An altar is far more than a physical manifestation of the divine.
It is a symbol of your commitment, a gesture of grace, and space for you to be entirely yourself. At your altar you can sit in the presence of your true inner self.
More often than not yogis’ burn incense or herbs when practicing or meditating. Some traditions believe that when we burn sage it cleanses our environment and subtle energy in preparation for ceremony.
There is actually some science behind this:
Our sense of smell activates a certain part of the brain that is linked to memory. In this case, the smell of sage over time will become associated (via our memory) with the activity of meditation or prayer; so much so, that when we smell sage we are all fired up to remember this activity, making it easier for us to practice. Think of how the smell of grass cuttings or honeysuckle remind you of childhood! It’s a similar concept.
Using certain scents at your altar can, therefore, support and deepen your yoga & mindfulness experience.
Even when I was travelling across the States and sleeping under the stars, I always had a special little space that I used for meditation. Having an altar has become so much part of my life that I regularly suggest to my students that they create one in their homes. It really can help you develop a home practice, which in my experience is one of the biggest challenges many students encounter.
Why is an altar so powerful?
You are more likely to practice; you will be naturally drawn to this place when times are tough, and if you use stones, scents and symbols to support you on your mat, you may find that you feel energised to commit more regularly (what we give attention to grows). If you are considering setting up a corner of your room as an altar, try to find somewhere quiet. Either use a low table with a cushion in front for meditation, or just set up on the floor some special items in front of your mat. Explain to children and loved ones that this is your special place, ask them to respect this and to try and not stand on your mat. I use very simple objects, mostly from nature. I like to vary this depending on the seasons, but I try to have something to represent the five elements: Earth: Water, Fire, Air, Space.
Using an altar may feel a little strange to begin with. Try for a few weeks just thinking of your mat as a sacred (place of dedication) space for your healing journey. Open your mat slowly, and most importantly, pause for a few seconds before you begin your practice. Bring your focus inward.
Allow for a kind of shift in your energy & focus from the chaos of life to the delicate inner voice within, the tone of your breath & the sound of your beautiful heart.
Follow your usual practice or begin your meditation.
If you are new to these ideas and would like to try them out - please come back and let me know in comments below how you get on, and if you have any challenges. If you are an experienced meditator, join in the conversation and share your inspirations. :)