A Room of One's OM
It's early. The sun is just coming up, and the house is quiet. While the rest of the family is still in bed, Julie Greenberg opens the French doors to what was once her home office and enters a tranquil, candlelit space where a red yoga mat awaits her. Alone, Greenberg stands at the top of her mat, takes a deep breath, notices the faint scent of incense in the air around her, and begins her morning Ashtanga practice. "Here I always have a place to go and no schedule to adhere to—just my own," she says. "The emptiness of the room brings me out of my head and puts me into my body. I love having access to my yoga practice 24-7."
Greenberg is among a growing number of yogis who have created a dedicated space for practicing yoga and meditation at home. A few have built a true studio space; some have converted an extra bedroom; and others have created a soothing sanctuary in the corner of a room.
Regardless of the approach, making physical space at home for your practice can have a profound effect on your life. With a yoga room of your own, an hour to practice means you can spend the whole hour actually practicing. You won't be skipping yoga because there's no time to get to a studio or spending precious minutes rearranging furniture in order to have space to unfurl your mat. A designated yoga area can also help you cultivate awareness; as you practice in the same spot day after day, you will begin to notice how the light shifts in different seasons, how your body feels on different days, how your mind greets the same space with new thoughts. With this new awareness and privacy, you may even discover the freedom to evolve and become your own best yoga teacher.
Fundamentally, dedicating space to your practice is a way to acknowledge your commitment to yoga. You are literally making room for it in your life. "You're bringing it home," says Gordon Johnson, a retired lawyer in Corte Madera, California, who has transformed his living and dining rooms into a yoga studio. "A yoga room supports you and your practice unconditionally. It gives you the opportunity to practice every day—it's a commitment to developing your practice."
Design Within Reach
It wasn't until a major water leak damaged her Los Angeles home office that Greenberg began envisioning the yoga room she has today. "Once we took everything out and it was empty, there was no turning back," she says. Greenberg then began to imagine a beautiful altar where the desk and computer once stood, hardwood floors instead of carpet, candles and mirrors where the office supplies used to be, and nothing more. Simple and warm, stylish and peaceful. "It represents the nothingness I was looking for," she says.
Not everyone has an extra room, but, really, any space will do. "Big or small doesn't matter," says Jagatjoti S. Khalsa, a Los Angeles based yoga room designer and author of Altar Your Space. "Appreciate what you have, and sometimes your home offers you a corner or an area of another room."
Whether you are working with a space slightly larger than a mat or the most expansive room in your house, Khalsa suggests clarifying your intention for the area—and taking a judicious approach to decorating. You might put your mat in front of a window shaded by a tree to remind yourself to stay connected with the seasons and leave the rest of the space empty, free of distractions. Or you might create an altar to anchor your eye as well as your mind and soften the area with meditation pillows, fresh flowers, and a statue of a deity. "Give the room all the tools that will serve you for what you want to do in it," advises Khalsa, a Kundalini yogi. "And always design to express yourself, not to impress others."
The costs, of course, will vary greatly, depending on whether you are building, remodeling, or redecorating. It's possible to spend as little as nothing, Khalsa says, by clearing out furniture and outfitting the area with basic props and something soothing to gaze at while you practice, such as a framed print or your own drawing or photograph.
The simple approach was where Johnson started. Not long after being introduced to yoga and meditation in 1984, he began inviting his teachers and friends to practice together in his home. For a while, Yin Yoga teacher Sarah Powers and her family lived at Johnson's place in a separate cottage and, along with other teachers, taught regular community classes in his house, known as Deer Run Zendo.
One weekend in 1998, Johnson and Ty Powers, Sarah's husband, removed the living room furniture, which opened up a lot more space for yogis and meditators. (Before that, they would move the furniture to the periphery of the room to clear an area in which to practice.) Next went the dining table and chairs. Later the heavy cabinets that divided the dining and living rooms were torn down to create an 800-square-foot yoga studio overlooking the San Francisco Bay. The hardwood floors were already in place, as were the cozy fireplace and hearth. The only thing left to do was replace the books on the built-in shelves with mats, straps, blocks, and blankets.
"We don't have a dining room or living room anymore," Johnson says. "We have two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen—and a yoga studio in the middle of it all. Sometimes we use meditation mats and chairs to sit and eat." Eventually, with the help of a friend, Johnson built an altar using wood reclaimed from the removed cabinets.
"This room, this house, and all of the teachers that have come here have supported my practice unconditionally," Johnson says. "And I like to think that I've been able to support them. This room is a blessing."
Johnson is not alone in fostering a community by creating a practice space large enough to host visiting yogis. Sandy Lawrence was inspired to open Ubuntu, a combination yoga studio and restaurant in Napa, California, by the sense of connection developed among friends and neighbors who joined her to practice in her nearby home yoga studio. "I had a daily practice, and I wanted a space that would be dedicated to that," says the vinyasa yoga teacher. "But it's also been a place where I can share yoga with other people. I practice with my neighbors, and it gives me an opportunity to bond with them. Even when I'm there practicing by myself, I feel that community."
The private studio came into being in 2001 as Lawrence built her home. The main house was constructed using a process involving pise—a mixture of soil, cement, and water—to create 18-inch-thick walls. No plasterboard or paint was required. The soil for the house was carved out from a mountainside on the property, leaving Lawrence a newly formed cave behind her house. It didn't take her long to imagine installing bamboo floors and reclaimed doors until—voila!—she had her very own eco-friendly yoga studio.
"Because it's a cave," she says, "it's like being part of the earth. You can hear your Ujjayi breath vibrating off the wall. If you have a yoga room, you'll use it, and the beautiful thing is that all you really need is a floor."
Architect Peter Sterios, a longtime yogi and the creator of Manduka yoga mats, had no hillside cave to work with when he and his wife, Tawny, began envisioning a dedicated practice space. Renovating his single-story home in San Luis Obispo, California, Sterios decided to add a second level that would include a 380-square-foot master bedroom, of which 160 square feet would be devoted to yoga. "Asana and meditation practice are as much a part of our everyday lives as brushing our teeth," he says. "It was important to make them as convenient as going to the master bath and grabbing a toothbrush."
Sterios designed the bedroom to be a perfect square. This, he explains, gives the roof a pyramid-like structure and allowed him to employ the principles of sacred geometry that the architects of ancient India, Egypt, Greece, and Rome used. The effect, he says, increases his vigor during his home practice. From the indoor yoga area, French doors open to an old-growth redwood deck that offers an additional 160 square feet of outdoor practice space. The redwood was reclaimed from the flooring and wall paneling of a house that Sterios had remodeled for clients.
"Initially there were doubts about whether the bedroom would energetically clutter the practice space," says Sterios, so he kept to the basics: a bed, a few props, and a dresser. "It's our sanctuary...a place to rest at night when we sleep and spiritually during the day when we practice or need a space to relax."
Innovation and Renovation
Having an in-home yoga sanctuary had long been a dream for Sterios, Lawrence, and Johnson, who had all devoted years to practice before making their ideas a reality. But Mary Brent Wehrli had a different approach. "I always thought yoga was spectacular but never had the time," she recalls. She seriously took up the practice only when she retired. The 62-year-old former social worker began taking three classes a week at a local studio. Around the same time, as she renovated her Palm Springs, California, home, Wehrli decided to build a free-standing yoga studio alongside her husband's new art studio.
She'd been intimidated by the idea of doing yoga at home, until her teacher, Ron Splude at Urban Yoga, reminded her, "It's called 'practice' because it's something you practice and integrate into your life." Soon afterward the building was complete, and Wehrli tried out her 266-square-foot yoga room, where a wall of windows affords breathtaking views of the garden. That view, she says, provides inspiration, much as an altar would, for her daily practice. "I was shocked that I could practice alone and enjoy it so much," Wehrli says. "It's very empowering." Now that's something to come home to.
Be Energy Efficient
As you design your yoga space, try to make use of natural light and airflow so that you're less reliant on electricity. When Peter Sterios remodeled his master bedroom to include a designated yoga practice space, he insisted on installing skylights wherever possible so no electric lighting would be needed during the day. He also invested in double-pane energy-efficient windows. "I have a tiny heating bill and no need for air conditioning," Sterios says. Large windows are a good way to bring nature into your practice, too. Just don't keep them open all day long if you live in an area that has high levels of outdoor air pollutants. In that case, you'll want to keep them shut and invest in a good filtration system. If you're building from the ground up, consider installing radiant-heated floors and using passive-solar techniques, such as placing windows on the south side of the room.
Go Chemical Free
When outfitting your practice sanctuary, look for props made from bamboo, organic cotton and hemp, and natural rubber, as alternatives to props made of PVC and other chemical-laden materials. If you're painting any walls or furniture, consider using low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint. Forego synthetic carpets and look into reclaimed wood floors with a water-based sealant rather than oil-based polyurethane. Other options for underfoot material are cork and bamboo, both highly renewable resources that are now readily available. And if you're renovating, consider removing any walls with batt insulation, which (without chemical treatment) is known to encourage mold to form inside walls, especially in humid climates. In its place, you have a range of options from recycled denim to eco-foam insulation, which does a great job of maintaining a comfortable room temperature.
Keep It Small
If you must add on to create ample room for a yoga space, keep it small to save the Earth's resources as well as your time and money. Transforming existing space is the best way to create an eco-friendly yoga area or corner in your home—so take an honest look around to see if you can use what's already there, or at least start with that. If you end up clearing out furniture to make room for a mat, recycle or give away whatever you can to avoid adding to the landfill. Be inventive with repurposing: You can cut down the legs on an old console table, for example, and in a few minutes you'll have an altar to hold candles and inspiring artwork. Or tie the ends of a few rolled-up mats that've seen better days, and you've got a new bolster.
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