Here is an offering from Yoga Loft teacher Johnathan Ikebuchi into the history of altars and why some of us find them to be a powerful way to create space that is meaningful.
The Oxford English Online Dictionary defines an altar as: “A table or flat-topped block used as the focus for a religious ritual, especially for making sacrifices or offerings to a deity.” Within Hinduism and Buddhism, an altar can also be called a puja. The word in Sanskrit is both a verb and a noun, and can also mean the act of worship itself: “I perform puja on a regular basis.”
The key with any personal altar, puja, or a shrine is that they all contain reminders of things that YOU believe would enhance whatever particular practice that you are trying to cultivate, be it spiritual or secular. These reminders do not have to be fancy, store bought or made of precious materials. They can be as simple as a tree leaf, a stone, a photo or a phrase written on a piece of paper. However, they should have some meaning that is truly important to you.
Humans are forgetful creatures. We get caught up in our daily lives and sometimes we lose focus. We sometimes forget what is truly important to us, or the direction that we are trying to move in. A collection of reminders, arranged in a particular way, in a designated special place and the lessons or memories that they can offer, can create a sacred space. This space can act to focus energy and intention in your quest to create something new, meaningful, and wondrous.
If you think it would be helpful to your goals, your focus, your life, consider creating a sacred space, but please remember – social comparison, just like on the yoga mat is personally UNHELPFUL. Meaning and beauty is in the eye of the beholder and any altar is only as good as the intention that creates it. A shrine in your mind’s eye, in your imagination is far better than a physical space, if it gets visited on a regular basis and is appreciated for its inner beauty and meaning for you.