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.
And yet, sometimes the hardest, dare I say the scariest, place to go, is within our own self. I believe that this is why meditation and home practices can be so challenging. We literally don’t know where to go, how to be with and sit with ourselves in an open, non-judgmental way. And so I deeply believe that creating an altar, a sacred and defined space to practice and hold you, is the first step.
If we can create a space, no matter how small or simple, that we know is safe, comforting, and inspiring, we can and will feel more grounded, which will help us to let down our guard, soften our skin and go within. There we can truly get to know ourselves and ultimately discover the limitlessness of our nature.
Whether the external world is too overwhelming, or our inner temple is hard to access, our altar is the place we seek refuge and comfort. It’s the mirror that reflects back to us the eternal home of peace that is alive within. Our altar shines like the last light at the end of the night, guiding us home. As we continue to deepen our relationship with our altar, our “dwelling place” slowly and organically our meditation or prayer practice becomes easier and stronger because we have a place to go - within and without. Eventually, our trust in Self and Source is strengthened beyond any doubt, and the pathway home stays bright even through the darkest of nights.
Creating an altar is so personal; there is no one right way. It must come from within and deeply resonate with you, and you are unique. And yet, it can be nice to have some guidance to get started. So I have put together some general guidelines as well as some sparks for inspiration that have helped me along the way.
General Guidelines for Creating an Altar
An altar is sacred. Cover the bottom in some way, maybe with a scarf or piece of cloth, as an offering of care and reverence.
Look for a shelf, a small table, or even a corner in your house that you can claim all to yourself for this sole purpose. If you feel compelled, you can share your intentions with roommates or family and ask for it to be respected.
If that doesn’t work with your living situation right now, make a shoebox altar! This idea came from one of my teachers, Lauren Hanna of Sonic Yoga NYC, and I love it. Create and design your traveling altar inside of a shoebox so you can take it with you wherever you go.
Clean your altar regularly and tend to it as an act of meditation and self-care in itself.
Altars are living, evolving things, just as you are. Let them breathe. Changing our altars can be a great way to honor seasonal changes, check in with and/or reset intentions, and represent our personal and spiritual growth.
Use your altar for meditation, prayer, yoga, sacred study, journaling or any other time you need some comfort!
Reflections for Inspiration
What are my intentions? What am I trying to manifest? How do I want to feel?
Allow all items on your altar to reflect these intentions and elevated emotions. It only has to make sense to and inspire you.
What in Nature inspires my awe and wonder? What elements (earth, water, fire, air, space) help me feel connected to something greater? What season is it, and how can I honor that?
Nature is everything and everywhere! You might include crystals, rocks, feathers, shells, water, plants or candles.
What colors give me comfort and inspiration? What Chakra or energy do I want to stimulate?
For example, creating an altar around the color red can help you connect to the Earth energy of stability, security, safety and deep trust.
What pictures, statues or symbols of places, people or animals inspire me and comfort me? What do I love to look at?
What aroma or scents are comforting to me?
Essential oils or candles can be a great resource for “tuning in”
Are there any sacred texts, poems or quotes you are inspired by?
You might also keep a journal with your altar to write down inspiration, gratitude or reflections that come up.
These ideas are just a place to get started. Trust your own inspiration and wisdom, and allow the power of your Creative energies to flow through you! What you end up with will be perfect because it came from you. And when it’s time to change it up, you’ll know.
We all deserve a place that makes us feel safe, and you hold the power to create it.
Blessings and much love to you on this journey.