense

The incense we all know today is deriving from India and most of its production is coming from here as well. Traditionally incense within the Indian culture was used as medicine. And it was only allowed to be manufactured by monks.

Within Ayurveda, it is used a lot and the traditional recipe has been enriched with essential oils to create a medicine.

And besides that, it even says in the Vedas that the scent of incense calms you and that it’s just nice to get rid of some smells. And last but not least, some scents are also used to repel insects, which isn’t such a bad thing as India is known for malaria as well, which is being carried by mosquitoes.

Dangers of incense

In the last couple of years, it’s been said that incense provokes lung diseases and even cancer. Therefore, there are a couple of guidelines on how to use incense sticks and an alternative that I’m going to explain later as well.

how to use incense

So what you’ve got to do when you like the smell of your incense sticks, is to look on the packages you buy if the sticks are hand-rolled. This is quite important as they mostly use the traditional way of making incense and therefore, it’s more natural as well. These days a lot of incense is made with synthetic scents, which makes it more toxic. And as you inhale the smoke, well you also inhale the bad parts of the synthetic things.

When you are using incense, be aware that there is at least a window open somewhere, or that you have a way of the smoke to find it’s way out of the room. Being in a room filled with smoke is never good, so it’s best to make sure that there is a way for the smoke to leave as well. Therefore, a good ventilated room is a must when burning your favorite incense sticks.

Make sure that the incense stick isn’t burning to close to you either. The good thing about incense sticks is that they are quite strong, especially when they are hand-rolled. This makes that you’ll even be able to smell them if you are sitting in the room next door.

how to burn incense

The best time to light an incense stick is a bit before you begin your meditation or yoga practice, or whatever you are intending to do. You can just light one up and put it in the room to make sure that it has released all of its smell when you enter the room again. If you are not around when you are burning incense, try to make sure that you don’t have anything flammable next to it. I’ve never had a problem with burning incense, but you’re still playing with fire.

These tips are gonna make that you’ll be able to responsibly handle your incense, almost care-free!

Resin Incense

Another type of incense that isn’t known that well, but is my favorite way of burning incense as it doesn’t give any smoke and it’s deriving right from the source itself. Resin incense you’ll probably know from going to church or the temple. It’s the smoke that comes out of the pots that the priests are swinging with.

Resin Incense

This type of incense is also very old already and it’s probably even better than burning incense sticks. This because the resin or grains are coming from the source itself. There are no other products uses, just the organic material of the sap of trees or plants which has been dried.

How to use resin incense varies a bit. Traditionally you have to light charcoal and on this lit piece, you’ll put your incense. This you cover up a bit with the lid of your censer. This way doesn’t have my preference though as there is an easier way, which doesn’t give smoke, and is therefore also healthier (and better for your place as you won’t have to deal with smoke).

Of course, smoke is also seen as a way to cleanse yourself and your space. You don’t always need it when it comes down to aromatherapy. In this easy way, you’ll be able to burn resin incense without having a smoke-filled room.

What you’ll need is the following:

Resin Incense

– Oil burner

– Candle

– Vegetable oil OR a tin foil

– Resin Incense

There are two ways of burning incense. The first way is with vegetable oil. What you’ll be doing is just putting a bit of oil in your incense burner. You’ll put a candle underneath and after that, you put in a couple of grains of your incense. This will start to smelt in the oil and will completely dissolve. Evaporating the oil mixed with the grains will release its smell and fill up your room.

Another way that I found out to burn this incense without using oil is to replace the oil with some tin foil. You do have to make sure that you have the right thickness, which you can achieve by folding. But once you’ve found the perfect thickness, you can just re-use it again. The grains will smelt a bit, but not completely and they will release their odor for about four days.


That’s about it on my small piece about incense. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and if you’d like, you can leave a message in the comment section below!

Nama-stay wonderful!

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Danijel

    Hello Virendra, I must say that this article is very helpful and informative. I can say that here in my country (Balkan) we use incense quite a lot. It is even said that it has a healing properties and besides that, it smells so good. I did not know Indian and Chinese have it too. I definitely learn something new, thank you for sharing. I can’t wait to see more of you. 

    1. Virendra

      Thank you Danijel! I didn’t know in the Balkan area they used incense too! What kind of incense do you use and what healing proporties does it have in your country?

  2. Temidayo

    This is quite an interesting topic. I have not seen it discussed in details as you have done here. Egypt is really the first civilization know to man. The fact that they appear to have the first record on the use of Incense did not surprise me either. Ancient Egypt was a master piece. It looked like the world’s creative ability was locked up there. Like you said, the focus is not on Ancient Egypt but on the use of Incense.

    Talking about ancient medicine, I really wonder how they worked with prescription and dosages as we have it today. In my opinion, it appears people of the ancient days lived longer than our day. Could it be because they have natural ingredients as their medications? I was told stories of my great grandparents who would go into the forest and know particular plants to treat certain ailments. This works magic as soon as the patient takes the herb. 

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Virendra

      Hi Temidayo, if you read the bible and other ancient scripts you’ll find that they say that people did live longer, sometimes it was proclaimed that people could get to the age of 300 and something years old. That is not true sadly, throughout history it wasn’t possible to grow older than 40 years old in general, and that was if you had a good status. However, if you look at our modern medicine at this moment, you’ll see that it all came from natural medicine. They only cultivate the herbs and plants in a synthetical way now, which doesn’t make it natural anymore. Also, they add enhancers now to strengthen the effect of our medicines.

      And that’s a bit about the history of medicine ;). Thank you for your comment Temidayo!

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