Burning sage, or smudging, is one of the oldest and purest methods of cleansing a person, object, or space of negative energies or unwanted spirits. The practice dates back to prehistoric times and has been documented as having been used in all parts of the world by our ancestors. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the ancient practice, chances are you’ve scrolled through photos of smudge sticks on your Instagram feed (you know, those leafy bundles with a string tied around them that you find perfectly staged on cool wellness accounts).

Why you need to sage
Sage stick do more than look pretty in photos. Smudging your personal space (your home or office, even your own body) is like an energetic detox. Aside from ancient beliefs, the smoke from dried sage leaves actually changes the ionic composition of air and can have a direct effect on stress (when sage is burned, it releases negative ions, which is linked to putting people into a positive mood). Additionally, a 2007 study found that burning sage for an hour decreased the level of airborne bacteria by 94 percent and the effects were preserved for up to 24 hours after that.

While you can smudge any time, the best situations to burn sage are when you move into a new living space, begin a new job, start your own business, before and after having guests over, before meditation, after an illness or argument, when you return home from a crowded space, and after traveling. Not only are you resetting your own energy, you should think of it as releasing energies from other people that you come in contact with — negative energy is contagious.

Not all sage is created equal
The sage you know in the kitchen is not the one you want to cleanse your space. The type you want to buy is white sage, preferably one that is high-quality and ethically cultivated. Mom and pop shops, health stores, pagan book stores, metaphysical store and farmer’s markets are all great places to shop — or you can make your own if you own a sage plant (just bundle and tie it, and then hang upside down in cool dark space until it is completely dried out). Try to avoid mass-market retailers or large commercial vendors — cultivation of your sage matters as much as buying organic food.

Additionally, sage comes in various forms. You can buy them loose (you burn this option in a cauldron of sorts), as a white ceremonial sage bundle, which is usually bound together by a thin string and is easiest to burn, or if you’re sensitive to smoke or are saging a no-smoking zone (like a hotel room or cubicle), sage spray is an equally effective alternative.

How to cleanse your space (correctly)
Before lighting up, take a quick lap around, remove any excess clutter and open a door or window. This clears a pathway for unwanted energy to clear out. Next, place your sage on a heat-proof surface — traditionally, indigenous people used an abalone shell to hold the sage because it represents the element of water. Finally, light the bundle (or loose leaves) by holding a flame to it until it begins to smoke. When a flame appears, gently blow on it until it embers and smokes. You might need to relight your sage a few times during the ritual process.

Once you have a good smoke going, use your hand or a feather (as tradition suggests) to direct smoke and begin the cleansing process. Start on yourself — fan the smoke over your body from your feet to your head, then back down. As you do this, visualize the smoke taking away negative energy, ailments or darkness away. Some people even chant, pray, or recite positive sayings as they do this. Now that you’ve smudged your body, you’re free to move through your space. Starting at the lowest level of your space, use your hand to push smoke into corners and rise up to the ceiling. Finally, direct the smoke out through windows and doorways.

After you’ve smudged the space, extinguish your sage by stamping it out on your shell or heat-proof plate. Whatever you do, don’t put it out in water — you won’t be able to use it again. If there is any ash, you can empty it back into the ground or even bury your remaining sage in your garden as an end to your ritual — though it’s not mandatory. Now that your space is thoroughly cleansed, fill it with positive energy and love. Repeat the process as needed. You can even make it a Sunday ritual or incorporate it into your morning routine. Bad vibes, be gone.

Stephanie Montes is a Los-Angeles based fashion, beauty and wellness writer. Her work has been featured on Elite Daily, Brides, Well + Good, Hello Giggles, The Zoe Report and more. She loves traveling, trying new beauty products, photography, and cuddling her two dogs and husband. Follow her on Instagram at @stephanie_montes.