Ah, the sweet smell of burning herbs and sandalwood. It’s how you know the yoga’s nigh. But what if we told you that smoky aroma isn’t helping your pranayama, it may actually be causing respiratory issues and maybe even cancer? Yikes! We recently spotted this blog post where blogger and yoga teacher Sandi Boerum describes her personal mission to inform and warn yoga studios and even major yoga publications (Yoga Journal, we assume?) of the hazards of inhaling the holy smokes that are prominent not just in yoga studios, but in other sacred or religious institutions.
But to no avail. No one seems to care! She has a message, though, and perhaps a very solid point:
I realize – not so naively – that being informed isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There are many toxins we willingly imbibe, despite the well-documented research. Cigarettes and meat come to mind. However, it’s one thing to smoke a cigarette or burn a stick of incense in the privacy of one’s own home, and quite another to knowingly impose it upon your customers. Even if you choose to believe that incense use is fine for the general public, consider that yoga spaces tend to be small unventilated rooms in which people are exercising and therefore breathing deeply. Also consider that, commonly, a practitioner can walk in with a compromised respiratory system (i.e., asthma, allergies, a cold, a smoking habit) or with a child in her womb.
We did a bit of our own digging about the dangers of incense and came across a few troubling sources to support Sandy’s claim. The 12-year study she links to examined longterm use of incense in Chinese people living in Singapore and found that “long-term use of incense is associated with an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the respiratory tract,” almost doubling it.
An LA Times article from 2008, when the study was released, points to the risks and to a review published in Clinical and Molecular Allergy dissecting the major types of air pollutants that exist in incense smoke and their toxicological effects. Stuff like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, aldehydes and diethylphthlate. Yum.
Via U.S. News & World Report on the incensicals:
“Anything that affects air quality negatively is not a good thing,” said Dr. Len Horvitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Burning in general and the release of smoke, these things are certainly to be avoided. At the very least, chemical irritants will set off asthma, and that’s reversible. Cancer is not reversible.”
“This is not unlike the type of risk that one experiences from secondhand tobacco smoke,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.
It is smoke afterall. But don’t hold your breath just yet. Though the American Lung Association has added it as a risk factor for all respiratory disorders, we suspect you’re not locking yourself in an unventilated room and burning incense for hours on end.
Dr. Lichtenfeld continues:
“At the end of the day, people who use incense casually, I don’t think that’s a cause for major concern, but those cultures which embrace incense as part of their daily lifestyles have to consider this has a real potential risk for cancer.”
Still even casual users *cough*yogis*cough* might want to return to Sandi’s valid concerns and consider the possible risks and sensitivities before lighting up. And for the love of lungs at least open a window. You too, stoners.