For many people, yoga is as much a meditative practice as it is a way to achieve physical wellness. Staying focused during yoga is difficult even in the best of conditions, but distractions often multiply for people trying to practice yoga at home. Pets might be running around, bills might be in sight and responsibilities are probably a lot harder to ignore than at a yoga studio. That said, practicing yoga at home is a wonderful way to have access to the benefits of yoga everyday, so Pioneer Valley yoga instructors and meditators have some advice for people who want to cultivate, or even build, a space for yoga or meditation at home.
Robert Jonas is the founder and director of The Empty Bell in Northampton, which is a sanctuary and retreat space that focuses on Christian-Buddhist dialogue and the relationship between spirituality and environmentalism. While Jonas doesn’t use the space to practice yoga, it is a beautiful example of the type of room you could build if you were looking to invest in a yoga space or meditation space at home.
The Empty Bell in Northampton is the third Empty Bell established by Jonas. Jonas and his wife Margaret Bullitt-Jonas designed the room with the help of Wright Builders in Northampton who were also building and designing the rest of their house.
“For me, this design comes out of my attraction to Zen Buddhism,” Jonas says.
Architecturally, the room has cathedral ceilings and wooden beams made from local fir. The floor is made out bamboo and in one corner of the room the trunk of a small birch tree stands between the floor and the ceiling. When combined with white walls and sparse decorations, the wooden features of the room stand out as central features. Jonas says that this was done intentionally to help meditators focus while on a retreat.
“Not a lot of color or distractions,” Jonas says. “So the walls don’t distract from the wood.”
While designing The Empty Bell, Jonas was inspired by trips he took to monasteries, so he included some specific features to evoke the atmosphere he found in those places. One of those features is a beautiful shoji-paper door, which is translucent paper over a wooden frame.
“I’ve been to some Japanese and Buddhist monasteries where the whole atmosphere is about respect,” Jonas says.
The final, and arguably most important, feature of The Empty Bell’s design is the windows. Jonas says that much of his design was about connecting with nature, so upward-facing windows or skylights were very important. He adds that the key thing to remember when designing and decorating a room for meditation is the atmosphere, or, as he puts it: “What really most deeply expresses the atmosphere you want people to feel when they walk in?”
A peaceful space for yoga can be cultivated just about anywhere, even in a room that wasn’t designed for it. Aaron Vega is the co-director of VegaYoga Mobile in Holyoke. Aaron and his wife, Debra Vega, owned a brick-and-mortar yoga studio, called VegaYoga and Movement Arts studio in Holyoke, for nine years before transitioning to a mobile model where they bring their yoga classes to homes, businesses and community spaces.
VegaYoga Mobile brings its yoga classes to many diverse places, from office spaces to senior centers to the Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, so they have some pretty good advice for people who don’t have a space like The Empty Bell.
Aaron Vega’s first tip is to find a quiet space, away from traffic if possible, but also away from your technology. Next, he recommends making sure you have enough space to stretch out — so, right next to your bed might not be a great idea.
“Make sure to have everything nearby so you don’t have to go out of your space,” he says.
One way to make sure you have everything you need is to keep all of your yoga materials in a bag that you can take out every time you want to practice.
“You can take the bag with you when you go on vacation and turn your hotel room into a yoga studio,” he says.
Your bag will probably include the basics, such as a yoga mat, a towel and a water bottle, but it could also include a few additional things that can help to create your preferred atmosphere wherever you go. VegaYoga Mobile provides mats, towels, blankets, foam blocks and straps for their practices, and Vega also likes to include a few items based on his personal preferences, including a wireless speaker.
“I find that music can transform a space,” he says.
He notes that a wireless speaker is convenient and portable, and that you can create playlists that help you to time your yoga practice without looking at a clock. He includes a few other items in his yoga bag, including a singing bowl, which he uses to start and end classes, and a small candle holder for an electric candle.
“Just to remind me to keep calm,” Vega says.
Other people may want to bring a scented candle or an icon of some kind. Whatever you choose, he adds, one of the most important parts of yoga is the period of rest that comes at the end of a session, so practicing in a room where outside responsibilities and technology like phones and computers can’t disturb and distract you is essential.
VegaYoga Mobile is still in its first year of portable yoga, and as they were transitioning to the new business model last spring, they used a mantra to assist with the change.
“It’s not the space we practice in,” they say, “it’s the space we create when we practice.”
Try creating one of your own.