For centuries, smudging has been used by indigenous peoples across the world to cleanse both people and places of negative energy.
Over time, it became a ceremonial act of cleansing and purification which used a selection of herbs, often sage, which are bundled together with string to form a smudge stick before being ignited.
Unfortunately, many people dismiss this ancient practice as unscientific, tossing it aside as a primitive belief. But what they don’t realize is that many ancient cultures have practices that are just now being confirmed by scientific studies — including this one.
1) Nature’s Antidepressant
You may or may not have heard of ‘negative ions’ but they are increasingly talked about in scientific circles when it comes to wellbeing. Interestingly, it looks like negative ions have a profound effect on the physiology of every human being. Ions are atoms or molecules with a net electric charge due to the loss or gain of one or more electrons. Negative ions are produced in natural settings (such as a park or beach) while positive ions are produced in more contemporary places such as in the house. Electronics, in particular, give off lots of positive ions.
It seems that the negative ions produced from smushing offer serious antidepressant effects.
Dr. Clarence Hansell, a research engineer who studied the effects of negative ions on humans in the 1930s, noticed that the mood of one of his colleagues changed when ions were being generated by nearby equipment. He noticed his colleague was more joyful when the machine created negative ions and more sullen when it produced positive ions. In a controlled study focused on Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD (an extension of Hansell’s work), researchers found fresh air charged with negative ions was an effective treatment for depression. This is in large part due to its effects on serotonin levels, similar to the way antidepressant drugs work.
2) Clearing Negative Energy
Because smudging actually destroys bacteria in the air, it also has a psychologically clearing effect. This can allow us to relax in environments that may be a little harder settle in. Thankfully smudging gives off plenty of negative ions!
3) Clearing the Air
Surprisingly, smudging can help clear the air of all kinds of bacteria and improve allergy symptoms. This was a study that corroborated this ancient practice. Here is the researcher’s take:
“We have observed that 1 hour treatment of medicinal smoke emanated by burning wood and a mixture of odoriferous and medicinal herbs (havan sámagri=material used in oblation to fire all over India), on aerial bacterial population caused over 94% reduction of bacterial counts by 60 min and the ability of the smoke to purify or disinfect the air and to make the environment cleaner was maintained up to 24 hour in the closed room.
4) Relaxing Effects
Smudging can offer calming, relaxing effects that are known to help lower blood pressure, relieve stress and tension and normalize breathing rates, as the negative ions produced are absorbed directly into your bloodstream.
5) Increased Energy
Negative ions have the effect of helping to normalise seraton (the feel-good hormone), boosting the mood and overall energy. This is great for depression.
6) Improved Sleep
So if we know that negative ions are more of a ‘natural’ thing, it would make sense we’d not only feel better but sleep better too, right? Absolutely! And in fact, studies show people do sleep better in negative ion environments.
The Science bit if you want to know more....
Ions are molecules that have gained or lost an electrical charge. . They are created in nature as air molecules break apart due to sunlight, radiation, and moving air and water. You may have experienced the power of negative ions when you last set foot on the beach or walked beneath a waterfall. While part of the euphoria is simply being around these wondrous settings and away from the normal pressures of home and work, the air circulating in the mountains and the beach is said to contain tens of thousands of negative ions -- Much more than the average home or office building, which contain dozens or hundreds, and many register a flat zero.
"The action of the pounding surf creates negative air ions and we also see it immediately after spring thunderstorms when people report lightened moods," says ion researcher Michael Terman, PhD, of Columbia University in New York.
In fact, Columbia University studies of people with winter and chronic depression show that negative ion generators relieve depression as much as antidepressants. "The best part is that there are relatively no side effects, but we still need to figure out appropriate doses and which people it works best on," he says.
Vitamins of the Air?
Generally speaking, negative ions increase the flow of oxygen to the brain; resulting in higher alertness, decreased drowsiness, and more mental energy," says Pierce J. Howard, PhD, author of The Owners Manual for the Brain: Everyday Applications from Mind Brain Research and director of research at the Center for Applied Cognitive Sciences in Charlotte, N.C.
"They also may protect against germs in the air, resulting in decreased irritation due to inhaling various particles that make you sneeze, cough, or have a throat irritation."
And for a whopping one in three of us who are sensitive to their effects, negative ions can make us feel like we are walking on air. You are one of them if you feel instantly refreshed the moment you open a window and breathe in fresh, humid air.
"You may be one of them if you feel sleepy when you are around an air-conditioner, but feel immediately refreshed and invigorated when you step outside or roll down the car atmosphere of negative ions, but an ion generator re-releases the ions that air conditioners remove."