5 Questions for Creating A Home Altar

by Helene Cotton

An altar is a place for honoring what matters to you, and though it requires no spiritual or religious associations, I find it creates a bridge to sacred things in life. The altar in our home combines honoring our pasts with what inspires us to live a loving life in the present. Here are some questions I ask myself when creating as sacred space at home or re-arranging our alter, which we do fairly regularly.

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1. Will I try to meditate in front of my altar or do I plan to pass by it habitually?

We’ve designated the top of the piano for our altar – it is perfect because we pause by it on entering and leaving the house, and it occupies a space that doesn’t collect a lot of other belongings to clutter its significance.

2. Who or what do I want to honor for the current state of my life?

My husband and I choose to honor the people we’ve lost who have marked our pasts, by keeping photos on our altar. But we also honor each other, and the gratitude we feel for having each other, with origami lotuses that were on our wedding tables and the sage stick we used to ceremoniously mark our wedding spot.

3. What qualities do I need to cultivate in my life right now?

We keep a stone buddha on the altar to remind us to cultivate peace, balance, right thinking, right speaking, and right intentions, which seem perpetually necessary. Right now I am also feeling the need to cultivate acceptance of others and keep from holding on to too many weighty complaints, so I’ve put a feather from our hike over the weekend to brush all that away.photo 3-2

4. What objects symbolize or make you feel a greater connection, to others, to existence, or to the spiritual world?

I find it is important to get a little bigger than oneself, for perspective. For the altar, I gravitate toward objects from nature – dried flowers, feathers, natural minerals, stones, shells, heart shaped rocks. For me, these things symbolize the amazing beauty life produces and that I want to remember to be wondrous of and grateful for. Then I can carry that wonder and gratitude into other aspects of my life.

5. How will I use the altar to connect with it, and by extension, the divine?

I light candles, burn sage sticks, add vases of fresh-picked flowers, finger the mala of beads… You may choose to meditate in front of yours, or sing in front of it, or practice yoga in its view. However you use it, may it bring you healing and inspiration.

Send us pictures of your sacred spaces!

Post to Instagram and tag @ilovenamaste and the hashtag #MySacredSpace

unnamedFrom the clothing and products in our boutiques to the images and flyers that brand us, Helene leaves her mark on us. As our Graphics and Retail Goddess, she is continually shaping the visual look and feel of Namaste. She formally  joined the Namaste team in late 2012, but her tentacles reached here many years ago when she was hired to design and print a tee for the original Rockridge studio.  She absolutely loves interfacing with the amazing people here and is sure she has the best job on staff.  When not thinking about the faces of our beautiful yoga boutiques and studios, she enjoys nature, backpacking, drawing, printmaking, playing with her adorable mutt, and inversions.


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There is No App for Happiness

By Max Strom

“No poet is ever going to write about gazing into his lover’s emoticons.”

I bought a perfectly good flip phone three years ago, but lately people tease me about it as if I’m using something from the Victorian Era. Before that, I had a different flip phone, which followed an analog cell phone. Remember those? And before that, I had a telephone with a wire that stuck in a wall. You want to know which one had the best sound quality? The one that stuck in the wall. But I digress… What I want to talk about is what hasn’t been upgraded: the quality of human communication. The quality of our conversations with friends and loved ones hasn’t improved one bit. In fact, many people now send text messages instead of conversing at all. We have far greater access, but far less intimacy.

Information technology is expanding at such a rate that nearly every aspect of our world has been impacted, yet there has been no corresponding expansion of personal happiness. Instead, we find that we have become anxious, sleep-deprived, depressed, and over-medicated.

One in four women in the United States takes antidepressants and/or anti anxiety medication, with men not far behind. And for sleep? The Center for Disease Control has declared that insufficient sleep is an epidemic.

My premise is not that technology is supposed to increase our happiness but that our society now believes it does. We have become confused as to the difference between happiness and entertainment. The constant glancing into our smart phone to see if anyone has pinged us, while a friend is sitting across the table speaking to us, are indicators that we are addicted to something that is making us less considerate and more alienated.

Here is one of the most important statistics you may ever read that explains the clash of human happiness with text-based technology. According to research from 1981, approximately 90 percent of human communication is nonverbal. So although we are more connected than ever, when we communicate with text, it is only 10 percent of us that is connected. It is no wonder we feel more alienated. The overuse of social media, texting, and gaming is causing our society, especially young people, to develop symptoms that remind me of Asperger syndrome — verbal difficulties, avoiding eye contact, inability to understand social rules and read body language, and difficulty in forming true friendships.

Emotional intimacy requires personal knowledge of the deeper dimensions of another being and is developed through trust. Trust can begin, or end, with a first glance, because, like other animals, we inherently know a great deal about each other through body language and tone of voice. In fact, we often ascertain the trustworthiness of a person in mere seconds, without a word spoken. Based on nonverbal communication we regularly make life-altering decisions; whether or not to begin a business relationship, accept a date with someone, or allow someone to look after your child. We rely on nonverbal communication at the deepest level of our being.

Innovators are making great strides in programing humanoid-type robots that have faces and can produce human expressions. These robots are programmed to make eye contact and to read and respond to human emotional expressions, tone of voice, and body language.

The strange and perhaps history-bending irony is that we are teaching robots to make eye contact and watch for nonverbal cues, but meanwhile, we humans are now avoiding these things, opting instead to send texts and then adding smiley faces to crudely humanize the message. We are humanizing robots as we voluntarily dehumanize ourselves.

In my new book, There is No App for Happiness, (Skyhorse August 2013) I introduce readers to three imperatives that accelerate change from the inside out, humanizing change that I believe can make us happier. The one I will mention here is Life-Span Management. We have an incongruous schism between the concepts of our time and our life as if they were two completely separate things. In one hand we have a precious short life, and in the other hand we have time to kill. Time is not only money, it is much more than that; it is the minutes and seconds of our mortal life. Your time is the finite resource from which you experience this world — everyone, everything, and especially that which you are devoted to and live for. Because it is a finite resource, whether we are aware of it or not, we all purchase each time-event at the cost of another. When we come to this realization, a giant bell rings as we comprehend how much of our life-span we have been wasting on meaningless activities that serve no one and nothing. Happiness costs something. What are you willing to sacrifice to have more life/time? And what is stealing your time?

Remember Steve Job’s famous quote? “My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”

I am sharing this quote not because it is unique, because it isn’t. I share this particular quote because these words were spoken by the icon of tech success. Jobs achieved great wealth, power, and fame, only to discover that his favorite things in life were free — and not made from silicon.

To be clear, I am not anti-technology. Quite the contrary, I am even an advocate of self-driving cars. But I think that we have to select our technology wisely. If we bring technology into our life, it should simplify our life and give us more free time, not take it away. If it doesn’t make your current life run more seamlessly, get rid of it. Everything new is not better.

Maybe it’s time we start applying Silicon Valley style innovation to ourselves so that we find a path to a more meaningful experience of living, and a more sane world.

MaxStromThis article first appeared in the HuffingtonPost titled “There is No App for Happiness”.
Max will be leading a workshop at Namaste on July 20, learn more.

Max Strom is a global teacher, speaker, author, and trainer, and is known for profoundly inspiring and impacting the lives of his students for nearly two decades. Many of you know him from his inspiring book, A Life Worth Breathing, which is now published in six languages, and his recent book, There is No APP for Happiness. In 2006, the increasing demand for his work caused him to take his method beyond his center in Los Angeles, and he now takes his message around the world to people of many faiths and nationalities every year. As a result, Max Strom has become a new voice of personal transformation. Max’s method, Inner Axis, is a system of field-tested skills and techniques that get immediate results. It includes a philosophy for real world living, breath-work, yoga movement, and meditation.


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The Opposite of Unrest: Restorative Yoga and You

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20 Hour Restorative Yoga Immersion with Vickie Russell Bell 

Vickie Russell Bell speaks about her upcoming Restorative Yoga Immersion and the importance of balancing unrest with rest.

Restorative Yoga for many of us seems like a luxury or maybe an after-thought to our regular Vinyasa practice. Learn from Restorative Yoga expert Vickie Russell Bell on about how critical it  is for us to integrate Restorative Yoga into our daily lives and the importance of balance:


See Vickie’s Schedule


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3 Simple Ways to Gain A Mind Body Connection


By Jenn Mason

I am guilty of going about my day without thinking about how my actions impact my body and mind. There are days that go by without any self-care practices. When I finally take the time to just sit and breathe, practice yoga or get an acupuncture session I notice the difference instantly. My body is more at ease, my mind and spirit are calm, the back pain I experience is gone and my headaches subside. What is most surprising is what difference it makes in my interactions with my husband, co-workers and strangers I encounter on the road.

Though I have been practicing yoga for years now, I did not make the mind body connection until I practiced self-care for one week straight. As part of a movement awareness class I practiced qi gong, yoga and soft-belly breathing for seven consecutive days. I went online and found a couple of free 20 minute videos and began my practice. Within the day I noticed a significant change not only in my body, but my mind was clear, my mood was lighter and my spirit felt at peace because I wasnt so worried or caught up in the daily grind.

I am a “worry-wart” by nature and I tend to rush because if I am not running late I have a long to-do list. I am also a control freak and want to make the most of my day by cramming in as much as I can. Which, come to think about it is a little counter-intuitive for someone wanting to live with less stress.

Needless to say that despite my controlling characteristics I am learning to live more in the “calm and at ease” space that I discovered during my week of self-care.

Instead of living in the constant “fight or flight” state and doing damage to our adrenal glands why not take three long breaths?

Our bodies are capable of creating and living in a state of relaxation, why not take advantage of these free tools?

Below are some easy steps you can take on a daily basis to kick start your journey to less stress.

1. Before opening an email take three deep breaths from your belly (you should feel your belly expand with every inhale).

2. During your lunch break go outside (weather permitting), sit comfortably with your back against a wall or bench and your feet on the ground. Let your arms relax and close your eyes gently. Begin to breathe, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take 5 minutes and increase as needed.

3. Go for a walk! Walking meditations are easy and free. Instead of bringing your phone and checking it as you walk, plug in some of your favorite music OR go without media and bring your awareness to the sights, smells, what you hear. Feel the wind against your hair and the sun on your skin. How does this feel? Bring your awareness to your surroundings while walking in silence

If you need a guided soft belly meditation I would recommend Dr. James Gordon’s soft belly meditation.


This article originally appeared on Jenn’s personal blog, Heart Filled Life. For more inspirational posts follow her blog for regular tips on staying happy and healthy.

Jenn’s background is in non-profit management, health care and sociology. She is a birth doula and leads stress reduction and mindful living workshops. She holds a master’s in women’s health and is currently getting a PhD in Mind-Body Medicine with a certification in health and wellness coaching and hypnosis.


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