What’s in a name?
The word altar usually conjures up images of a gold, ornate church or else a pagan sacrifice like the scene from an Indiana Jones movie. Those ideas were P-Y (pre-yoga). Nowadays I understand that an altar is really just a focal point, something that makes you feel good and inspires you. You may ask, do I really need one? The answer is probably not, but if it encourages you to get on the mat then it’s definitely worth exploring. Just don’t get too hung up on giving it a label, it doesn’t have to be an altar, a temple, a shrine, a sacred space or anything else that you don’t feel comfortable calling it. Don’t get too attached to naming your space.
Here’s some pointers that I hope might help you to create your home yoga sanctuary.
Calm and Convenient
Pick a quiet corner of your home away from the ‘busy’ness, somewhere you can be calm and won’t be disturbed. Some people enjoy being interrupted by a helpful cat or dog but find a crawling baby harder to ignore! I like to face East, I enjoy the sunlight drenching the room every morning when I do sun salutations to welcome the new day. I practice in my bedroom so I can literally tumble out of bed and on to my mat. If my yoga space were elsewhere in the house I would be more likely to find an excuse not to show up. Simply make it easy for yourself.
Authentic is Everything
Initially I felt I had to “design” my space but I have realised that I needed to “let that shit go”. Try to relax and allow the space to take shape organically. It has to feel completely authentic to you and you alone rather than becoming a contrived design edit of your favourite things. I would encourage you to consider how each item you place on your altar makes you feel rather than how it looks. This is something quite tricky for me, a self-confessed aesthetic-obsessive and design junkie! Hold the item in your hands, look at it closely, touch it, then close your eyes and reflect on how you feel and how you experience it. Does a photograph of a departed loved one make you feel safe and protected or sad? Be honest with yourself and make the final edit based on these feelings.
BKS Iyengar said “Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame”. I always light a candle or incense or both. Watching the flickering candle flame is meditation in itself and incense or an oil burner creates a divine mood that as a Himalayan yogi told my friend when she asked why we burn incense ” It helps bring you closer to the divine”. I also think it’s part of the ceremony to light candles at the start and blow them out at the end to seal my practice, almost like making a birthday wish.
I also keep lavender and tea tree oil diluted in water in a spray bottle to clean my mat and keep it smelling fresh. I also put drops of lavender on my eye bag so that it smells delicious and relaxing when I settle into Savasana.
Some people prefer to practice in silence but I enjoy listening to relaxing music, I have a playlist of tracks I love that I put on shuffle. I love anything by “Wah!” especially “Closing” for Savasana.
You don’t need expensive equipment you can use what’s readily available. Pillows and cushions can be used instead of a bolster. Bed blankets are fine to wrap yourself up during relaxation and the sleeve of your dressing gown works perfectly as an eye cover! So what if you don’t have a cork brick and a block just use whatever you can find, a man’s tie makes a good strap!
One thing yoga has taught me is that everything is temporary both on and off the mat. The same goes for your altar, you can adapt it and it will evolve naturally over time. I have a small vase and I change the fresh flowers according to the season, I love celebrating a little bit of mother nature and realising that buds turn to blooms which eventually die, everything is temporary. So tulips, daffodils and hyacinths are great for spring, sunflowers in summer, whatever is in season is perfect. This natural cycle of life helps me to feel connected to nature and the seasons.
Objects of Love
These can be anything at all that mean something to you, here’s my list of random items that I’ve collected over the years:
Crystals in a bowl – quartz, rose quartz, amethyst…I try to clean and charge them every full moon.
Yogic photo in a frame to inspire me.
Statues – Shiva and Ganesha
Stones – one light and one dark that I picked up in the Himalayas, they form a kind of heart shape when they’re put together, I like to think of them as my Yin and Yang stones to remind me to find balance.