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