We tend to associate candles with festive occasions—gathering around a birthday cake, or enjoying a meal with someone special—but there are many calming effects of candlelight. One of the more powerful ways to enjoy the beauty of candlelight is during a moment of stillness and solitude, when you turn off the world and tune into yourself.
There’s a reason candles are integral to religious and spiritual ceremonies the world over—the flame’s soft illumination touches the soul. Some people even find they can achieve a meditative state more easily by focusing on candlelight than on a mantra or a mandala. "I don't know anyone who is not mesmerized by a flickering flame,” says April Amstutz, Massage Manager of Canyon Ranch in Tucson. The calming effect of candlelight can be a simple yet sacred tool to help reduce stress and increase self-awareness. Bring the tranquil and restorative light of candles into your daily life.
Choosing Your Candles
Here are a few things to keep in mind to create the ideal safe, healthy and tranquil atmosphere:
- Opt for soy or beeswax. Long-term exposure to emissions from petroleum-based paraffin wax candles may pose a health hazard, according to a South Carolina State University study. Not only do paraffin candles release such unhealthy chemicals as alkenes and toluene (linked to the development of cancer and known to aggravate allergies and asthma), petroleum products are not a renewable resource. Instead, choose soy or beeswax candles, which are renewable, free of toxins and biodegradable.
- Add your own aromatherapy. A pleasing scent can be extremely soothing, but skip artificially scented candles (which contain petroleum-based synthetic compounds) and go for those infused with natural essential oils. "Studies show that the molecules of essential oils [in candles] are small enough to penetrate through the olfactory system," says Amstutz, meaning you’ll get the soothing benefits from a whiff of essential oils, with none of the chemicals you’d find in an artificially-scented candle, with none of the chemicals. Since different essential oils trigger specific reactions, pick those that have been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, such as ylang-ylang, bergamot and lavender.
- Consider color. Candles come in a rainbow of hues, which are perfect for dressing up a dinner party or backyard barbecue, but when it comes to using them to help calm and center you, stay neutral. Pastel or plain white candles can help you to remain relaxed and to focus on the flame itself.
- Take care. To stay safe, keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything flammable, use sturdy, tip-proof holders, and avoid burning candles all the way down. Or consider battery-powered candles—their electronic flickering very realistically mimics the real thing.
Incorporating Candlelight Into a Relaxation Ritual
Once you’ve chosen your candles, add them to various aspects of your daily routine to create a moment of peace and calm whenever and wherever you need it.
- In the morning or evening. Create your own altar using a shelf, table or other surface in a well-ventilated area. In addition to one or two candles, you may want to include objects of relevance that inspire or relax you—crystals, seashells, figurines, flowers and/or plants, personal mementos, photos or other images, written affirmations. Spend a few moments each day, either as soon as you wake up, or just before bed time, sitting quietly in this space. As you sit, focus on the flames: Notice their beauty as you relax and breathe through your nose. Inhale for six counts, hold for three and exhale for six. If your thoughts begin to stray, gently return your attention to the candle. For stress release, turn your attention to the melting wax and imagine it as tension melting and dripping away.
- In the bathroom. The next time you are preparing to soak in the tub or take a shower, turn out the lights and rely on candles instead. By combining the known stress-relieving activity of soothing yourself with warm water with calming candlelight, you give yourself a double dose of relaxation.
- At work. Consider lighting a candle on your desk at work, and spending a few minutes focusing on its flame when you need to take a quick break from the stressors of your job. Just be sure to never leave it unattended and don’t place it too close to paperwork, plants or anything else that could be a fire hazard. Check with your employer to see if lit candles are allowed in your office; this is a great space for electronic candles.
- While exercising. If you practice yoga, tai chi or qi gong at home, try adding a few candles to your routine. The calming effects can help you relax both your mind and your body, allowing for deeper stretches and better concentration. You may also find that sitting quietly or lying down in a candle-lit room is a great way to unwind after an intense workout.