How does this ancient practice fit into our modern lives, and why is it so important right now?
Mention the word Tantra to most Westerners and you’ll get raised eyebrows, comments about the Kama Sutra, primal rituals, and let’s face it, hot sex. Interestingly enough, that’s not necessarily what Tantra is all about.
So, What Exactly Is Tantra?
The literal translation of Tantra is “expansion through awareness,” and according to Christopher Tompkins, scholar of Indian religions, philosophy, and Sanskrit, and the co-founder and co-director of the Yoga Foundation (theyogafoundation.org), the inclusion of sex in Tantric ritual is extremely rare in any of the many lineages of medieval India. Tantric “liberation” happens through the act of “melting of the mind” into self-induced, sheer present-moment peak experiences where supreme consciousness and a greater connection with the universe is perceived everywhere.
But for those who are not so enlightened, and perhaps not so spiritually connected, this can seem a bit esoteric. Put in simpler terms, Tantra is a positive, world-embracing vision of reality, a living liberation, an awakened state. Especially in today’s troubled world, each one of us can make that experience our own. “This incredible state is our birthright,” says Tompkins, who is currently working on The Tantric Studies Reader, a compilation of translations of the original scriptures which make up the primary sources of Tantra and yoga theory over the past 1000 years. The following comes from his translation of The Flowering of One’s Own Enlightenment, an ancient Tantric hymn by Shri Vamanadatta:
- Keep a tasty food, such as a sweet—or something similar—on the tip of your tongue. When the ecstasy from tasting it fades away, Freedom arises (from within).
- Similarly, one should meditate on the fragrance of flowers, such as jasmines. Then, due to the allurement of what is focused upon, the mind dissolves when those fragrances dissolve.
- The mind, when joyfully embracing a relative or friend returning from far away, becomes full of bliss and instantly becomes dissolved.
Practices such as these allow us to experience Tantra on a moment-to-moment basis in order to connect to deeper parts of our selves.
How Do I Experience It?
“Engaging in practices that will raise consciousness, expand awareness, and ultimately achieve enlightenment and bliss is what Tantra is all about,” says Heather Simonson, sexuality educator, trainer and consultant. “These practices start with a physical and emotional connection to ourselves and ultimately work to better our health and improve our well-being.” Along the way, they can help to strengthen our connection with others and as a result increase intimacy. “Practicing Tantra exercises doesn’t need to involve actual sex or penetration,” Simonson says. “In fact some of the most intense experiences happen without it.”
Intimacy coach Laurie Handlers teaches Tantra by way of “modern psychological transformation, combining ancient practices with bio energetics, primal energies and neurolinguistic programming. “Tantra is about breathing and the proper use of physical exercises and simple ancient practices that put people back in their bodies,” says Handlers. During her “Butterfly Workshops” she guides participants into sessions of intense release through vocal and physical exercises that oftentimes bring participants to tears or emotional breakthroughs.
What About Sex?
Although many educators offer well-rounded, valid programs, there does seem to be a slightly skewed use of the word Tantra as a sexually-oriented practice. “Tantra contains the greatest practices and philosophies on how to spiritually awaken in one lifetime,” adds Tompkins. “If we validate the use of the word Tantra as referring to sexual practices for couples, we are, I feel doing the wrong thing and giving a starkly wrong impression. Imagine this,” he continues. “I tried to post an ad on Craig’s List to raise awareness for the Tantric Reader with the sole hope that access to these teachings would greatly help all of us to evolve spiritually. My ad for this nonprofit cause was yanked in 6 hours; I later found out this was because it was thought to advertise something sexually explicit.”
In this age of economic crisis, worldwide political unrest, and impersonal technological advances, we need the self-awareness of Tantra more than ever. Being in the moment and enjoying and experiencing that moment is what can foster a sense of connectedness to one another once again, hot sex or not.
Elyce Neuhauser, a writer specializing in health and wellness, is a registered yoga teacher and a certified Pilates instructor with additional certifications in personal training, NIA and Trance Dance. She teaches group and private classes on LI's North Shore.
Learn More About Tantra
Christopher Tompkins: yogasthana.org
“An Introduction to Goddess Tantra,” DVD can be purchased at yogasthana.org/resources.php?cPath=4
Laurie Handlers: butterflyworkshops.com and tantracafe.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s holding Bliss Beginner’s Tantra on April 4 in New York City.
Heather Simonson: email email@example.com for information on Tantra classes on February 12 and March 12 at Om Sweet Om in Port Washington and February 28 at Fitness Incentive in Babylon
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