I have been brought up in a religious family, my family pray together and we all use our belief in god to help serve others and help guide us in our daily life.
I rarely question god or my belief, but when I do it takes a while for me to immerse myself back into faith. (I am currently neither in or out at the moment)
The reason I mention this is to illustrate that I have been brought up a god fearing person, although this blog may make you think otherwise.
So, what does God have to do with asthma? well you’ll be pleased to know this blog is not questioning God, or your faith and I am defiantly not here to preach or compare religions.
I am however going to write about the use of incense sticks in rituals and religious ceremony. Most mainstream religions use incense sticks, or fire.
The Chinese burn incense sticks to worship their ancestors this practise is used in Taoism and Buddhism, Catholics burn incense in a thurible and smoke the congregation by swinging the thurible, Islam normally do not use incense in worship, however it is used to remind the believers of paradise and the rewards within, contemporary Judaism use aromatic spices in one ritual, the havdala ceremony ending the Sabbath, incense is also often used in Pagan rituals to represent the element of air and Hinduism uses incense widely throughout all their ceremonies, it can also be accompanied with open fire during some ceremonies.
I recently participated in a Hindu ‘yagya puja’ ceremony also known as a havan. Its uses vary but the practice is universal, wooden sticks are lit, ghee is used as the fuel and the flame is controlled by adding dried herbs, rose petals and other ingredients. The fire burns for the duration of the ceremony which normally can take over an hour, during this time, incense sticks are burning as well.
As a participant in the ceremony I was sat around the fire, in the mist of incense and smoke.
The fire emits a sweet smell with little smoke or fumes.
However, despite this it is still a trigger. The sense of an imminent attack filled my mind just as the ‘holy’ smoke filled the room, even in a well ventilated room my symptoms progressively got worse, my breathing become faster and more shallow.
Why didn’t I leave? simple…I feared the repercussions of leaving my worship to God more than my physical repercussions of sitting there.
This had a profound impact on me, may be its the side effects of the prednisolone that made me drop into this deep sense of fear and anxiety. I found myself praying to the very god that was creating the symptoms to help me breathe.
I managed to do a peak flow soon after, I blew just over 100, I noticed my nostrils were flaring and I couldn’t talk in full sentences. I therefore was experiencing an asthma attack.
It was the first time I knew what had triggered my attack, It was a direct result of participating in this religious ceremony, thankfully the symptoms subsided in time so that no one noticed, so I could carry on with the day.
This event may not question my faith; there is plenty that has happened in the past to create doubt. But what was strange was how it effected me, I clearly can not articulate my thoughts, hence why I am still writing without reaching a conclusive argument.
Studies have shown there is a relationship between incense sticks and respiratory exacerbation and even some cancers. https://www.nhs.uk/news/cancer/is-incense-smoke-more-dangerous-than-tobacco-smoke/
It goes to show that some much can be ignored and hidden under the veil of religion and belief, when talking to faith leaders they claim that the smoke/fumes created by this ceremony have healing properties and will help rid you of all aliments.
Religious people and believers will point out that this practice has not changed for years and since records began ceremonies have been conducted in this way for generations.
I questioned what was stronger in me? why did I not stop the ceremony or ask to be excused? The priest who is aware of my conditions did ask if I was OK, and mentioned that I could sit back if the fire was too close. I denied this kind gesture, but why?
I have never allowed my asthma to control my actions but since major life milestones my priorities have changed and I now think a little more about my health and how it affects those around me.
I wonder how religious leaders with asthma see the use of incense, or may be just like myself they have never questioned it and accept their fate?
Thank you for reading, and as always I look forward to your comments.
Take a breathe,