When I first started meditating formally, I set up my meditation space with great care and intention. I had a room dedicated to my meditation space, complete with a tansu chest for my altar, two singing bowls, a statue of the Buddha, and a few other important pieces. It was such a wonderful way to practice.
For a couple years, I didn’t sit formally because I practiced mindfulness throughout the day at a very difficult job. It was the only way I could get through the day. When I left that job, my practice waned since I no longer needed it to survive my work shift.
I had disassembled my altar, and in its place were two office desks for my husband and me to work. Somehow, a year without formally sitting turned into several, and I found that I hadn’t meditated formally or in everyday life in quite a while. I wanted to return to meditation practice and thought about it often, but I never found another place for it in our apartment.
I felt very disconnected from my practice — and from myself.
With everything going on in the world and in my life, I realized returning to my meditation practice was no longer optional.
I tried to meditate at my floor desk. It was a bit cramped, and I didn’t like meditating in front of a computer monitor. My cats often jumped on the desk while I was meditating, and that was distracting since I burn a candle to keep time while I meditate. Also, I like to have the window open when I meditate, but the window at my writing desk faces the parking lot. Consequently, a lot of street noise, neighbors’ voices, and smells from the building’s laundry room would reach me. I was mostly bothered by the smells — it’s hard to focus on your breathing when you’re inhaling unpleasant fragrances with every breath.
After a week or so of meditating at my desk, I admitted it wasn’t working and rearranged the office to make space for for my altar.
encourage you to get creative and design your own space thoughtfully with what you have available.
What to have in a meditation space
Some people say to have all of the elements represented on your altar: earth, air, fire, water, ether/spirit. Others recommend having something that will stimulate all of your senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing. A lot of people include photos of people they love or feel inspired by, statues, candles, offering bowls with crystals or stones, plants.
Truthfully, the only thing you really need is a place that’s comfortable and quiet.
But many people choose to be more intentional about the space — whether it’s an entire room, a corner of a room, or even the corner of a table — because that helps them drop into the meditation and feel at ease.
The list of potential items for your meditation space is endless because meditation spaces and altars are deeply personal. While I have fun looking at photos of other people’s altars for inspiration or out of curiosity, I don’t follow anyone else’s rules. I choose what to keep in my meditation space by the simple rule that each item fulfills its purpose, whether it’s bringing me joy or keeping me comfortable during my sit.
Here are the things I used to create my meditation space. I also posted gift ideas for someone who meditates, and I included items I use myself or want to buy someday if you’re looking for ideas for what to keep on your meditation altar.
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Something to sit on
I’m very particular about my seiza benches, and in a moment of insanity, I gave away my favorite bench. Which is now discontinued.
I searched for a new bench, but all of the benches had hard edges that I knew would dig into the back of my legs and aggravate my sciatica. It took a while to find a new one, and I was delighted when I stumbled upon Nomad Meditation Bench, which also happens to be portable, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Buy Nomad Meditation Bench by Still Sitting ($165)
If you’re able to sit cross-legged, I really liked the Moonleap Meditation cushion.
The Moonleap Meditation cushion is amazing if you like to sit any variation of lotus position. It is high quality and helped my sciatica immensely. I was sad to let mine go, but my knees can no longer handle long sessions of sitting in the Burmese posture.
Buy Moonleap Meditation Cushion by Moonleap Meditation ($149)
This Crescent Meditation Pillow is filled with American buckwheat hulls and a certified organic cotton cover. It’s a good option for under $50 (as of this post), and you can add or remove hulls to help make it more comfortable.
Buy Crescent Meditation Pillow ($41)
I’ve been recommending the Sun and Moon Originals Deluxe Zabuton for my floor desk, but I needed a new zabuton for my meditation space. I decided to treat myself to a Luxe Woven Zabuton by DharmaCrafts. It is generously sized and has a removable, washable cover.
It is so plush, and the cover is is soft and a lovely color. It is a joy to meditate on with the stool above.
Buy Luxe Woven Zabuton by DharmaCrafts ($142)
Something to keep time
Meditation for me is a time to unplug, so I don’t want to check my phone for the time or even have it near me when I meditate if I can avoid it. I didn’t want to buy a clock just for meditating, and I thought a kitchen timer or similar device would be too jarring.
That’s when I discovered these awesome meditation candles that are designed to burn down in a specific amount of time. I’m starting with the 20-minute version and am working my way to the 40-minute ones, though I’ve seen listings for candles that burn as long as 90 minutes.
I appreciate that these do double duty since I like to burn a candle when I meditate anyway. My skin is very sensitive, so I can only burn 100% beeswax candles. I don’t have a reaction with these, and they burn cleanly without residue. I looked at many different sets and this candle holder was my favorite.
Buy 20-minute meditation candles set by Meditation Candles ($27)
I bought my tansu chest on sale years ago from Eastern Classic, and I adore it. It’s made of very light wood, so I can move it by myself if I want to, and I bought a metal frame for it to raise it off the carpet.
The kiri wood is easily damaged, so if scratches and dents bother you, or if you’re planning to place a heavy statue on it, I would recommend something else. But if you don’t mind giving your chest a little oil once in a while to reduce the appearance of scratches, then I definitely recommend something from Eastern Classic.
They don’t seem to have the one I purchased, but I would buy Japanese-style Jewelry Box from Eastern Classic ($240) if I were going to purchase one now. It’s smaller than my current one, but that has its advantages.
It can take some trial and error to figure out what’s most comfortable for you. Especially if you’re just starting out, you may not know what style you prefer, or you may want to vary your postures day to day, or even in the same sitting session. You can try using cushions or folded blankets that you have at home. Or if you have a meditation community in your area, you could try going to a community sit where cushions are provided. That way, you can test all the different styles they have to get a better idea of what you need. If that’s not an option, try to find local or online stores that have good return policies.
I got a lot of joy out of creating this space for myself. For the last few years, I have needed to slow down and come back to myself, and this practice that has enriched my life so much.
I’m excited to return to the practice and have been meditating regularly since I set an intention to do so about 3 weeks ago.