Have you ever wished you could wipe the slate clean after a difficult conversation with a family member or start over on a positive note when your kids wake up arguing? It’s possible to get a psychological do-over with the help of smudging.
No, smudging isn’t an obscure Olympic sport or an oil painting technique. It’s a form of spiritual cleansing with Native American roots that traditionally involves burning herbs to expel negative energy and restore balance to a person, group or space. Best of all, it’s an easy, inexpensive mindfulness ritual you can practice anytime. You can buy smudging sticks made of sage, rosemary, lavender and other herbs online or at many local natural grocery or health food stores.
If the concept of smudging sounds a little too woo-woo for your comfort level, try to keep an open mind. After all, it’s not the dark arts. It’s an unintimidating practice that may just leave you feeling calmer and better able to cope with life’s curve balls.
Let it burn
Candice Gerdes, certified holistic health coach, yoga instructor and founder of Austin-based Mamaste Health, first encountered smudging in a yoga class. Initially, she thought smudging bordered on witchcraft or voodoo.
“Smudging seemed weird to me. It seemed a little witchy,” Gerdes says. “But when I learned it could be done just to reset the energy in a space, I embraced it.”
For Gerdes, smudging is a simple, familiar practice with a consistently clear intention: to rid a space of stale energy and start afresh.
“When I smudge, I get so absorbed in what’s happening visually. There’s just something about the smoke that helps to reset the energy of the space. There’s a sense that the smoke absorbs the old energy and then it disappears,” she says.
Gerdes routinely hosts wellness workshops out of her home. She typically performs a smudging ritual at nighttime to “clear the energy of the day” by burning palo santo, a fragrant wood native to the coast of South America that emanates a small amount of smoke.
The smoke from palo santo quickly dissipates, so Gerdes burns it for about 1 minute before stubbing it out and allowing the smoke to rise. She then mindfully walks through the space, focusing on her intention as she slowly waves the smudge stick back and forth around her.
Gerdes encourages her clients to personalize their smudging routine by repeating a mantra or prayer or by inviting family members to take part in the ritual. She stresses there’s no right or wrong way to practice smudging.
“Sometimes I burn palo santo just to get rid of the stale cheese cracker smell my son leaves behind. I also burn it before and after meditation and yoga sessions. It allows me to start with a clean slate and then clear the energy after people have gathered in one room. It’s a very personal practice,” she says.
Regardless of where your smudging session takes place, be sure it’s in a ventilated area. To avoid setting off the smoke alarm, Gerdes opens a window or turns on a fan before she lights her smudge stick.
Make your own smudge stick
If you’re the crafty type, you may enjoy making your own sage smudge stick. It’s easy to do. All you need is dried herbs and twine, and you’re ready to follow these three simple steps:
- Clip enough sage to make a 2- to 3-inch-thick bundle. Place the sage on top of a newspaper overnight. (If you don’t have an herb garden, you can purchase a sage plant.)
- The next day, cut the sage stems to a uniform length. Using twine, tie a knot at the base of the stems. Wrap the twine around the sage bundle, moving from the base upward. Next, make a crisscross pattern by winding the twine from the top of the bundle down to the bottom. Make sure the leaves are bundled tightly, and tie a secure knot at the bottom.
- Dry the sage by hanging it upside down for two weeks. Once it’s completely dry, it’s ready to burn.
To catch any ash that falls off the stick while the bundle is burning, use a nonflammable glass, ceramic or shell dish. Gerdes adds that you can use rosemary, lavender, peppermint and many other herbs to make your smudge stick, so don’t be afraid to get creative.