In Western culture we are rarely taught or encouraged to create a sacred space for our own spiritual well-being. Most of the time we think of a "sacred space" as a church, synagogue or temple and rarely in terms of our own home. In the East, a home altar is very common. It is sacred space that gives you the right conditions for your spiritual life to thrive and a sense of inner balance to be achieved.
A dedicated home altar reminds you daily of life's "bigger picture", focuses your energy towards your spiritual goals and through association helps the mind move inward more quickly and deeply. After you have established a home altar you are far more likely to meditate and connect with your Authentic Self than before. It's like anything that we associate with, it impacts our life on a physical, mental and spiritual plane. For example, if I have an empty room and put a coach and chair in the middle, my tendency is to want to lounge around. If I put a big screen TV in the room, my tendency is to watch movies and television shows. The same is true for a home altar, it inevitably conjures thoughts of inner peace and wellness while evoking the inspiration to do your practice.
First you must choose a place that can easily become your very own sanctuary - a quiet, private space protected from distractions. You may even be fortunate enough to have a whole room dedicated to your spiritual practices, but if not, then a simple space in the corner of your bedroom works just great. I had a student, single mom of two girls, transform half of her closet into a sanctuary. It was gorgeous, private and the perfect sacred space for her to relax and rejuvenate... child-free. Even using a oriental screen to block off a portion of your room is a wonderful "protector" of your space. Be creative but be sure that it is a space that becomes your very own.
Secondly, you'll need to design your focal point. Try using a small bench or bedside table, something that is eye level or slightly lower. It can even come from a second hand store, just cover with a beautiful cloth and already the energy begins building. Traditionally, a candle is used to represent the Divine Light of Pure Consciousness (fire) as well as flowers (ether/space), fruit (earth), incense (air) and water to represent the five elements.
Choose a simple altar as an uncluttered space encourages a clear mind. You may even choose to put items from nature walks to create a more "grounded" altar. Each altar looks completely different and can be changed as you feel called. It is not suggested to put photos of loved ones but photos of great saints to uplift the mind, open your heart and remind you of our own Divinity.
Lastly, you will need a proper meditation seat. Make sure you have a blanket, pillows or meditation chair to encourage you to "sit." The important tip is to be comfortable. If you are uncomfortable, the mind remains agitated and meditation is impossible. If you are comfortable, relaxed, and can maintain a straight spine (to remain alert) meditation is a natural result.
However you decide to design your home altar is up to you. Just be sure to set an intention, have fun and follow your inner voice to create the perfect place that encourages you to cultivate and nurture a devoted Self practice. Once you have your sacred space, establish a time daily that you can dedicate to your Authentic Self with gentle, loving kindness... even if only for five minutes. You are worth it!