Creating an Altar Can Be a Safe Space In Your Home

Last year moved all of us to come into a different relationship with the space we inhabit. For some, this was a positive shift while for others it was quite challenging. I’m sure there are many of us who experienced the duality of both ends of the spectrum under one roof.

As a trauma-informed Yoga teacher and facilitator, the idea of a safe space is foundational to the way I work, lead and live. Over the years I have come to deeply understand that everyone has experienced trauma, and the principles of trauma-informed care can be universally applicable and helpful.

In this article, I want to address how we can approach and support our own self-care by creating a personal safe space inside of our homes. For me, as a steadfast and spiritual meditator, this comes in the shape of my altar.

I do recognize that the word “altar” might be loaded for some of us, and that is totally okay. I invite you to look beyond the word and stick with me as we get underneath it to find the deeper meaning and symbology, and explore how it might work for you.

The Origin of Altars

Altars were and are still used in many world religions since ancient times as a sacred place to make offerings to God or the Divine. Often these offerings came in the form of some sort of sacrifice and are tied to the element of fire (which is where we might find an original meaning coming from the Latin root adolere, “to honor by burning sacrifices to”).

In researching the etymology of the word, I’d like to highlight the Sanskrit word “mandira” from Hinduism. The following definition strongly resonated with me. It is taken from the Indian Sanskrit scholar Krishna G. Rampal in his book, "Sacred Structures: Artistic Renditions of Hindu Temples in Malaysia and Singapore."

“The word mandira is derived from the words man which symbolizes inner-self and dir which means a dwelling place. In several Hindu texts, the Lord is described as one's "inner-self”.
[Adding to this], the word mandira can be seen to originate from the words manas and dhiraya. The word manas means - imagination, intention, mind, spirit, mood, perception, intelligence, desire, thought. The verb dhiraya means - gets comfort, is encouraged. … Hence, mandira means a place where the mind gets comfort, intelligence and imagination is encouraged.

Before reading that definition I was reflecting on how my altar is my dwelling place. It is a place to come home to. It is an external representation of my spirit body, my deepest intentions and values, and the Divine. When I sit down in front of it, I am comforted, I am welcomed and I feel safe. I am reminded and inspired that the home I seek is within, and the pathway is lit.

Fitting the Idea of an Altar Into Your Belief System

Regardless of your religion, regardless of whether or not you use the word “altar,” I’d like to invite you to embrace the idea of creating your own “dwelling place” – a place that is made by you and for you, that both gives comfort and inspires expansion simultaneously.

Safety and security set the foundation for growth. Feeling safe allows us to take risks, try new things, and go places we’ve never gone before. Whether conscious or not, if we do not feel safe, we feel threatened. And when we feel threatened, we naturally constrict and defend: the antitheses of expansion and discovery.