As yoga teachers, we ’hold space’ for our students, but what does that mean? A huge part of space holding is energetic; it is not so much about creating a safe and inspiring physical place, but more of an intent. Our intent, however, is supported by creating an inspired environment which in turn cultivates a certain bhāv. Bhāv, sometimes translated as ”mood,” is what forms the nurturing ground for the deeper experiences of yoga. It is the inner feeling state that brings a certain kind of magic to the practice of yoga. In this article, we will explore how to create a personal altar to support the magic of our practice and in our life!
Setting the Foundation
Some simple things to consider when creating a bhāv-supporting space for yourself or your students are:
- Choose or create an environment that is quiet and spacious, with good natural light.
- Keep the space clean and clutter-free.
- Clear the space energetically with sage, cedar, palo santo, or other herb of your choice (look for products from sustainable and ethical sources), and open windows to let fresh air in.
- Create a personal altar where you can place inspiring objects. Find out how below!
- Change things around periodically to avoid stagnation.
Creating a Personal Altar
An altar can work as a representation of your intention and a manifestation of your inner landscape. It is personal and can be very creative! The first step in building an altar is deciding its purpose. Close your eyes and contemplate your intention. It could be as simple as wanting to create a space that reflects the energy of your practice. Or maybe you would like to cultivate a certain quality within yourself, for example, courage, love, creativity, or gratitude. Another idea is to create an altar for somebody in your life (including yourself) that needs strength or healing. Once you connect with your intention, use your intuition to manifest it.
What to Place On Your Altar
Traditionally, altars contain objects of deliberate symbolic meaning, but can also be a collection of personal things that remind you of your true self and the best parts of your life. Many of us have sacred personal items placed throughout our home—stones, seashells, feathers, candles, photographs, etc. A personal altar is a place where you bring these items together to gather your spiritual energy and allow it to reflect back to you. Your purpose and intention may transform from day to day and week to week, let your altar evolve with it!
Whether you use your altar as a center piece for your daily practice, or simply pause for a moment before it as you brush by, it can help you reconnect with the deepest intentions for your life. An altar is a mirror of the hridaya, the inner, dynamic heart space that is the home of the Self.
“Bhāv, sometimes translated as ”mood,” is what forms the nurturing ground for the deeper experiences of yoga.”
Creating an Altar for the 5 Elements
The most basic theme for an altar is the five elements: Fire, Water, Air, Earth and Space/Spirit. These 5 Elements are the essential building blocks of everything and by honoring them, we honor the whole universe. This is how you can create a personal altar using the 5 elements:
Space envelops all the other elements and is symbolized by all of them together. It is also closely linked to Spirit, the symbolism for which is personal to each and everyone.
Sometimes bells or other sound makers symbolize the space element because sound vibrations are said to be the origin of creation. A conch shell may also symbolize space element—its sound represents the sound OM.
Symbols for Spirit can be a statue or image of a chosen deity, or anything that connects you to your higher Self. Place this symbol in the center of the altar.
Air is the subtle, mobile element that represents creativity, knowledge and the powers of the mind. It can be symbolized by natural incense, sage, palo santo, sweetgrass, flowers, feathers, or a bird image or totem, pens, paints, journal or anything that represents your creativity.
Fire is the hot and sharp element that represents all forms of transformation, digestion of life experiences, creative energy, inspiration, passion, and strong will. It is usually presented by light or a flame of some sort, usually a candle or an oil lamp.
Water signifies emotions, intuition, healing, and flow. It is often symbolized by fresh water, a chalice, cup or bowl, a mirror, sea shells, coral, milk, flower essences, elixirs, or any medicines that are helping you in your life.
Earth is associated with nature, feeling grounded, security, and material well-being. It can be symbolized by incense, flowers, foods, crystals, stones, bones, plants, sandalwood powder and paste, inspiring ancestral photos or images, photos of teachers and lineages, or land animal images.
Place all these symbols on a cloth (protects the boundaries) to create your altar.
If you are interested in learning more about the devotional side of Yoga, check out our 100-hour Bhakti Yoga & Mantra Module!
Nicolina Sandstedt, Yandara Lead Trainer
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is a collection of 196 aphorisms, divided into four chapters, that act as a guide on the spiritual journey. It was compiled in the early centuries CE by the Indian sage Patanjali, who synthesised and organised the ancient knowledge of Yoga.
The four chapters discuss the aims and practice of yoga, the development of yogic powers, and finally Liberation. Here we will look at sutra 1.33, which gives us four essential keys to peace of mind.
Whether on a yogic path or not, we all want to have a peaceful mind. Sutra 1.33 brings to light some of the key things that cause stress and anxiety in the mind, and gives us four essential tools to help us remain peaceful.
maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhkha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam
”By cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, delight in the virtuous, and neutrality towards those who you perceive to be wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”
In this sutra, Patanjali tells us that there are four locks and four keys in the world. Each lock is a human behaviour that can trigger a whirlwind in the mind, and each key is a way to neutralise that whirlwind.
The First Lock & Key
The first lock is friendliness and ease, and the key lies in meeting that friendliness with loving-kindness. Seems simple enough? If a stranger smiles at you in the street, you smile back at them, and harmony is cultivated. But what if it triggers a sense of comparison? You start questioning why they are so happy? And what may be wrong with your life as you are not walking around with a smile? Then the smiling stranger can create agitation in your mind. However, if you trust Patanjali’s suggestions and simply smile back at them without getting stuck in thoughts, your body receives a signal of happiness and your mind becomes calm.
The Second Lock & Key
The second lock is unhappiness or unease, and the key is found in cultivating compassion towards those who are experiencing that sadness. When someone is upset, comfort them. If they need space, let them know you are there for them when they are ready. Try to put yourself in their shoes; most of us have experienced sadness or unease at some point. Know that you don’t have to change or fix anything, let them be vulnerable and just be there for them. This will help you retain a peaceful mind.
The Third Lock & Key
The third lock/key is delight in those who are virtuous. This is simple enough when it comes to your heroes in life; but more challenging when it is closer to home. If you and a friend decide to commit to a 40-day yoga practice, and your friend sticks to it while you don’t; can you show delight towards your friend? A common response to this type of situation is to attack yourself as a looser and your friend as a show-off. Instead of letting your mind be disturbed by jealousy, imagine that your True Nature, that is One with everything and everyone, delights in your friends ability to stick to their commitment. A win for One is a win for All.
The Fourth Lock & Key
The fourth lock/key is equanimity towards those we perceive as being non-virtuous. This one always causes the most discussions in the YTT classroom. When we see someone doing something mean or hurtful, should we just look the other way? In a word, no. But does that mean we should get all up in arms, mind boiling with anger, ready to start a war? No, this is not a productive state of being, and it will not produce the most effective result. If we see someone causing harm, ideally, we speak up while maintaining a calmness of mind. This is a challenging key to find, but it is there and by using it, great changes can arise!
We Love Yoga Philosophy!
During your Yandara YTT, we explore inspiring Yoga Philosophy every day, at both the 200hr and the 300hr level. Enjoy this short video below where Yandara founder and lead trainer, Christopher Perkins, takes you through a short journey from inner Argument to inner Acceptance.
Nicolina Sandstedt, Yandara Lead Trainer