By Kathryn Drury Wagner.
In Vastu shastra, the traditional Hindu system of architecture and placement, there are five elements of nature—earth, water, fire, space and air—that need to be unified and balanced. It’s easy to overlook air, since we cannot see it, but it’s important because air quality can deeply affect our minds and bodies. You may have given thought to many aspects of your sacred space, such as the lamps and lighting (a fire element) or a gently burbling fountain (water), but have you considered the air? The air (vāyu) in a sacred space should be pure and moving, not stale and filled with contaminants like dust, dirt and other allergens.
Start by ensuring your sacred space has a healthy level of humidity, around 30 to 50 percent. Depending on what climate you live in and what season it is, this may call for a dehumidifier or a humidifier. Next, remove any synthetically fragranced candles made with petroleum byproducts. They may smell nice, but they release toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene into the air. Choose beeswax, vegetable wax or soy candles made with essential oils instead.
Green your space with a few air-purifying plants. They can naturally remove chemicals, including benzene, formaldehyde and ammonia, and also help boost humidity. The NASA Clean Air Study looked at which plants work best for the space station, and if they are good enough for astronauts, they will probably serve us well in our Earth-bound rooms. Look to English ivy, Boston ferns, peace lily, snake plant, and bamboo palm.
Some people, especially pet owners, swear by the air-scrubbing effects of Himalayan salt lamps. The lamps work by generating negative ions into the air. According to WebMD, “Generally speaking, negative ions increase the flow of oxygen to the brain; resulting in higher alertness, decreased drowsiness, and more mental energy,” says Pierce Howard, Ph.D., author of The Owner’s Manual for the Brain: Everyday Applications from Mind Brain Research and director of research at the Center for Applied Cognitive Sciences in Charlotte, N.C. “They also may protect against germs in the air, resulting in decreased irritation due to inhaling various particles that make you sneeze, cough, or have a throat irritation.” The lamps also emit a soothing, spa-like glow that adds serenity to a room. Make sure you get a lamp made from real Himalayan salt, not rock salt. Because the salt is hygroscopic (it attracts water molecules), it may “sweat,” so place it on a coaster or a small mat.
Lastly, keep the air flowing through the sacred space with an open window. When you need to have air-conditioning or heating on, use a filtered system.
Air is vital to our bodies, and it’s also nourishing to the spirit. In her book Your Sacred Space: A Guide to A Light Filled Home, Alba Ambert writes, “Air is the element of the mind. Ideas are brought to you by this element. … Air is a spiritual energy that initially brings ideas and concepts that allow you create and manifest. Air is the source of creation. The element of air is a primary energy that helps both you and your space to open the energy channels to the Light and maintain that Light flowing.”
When the air in the sacred space is clear, we can fill our lungs—our internal sacred space—with that energy.
A meditation for breathing
Anapanasati is the Buddhist meditation for in and out breathing. Sit cross-legged, with the hands placed gently on the lap, and close your eyes. We focus the awareness on the incoming and outgoing breaths. You can count your breaths if you wish, in one, out one, in two, out two, or follow the breaths as they enter into and out of your body, breathing deeply. This meditation is simple, but it is versatile and good for improving concentration and mindfulness.