How to build an altar

faith

„I am a yogi, yoga is not a religion, so why do I need an altar?“ You probably asked yourself that question, or you have been asked by others. Well, let me try to explain the importance of an altar for us yogis and how you can create one of your own.

Is yoga a religion?
No and yes. If you consider a religion something like Christianity, Judaism or Islam, then yoga is not a religion. There is neither a particular God with a name nor is there any idea of hierarchy in yoga. That is why in general Yoga is not considered to be a religion but more a path towards enlightenment or a philosophical system. If you look at the root of the word „religion“, which comes from the Latin word „religionem“ it could mean „respect for what is sacred“ or „conscientiousness.“ Both of which can be considered yogic characteristics.

Why should a yogi have an altar?
In the path of devotion, bhakti yoga, it is all about offering up, about letting go. To offer something up means you do not keep it for yourself, you become generous and share it with everything and everybody. In the yogic sense, God represents something universal or cosmic, something that is bigger than your small individual self. When you offer something to that idea of the divine, then you are giving it to the whole universe which includes every other being. The altar is making it easier for you to offer something as it is putting a form and maybe name to that mysterious principle of God. You could see an altar as a prop for your practice of offering and devotion.

The „how-to“ of an altar.
First of all find a spot in your home that is dear to you, where you like to spend time. Then you might want to find a small or large base for the altar. That could be a wooden box, a nice kind of tray or just a small part of an existing furniture in your house. When you give a present to somebody, you want it to be the nicest thing ever; you choose it carefully. Do the same thing when creating your altar, especially when you start putting things on it. Those could be little statues, pictures of beloved ones, things you found on your walk through the woods or items that have been given to you. As long as you are placing them with care and love, then there are no restrictions. My advice is that you choose things that when you see them you feel love and positive feelings rushing through you; this will make it so much easier to bow down in front of them! Over time you should make sure that you keep the altar clean and might add parts of all elements: a glass of water, burning some incense, lighting a candle, etc.

Now, use it!
An altar is not a dead furniture; it is a place of practice. Every time you walk by you can indulge in the beauty of it, letting it remember you goodness. While doing your yoga practice consider having times of actually bowing down. This physical act is an excellent way to revisit the sweet feelings of devotion and humbleness. What you are bowing down to is your divine spark, your inner light, your true Self; the altar is a way of reminding yourself of your true nature, which is whole, complete and missing nothing.

I would love to see pictures of your altar, so please share them with us. As always if you have any questions or comments then write into the box below!

5 Ways to a better sleep

Lying in your bed, rolling from side to side, whirling thoughts and an aching back. Just three possible situations we all might have experienced. Nothing is more disturbing than not being able to fall asleep and getting a good night rest. Learn simple and easy to use ways to counteract any of those difficulties.

better-sleep

What is sleep?

Without sleep, we die. A time of complete rest is essential for our physical body to survive. Without going to much into detail, there are three main stages of sleeping: light sleep, deep sleep, and the phase that is called REM – rapid eye movement. It is in the latter, in which dreams may occur. In the different stages of sleep, the brain is at various activity levels. All steps are equally important and are usually undergone in multiple cycles during one sleep period. Much scientific research is done on that topic. As its is a relatively new field you will find different opinions and suggestions. This article just reflects my personal experience and of course, you should check-in with your doctor if serious sleeping problems occur.

The top 5 natural sleep aids

1. No TV, no books, no magazines

We all heard about this, but why might it be crucial? Think of it this way: Most of us become very relaxed while sitting at the beach or being in a place where we had an enjoyable time. We learned that beach (or whatever spot is for you) means holiday, means fun, means relaxation. If you are reading or watching a film while lying in bed, your brain learns that the bedroom means high mental activity level, concentration and being alert and awake. Over time, that might lead to difficulties in falling asleep into a state of laziness and relaxation. My advice: No TV, no books, no magazines!

2. Stretch to sleep

Whenever I cannot fall asleep, or I wake up in the middle of the night I try to remember myself of this little trick: Do one or two simple stretches. My preferred one is a simple cross-legged position and then leaning forward; a minute or two on each side. This stretch helps me to bring my focus away from „oh my god why can´t I fall asleep) or any other disturbing thoughts. In general, simple stretches have a calming effect on your mind and body. Doing some restorative or Yin-Yoga poses before going to bed might me useful as well, especially to prevent sleep-associated muscle aches. Advisable exercises are viparita karani at the wall, leg stretches with a belt while lying down or any seated forward bend.

3. Rewind your mind

This one might need a little more practice but once established it can become a useful ritual before taking off to the miraculous dream land. While lying down think of the things you have done and experienced throughout the last day. Start with the things that happened last and then go back step by step until you reached the moment when you woke up this morning. While going through all this, you can mentally let go off everything that happened. You might even say to yourself „if there is anything left to do, I will take care of it tomorrow.“ With this practice, you will be able to drop any built up ballast of the last day.

4. Meditation

Similar to rewinding your mind is a regular meditation practice. You can do this even if you have never meditated before. Here is a very simple instruction that we use in the Jivamukti Yoga method. It comes in three steps:
1. Find your seat: Sit upright, comfortable and stable.
2. Be still: Do not move your body. Let your breath move freely.
3. Focus: With your breath silently repeat: Inhale – „let“ exhale -„go.“

Start with three minutes, using a timer, before going to bed; you can increase the length every day. Once you become more experienced you can also do a short meditation when waking up during the night (just make sure the timer is not waking up any beloved one next to you (: )

5. Guided relaxation

This practice uses the power of self-affirmations. While lying down start with contracting all muscles tightly, lifting legs, arms, and head of the bed. Take a deep breath in, hold it, tighten up even more, tighter, tighter, tighter – and then exhale let go. Now you mentally go through your body suggesting each part to relax. Start with your toes moving up to your head as such: „toes, relax – feet, relax – …-fingers, relax – … – tongue, relax – eyes, relax-…- my whole body is completely relaxing – let go – let go“. You can add as many details as you like. You most likely will be asleep already in the middle of it before even reaching your head, and that is great! You could even repeat this process several times. Sometimes it helps to either download a guided relaxation from someone else or take your phone and record your voice so you can then play it to yourself.

I hope you will find some more peace of mind the next time you lie down on your preferred bed, and I am looking forward to hearing from your experiences and your personal advice.

Why do you need a guru?

guru

If you want to reach enlightenment, a state of ecstasy and joy, then the way to get there is only with a guru. That is at least what all ancient and more recent yogic texts are teaching us. However, where do you find a guru? Moreover, how do you know if that guru is the right one for you? Does it have to be a bearded old man sitting in a cave?

What is a guru?

The Sanskrit word „guru“ is often translated as „teacher“. Looking at the root syllables of the word it could mean remover – „ru“ of darkness – „gu“. A guru could be someone or something that is bringing more light into the darkness; that is why it is sometimes referred to as the enlightenment principle. It could be your parents teaching you how to eat, your school teachers teaching you maths or your yoga teacher guiding you through some rounds of sun salutations. The Sanskrit term also holds the word heavy in it, meaning that a guru is something with gravitas, something important. It is any force that brings out your inner light, which is your inherent infinite potential. Everything and everybody that is supporting you to remember your true Self could be considered to be a guru.

Do I really need a guru?

Yes. At least that is what I think, what I learned from my teachers, and what you can read in almost any yogic text. Let us get back to the example of maths. Probably most of us have the potential to add 1 and 1, but somehow we needed some guidance to find accessible ways to do it. Our excellent math teacher at school was able to shed enough light on this topic for us to use our inherent numeric potential. Maybe that also included times where she gave us feedback on how our approach was not bringing us closer to a solution. Our beloved math teacher was mirroring our behavior and way of thinking, meaning reminding us that in the system of mathematics 1 and 1 is not 3. The same goes for a yoga teacher. If we want to reach yoga, meaning our natural state, most of us need some guidance and reflection of our behavior to remember that state.

How to find one.

Keep in mind, that a guru is there to support you. Like using a blanket in shoulder stand or blocks in a standing forward bend. You choose to have a guru, as you decide to use blocks or not to give you a deeper understanding of an asana. It is up to you to find a guru and then to keep it present in your life. How? If you want the guru to act as an enlightened being, then you need to treat and see her or him like one, by all means. If you want someone to mirror you then you need to give everything from you, you need to offer up your whole being. Only then can the teacher support you to switch on your inner flashlight so you can then securely walk the path towards infinite joy.

Leave your guru!

Do you remember learning to walk on your own two feet? You probably used some standing around furniture to hold yourself up or the supportive hands of your beloved ones. They might have even let you go from time to time, and maybe you have fallen, cried and stood up again as you got motivated to do so. One day, though, they let go of your petite hand for good, and you had to stand up and walk on your own. Moreover, you did it. Until today. Only because you trusted them, unconditionally you were able to let go and leave your teachers, your parents, your first gurus.