With the word, “Altar”, many people conjure different ideas. Most people would assume that an altar, similar to a shrine, would need to have specific religious connotations. If you were to google the word altar, Wikipedia would share many religious references from all countries and traditions.
In rethinking the concept of an altar, it can be simply something that helps you feel better, happier, safer, peaceful, aligned, and encourages you to live a better life every single day.
You don’t need to be a religious person or be honoring a specific god or deity to have an altar. Traditionally, yes, altars were for religious purposes, but the notion of a Modern Altar is to create something that brings you to life, that makes you smile, that helps you remember to take a deep breath. It can verge on Kitschy, if you dare! All of the trinkets and small, love elements that you might have hiding in a box–let those items be on display for you to enjoy every day. Place them artfully in a window, on a table, next to your bed, and see how you can create Altar Art in your home.
Along with having a personal altar that is representational of your mood, of the month, or of a season, you could also have an altar for a specific reason or profession. For example, the above photo is my massage altar. I’ve studied Thai yoga massage in Thailand, and that’s where I came to truly appreciate and reclaim the notion of altars. I used to think of them as sort of spooky, almost too religious and weird. But after seeing them in everyone’s homes in Thailand, and seeing them at my massage schools, I came to appreciate that they helped me to remember to turn inward and upward–to ground my massage sessions in something higher and bigger than myself, to help me stay focused and meditative during a massage session, to fill me with warmth by being surrounded by the candles and illumination, and to make me smile when my thoughts became too serious.
Here are the How-Tos on how to start your Altar:
1. Locate a Venue (a side table in your bedroom or office possibly)
2. Choose a Theme (season, emotion, profession)
3. Start Collecting (like you would create a collage on canvas, start choosing and collecting items of meaning and significance that connect to your theme)
4. Arrange and Create
5. Enjoy Daily. 5 – 10 minutes of stillness in front of the altar will Change Your Day & Mood!
Other ideas of Altar items: Statues or deities of gods and goddesses that have specific meaning to you, a bowl of water and a lit candle for those gods (traditional Asian altar), freshly cut plants and flowers from your Summer garden, a piece of fruit before you have breakfast to give thanks for the abundance in your life, mementos of people and places that make you happy, photos of cherished teachers and friends, stones, gems, incense, and the list goes on and on. I have a magnet from Amsterdam on my altar because it makes me smile and remember my amazing experience there. The ideas are endless! And this Altar can truly become a shifting piece of art in your house and/or in your massage practice room.
The photo below was taken at a Museum in Cuzco, Peru, of a traditional Andean altar–this is a handwoven bag of coco leaves, which have many medicinal purposes. This bag and the leaves are in a bowl as part of an offering to Pacha Mama, Mother Earth.
At my Denver massage school, the Denver Integrative Massage School, we have an Altar in the main studio for our students to add items of meaning and significance that will help them on their journey to become professional massage therapists. We have Jivaka on that altar, who is the founding doctor of Thai yoga massage, and we have photos of inspirational teachers, candles, mementos, stones, gems, and any item that a student wishes to bring as an offering to their own massage training experience. Very Powerful!