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Spotlight on Palo Santo

Cleansing your energy flow

In my Hypnotherapy practice, I see an interest in energy healing, how the mind and body relate to one another and how the conscious and unconscious work together, as well as separately, to influence our personal state of wellbeing. In preparation for a session and after, it's also useful to calm and protect my own energy, so as to be of most benefit to others. As people's awareness of their personal health increases across the planet, which goes hand-in-hand with the collective rebalancing of the World's environmental and political health, there's been increased interest in spirituality, ancient wisdom and the traditional customs and practices of indigenous peoples. Turning tentatively away from prescription medicines towards more natural and holistic remedies, the comfort of having some form of physical product to engage with makes things like crystals, divination cards, incense and massage/tapping devices, appealing to Westerners. Whether beautiful to look at, relaxing or aromatic, if the senses are stimulated or soothed in some way, the product could be said to be working, alongside the accompanying personal rituals.

Popular in the Western wellness industry are smudging and incense burning, for example, with the burning of Palo Santo a particularly popular ritual. Palo Santo (Latin name, Bursera Graveolens) is a tree indigenous to South America, whose name translates to 'holy wood'. It was an Incan ritual to burn the wood (after the tree had naturally matured, died and laid to rest), wherein the smoke cleansed the environment and the energy within it, including that of the occupants. Like the natural elements, Palo Santo is believed to purify a space of the negative energies that can seep in as a result of daily life. In a mini exorcism of the lingering fallout from unhealthy interactions, illness or experiences, balance can be restored by the properties of the smoke (antimicrobial and antiseptic, for example). It is also said that stress and inflammation are targeted in the healing process, due to the medicinal properties of the plant.

But, undoubtedly, the commercialisation of such a sacred plant calls any spiritual or remedial characteristics into question, since it's difficult to consider energy being purified by products resulting from deforestation or factory processes. In the West, we're also used to quick fixes, looking externally to buy something that will solve all our problems, whereas the path to true peace and enlightenment takes hard work, looking inwards, and under the guidance of those experienced in spiritual healing. A soul-searching journey to South America aside, though, it's still possible to benefit from healing techniques, in our own way, without being inauthentic or irreverent.

Buying products ethically from sustainable and ethical sources (e.g.; is a good place to start. Palo Santo is a tree, after all, so do what you can to check the Green / Fair Trade certification of the supplier. And if you care about the environment at large in your purchases, not just your own environment, the burning will feel lighter, unburdened and more sacred.

Smudge after a difficult time or a disagreement in the house, but also periodically, opening the windows and removing pets before you begin. Set an intention to cleanse the space you inhabit, at the same time asking forgiveness for the historical mistreatment of indigenous cultures. Recognise with humility that you are trying to learn from them and the ancient wisdom of their practices. Make it an occasional ritual, allowing the sticks, resin, chips, oil or incense time to burn (incense can last the best part of an hour, so set time aside to meditate, listen to soft music, craft, read poetry or simply just breathe). If smudging, light the end and rest the bundle in a bowl. Waft the smoke into all corners of your rooms and cupboards using a fan or a feather (you may have to relight the bundle a few times as you go). End by smudging yourself, raising the bundle from your heart, over your head, down the back of your body and back up to your heart. Extinguish the bundle against the side of your bowl, so that you can reuse it another time.

For the safe burning of incense, smudge sticks, candles, resins or oils, remember not to leave them unattended. Use a suitable receptacle, and run ends or debris under water before discarding. All things in moderation, also, because excessive exposure, through inhalation for example, is counterproductive and not recommended for anything.

Regardless of whether you believe in the healing properties of Palo Santo, you may find its fragrance appealing, with the added bonus that it's insect repellent!


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