Ayurveda teaches that a daily routine, called dinacharya, is an essential foundation to good health. In times of imbalance, choosing dosha-specific practices (i.e., taking cooling teas or using cooling oils in times of excess heat, or pitta) on a regular basis will help to alleviate symptoms, but dinacharya holds even more magic when it’s carried out all the time. That’s because routines help create containers for reflection, in which we can notice good and bad changes in our inner and outer worlds that might be overlooked as we deal with other busyness. Think about things you already do on a daily basis, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower: It’s often those moments of “mindless” routine that your mind has its greatest insights! Whether you’re dreaming up your next invention while your head is covered in shampoo suds, or allowing some busy work at the office to relax your creative muscles, anecdotes and research prove that relaxing the mind into habit can be a great thing for our creativity.
While the idea of a routine can sound great, the execution is often what keeps people from following through. I remember when I first started practicing Ayurveda, there were so many little bottles of oils and spices I felt overwhelmed by what to use when. Over time, though, I got to know my preferences and needs enough to curate a minimalistic yet thorough arsenal of tools that’s always available right where I need it.
Creating a wellness altar is an efficient and fun way to gather what you need for dinacharya, or any practice you want to do more regularly. By concentrating tools, ingredients, and meaningful talismans to a single place in your home, you’re encouraging a bit of healthy restriction (I like to think of it as “curation”) to minimize distraction and the overwhelm of too many choices. Once I set up my altar, I found my routines to be not only more accessible, but also more enjoyable; because I arranged it in such a personalized way, I looked forward to using everything there, and that positive mindset also made them more effective.
Here’s how you can create your own:
- Set an intention: Consider what you want your wellness altar to serve in your life. Are you trying to meditate every morning, make space for a daily home yoga practice, or clean up your sleep hygiene? Your intentions will drive where your altar lives but also what it includes, no more and no less. That being said, you might set up a few mini altars in different places for different needs. To start, though, focus on one intention so you can more clearly notice how it’s affecting how you feel in body and mind. Intentions are also important ways to direct energy both toward and away from you, so being clear about what you want your tools to serve will help them serve you better.
- Choose what sparks joy: In today’s world, you could spend thousands of dollars and days of your life trying out all the wellness products out there. Even a traditional Ayurvedic text will have several practices one could consider for any given imbalance. But more is not better; what works is better. You may read on a blog that certain crystal is perfect for alleviating anxiety, or your friend might tell you about a product that cured her dry skin, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be right for you. Instead, use your intuition to gather your altar’s objects. What feels, smells, and looks beautiful to you? It might be #wellness objects like crystals and talismans, but it also might be a spray of pretty flowers, a photo of a loved one, or a precious talisman from your childhood. Consider your intention and let the things that will serve that find their way to the altar. Having fewer, well-chosen things on your altar will also make it easier to pack them up for travel, so you’ll always feel like home.
- Be adaptable (at first): Like routines themselves, your wellness altar might need a breaking-in period. Make it semi-permanent at first, so if the location or objects feel effortful or aren’t working for your intention, you can move them around easily. Maybe you thought having your meditation seat near a window in your living room would create just the calm you need, but you discover the neighborhood garbage truck’s schedule is a bit too similar to yours. Try not to take these setbacks as signs of failure or that you should give up; rather, consider it an opportunity to be creative and curious about things you might not have thought of initially.
- Be adaptable (in the long run): Ayurveda teaches that both we as individuals and the earth itself has cycles. We have a bit of all the doshas inside us at all times, and we women know that all too well as each dosha shows up during our menstrual cycles; likewise, the change of season brings us a new crop of foods, weather conditions, and energies that constantly keep us on our toes. As you settle into your routines and intentions, remember they might change over time—and that change is a sign of health! If after a few months the warming oil you used at bedtime isn’t serving you, swap it out. It’s less about what you’re doing than the act of honoring how you want to feel at any given time, and creating the conditions for that feeling.
You’ll know when you’ve settled on the ideal situation for your altar when coming to it no longer feels like an effort. That’s a sign that you’ve opened a channel to a part of your spirit longing to be nurtured by your rituals, that you and the universe have come into alignment. This is when the wellness altar is no longer a hub for objects serving you, but a place where you can serve yourself; a sanctuary for healing, growth, and discovery; a place to worship within the temple of you.
Need inspiration for your altar? Consider inviting the four elements in these ways:
Air: Oil diffusers, incense, palo santos, sage, and other ways of spreading scent allow energy to move through the air around you. When using cleansing plants like sage, be near an open window to allow any negativity to flow out of the room.
Fire: Candles and decorative lighting (twinkle lights aren’t just for Christmas!) invite warmth and joy into a space.
Water: Simulate a feeling of fluidity with organic shapes, soft textures, and soothing colors (blues, grays, purples). Stones and salts from the ocean can also bring in a healthy dose of the negative ions we need to balance our positive-ion-heavy world, thanks to technology and overstimulation.
Earth: Use crystals like tourmaline and smoky quartz for grounding meditations. Having your wellness altar closer to the ground also invites us to feel into our root chakra while performing rituals such as meditation and restorative yoga. Music that taps into lower vibrations, like cello, can also create a serene soundscape.