Burning Sacred BotanicalsMay 22nd, 2017 by Christina Sprayberry
Upon entering a Buddhist temple incense fills the air, Catholic mass smells of frankincense, Native American Tribes “Smudge” with sacred herbs, and essential oils are commonly used in spas and places to relax. These are just some examples of how burning botanicals for aromatic, sacred experiences has been practiced across cultures and time to assist with meditation, ritual, spirituality, and mindfulness. What are your own connections to scents in meaningful experiences? Do you have a memory that comes to mind with a particular smell?
Etymology and neurobiology. The Latin root of the word perfume, per fumem, means “through smoke” and incense (incensus, past participle of incendere) to set on fire, to provoke, or to cause a passion or emotion. Neurobiological studies demonstrate how the olfactory bulb has direct connections to the hippocampus and amygdala strongly implicated in emotion and memory. Smell is a powerful, primitive sense that may quickly transport us to states of being due to associated experience. However, keep in mind that although there may be some shared universal emotional aspects of smell it can also be highly individual due to associative experiences.
Mindfulness of the senses. Quickly de-stress and re-center by developing a mindfulness of the senses. Pause and with a gentle curiosity just notice: What do you hear? see? feel? taste? and smell? Breathe in deeply and as Thich Nhat Hanh says, “bring your breath home to your body,” connect with the sensation of breath and being. Also, by actively creating a sensory experiences, with aroma as an example, it may assist with a state of being mindful presence. When you meditate daily with a scent, an associative response may be hardwired so that when you actively engage with that scent in a stressful situation it will help to induce a relaxation response.
Intentions and ritual. Smoke is believed to purify, carry prayers to heaven, and be an offering for god(s) for good karma. Used during rituals, from small everyday rituals to more auspicious sacred rituals, it slows us down to be more present and mindful of our intentions and life.
Cultural experience. Each culture has their own beliefs regarding burning botanicals, and as much as possible it is important to honor the lineages of wisdom where it has been borrowed. Even though we often think of “smudging” as belonging to all Native Americans, each tribe has differences in their methods and plants used. As you create personal, individualized rituals, attempt to learn about and honor the ancient roots to the ritual.
Connection with nature. Foraging and wildcrafting your own botanicals fosters a sense of connection with nature. Experiment with burning local, sacred botanicals such as sage, artimesia, lavender, thyme, pine, or red clover. As you learn more about and foster relationships with growing plants, you feel more connected with the earth.
What are your own experiences with aroma? What do you experience as you pause, breathe in, and smell in this moment? As you connect with your senses, consider how you might want to incorporate this into your own life. It is a human drive to create experiences and deeper connections to our inner self and wisdom. Have fun experimenting and trust your own inner direction in creating your own rituals.
To experience and learn more, join us in this workshop:
Burning Sacred Botanicals Workshop
with Christina Sprayberry and Katya Hervatin
Sunday, June 25 3-4:30
$15 suggested donation (covers supplies to make your own smudge sticks and experience other aromatics)
RSVPs required no later than June 23nd.
About the Author
Christina M. Sprayberry LCSW, RYT is a psychotherapist trained in yoga and mindfulness meditation. Her training includes 200 hour yoga training at Pavones Yoga Center Costa Rica; Certification in Integrating Psychotherapy and Yoga with Live Oak/Bloom Yoga; and Mindfulness Meditation at the University of Chicago. She provides individual yoga and meditation sessions in a safe affirming space combining mindfulness meditation, gentle yoga movements, and stillness in restorative positions that emphasize connection with mind and body.