Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thoughts on Tantric Yoga

(from 04/30/2011)

This is not a subject I expected to blog about.  When I became a yogini many years ago, tantra was an esoteric practice which was not discussed with the uninitiated.  Like Kriya (a form of kundalini yoga), tantra was considered sacred and was only revealed to students sufficiently advanced in their yoga practice and devout enough to appreciate it properly.

However, now that tantra has been discussed on television, in popular women’s magazines and even by Southern Baptist ministers, clearly the cat is out of the bag, so I might as well say a few words about it.  I am not going to go into great detail here, because a simple Google search will yield plenty of results including many different and sometimes conflicting explanations of what it is, and even step-by-step instructions on how to do it.  But, from my perspective - 

First, what is tantric yoga?  It is commonly thought of as “sexual yoga” but that is only one aspect.  Tantra in general is the use of the body and the senses in a spiritual practice and includes such things as the contemplation of sacred artwork, chanting of sacred words and listening to music.  Because tantra does involve sexuality, however, it is generally viewed by orthodox Hindus as scandalous or even obscene, whereas mainstream yoga classically has had a strong emphasis on celibacy.

The popular western understanding of tantra is a sexual technique to improve one’s lovemaking skills and/or enhance one’s marriage.  While tantra can certainly achieve this goal, that is not its original purpose.  Some people want to learn tantra purely for sensual pleasure, which is part of the reason that the discipline was (until recently!) kept a closely guarded secret.  But, no longer.  Nowadays any casual thrill-seeker can read about tantra and attempt to learn the technique and use it for whatever profane purpose they wish, e.g. picking up girls at a bar.

Tantric yoga, however, is ultimately not just a technique; it is an attitude, an intention.  The practice is not an end in itself.  Like all forms of yoga, its purpose is consciousness of the divine.  All aspects of our life are integrated as part of our spiritual path.  In yoga everything is offered up to God – everything.    In tantra our sexuality is offered up as a form of prayer.  Therefore, in my opinion, tantra is incomplete without bhakti (devotion).  That is pretty much all I have to say about it - for now, anyway.

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