The spiritual, sexual, health, relationship and personal development aspects of tantra.
Are you one of those people who quite used to like Sting, until he disappeared up his own backside, sometime in the early 1990s?
Maybe it was the increasingly pretentious music. Or his self-styled status as world politician, eco-warrior and saviour of the planet. Or perhaps it was just him constantly going on about having endless nooky with his wife in their castle in Tuscany. Either way (and don’t even get me started on his acting career) he has a lot to answer for, not least the fact that in the eyes of many, tantra is purely and simply about sex.
The truth is, as UK-based tantra teacher Sidtsara of Tantrapure International explains, “tantra is many things to many people: a journey for life, a spiritual practice, a personal and relationship expansion, a form of healing, and a way of prolonging pleasure.”
From its ancient Buddhist origins to its modern-day western interpretations, its scope is varied and transitional, and can include such practices as dance, yoga, meditation, chakra balancing, breathing and energy work, introspection and expression. “Quite often,” adds Sidtsara, “you can engage in a health or fitness practice like tantra yoga for example, only to discover a deeper stirring, a deep desire, an awakening. It is then you realise you have stepped onto the tantra path. Whilst not a therapy in itself, the essence of opening the heart, releasing pain and reaching fulfilment through love (for yourself, and others), makes it the ultimate healing process.”
Sidtsara admits that there are many myths and pre-conceptions surrounding tantra, and through her work and regular series of workshops, she is keen to dispel some of them, as often as not having to explain what tantra is NOT, as well as what it is. “We explore the masculine-feminine dynamic, not just from a dippy hippy perspective, but grounded in everyday life, and the nitty gritty of relationships. Whilst not a form of relationship counselling , tantra is - through conscious communication and openness to giving and receiving - the most intimate form of being in a relationship. And whilst neither is it a religion, it can be a powerful connection between our human earthly soul and the divine spirit we can choose to call Source, Higher Consciousness or God.”
But maybe we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Perhaps one of the best ways to understand what tantra might be able to do for you is to simply try it. Workshops, retreats and one-to-one sessions are designed to open the heart, mind and spirit, raising your awareness, your consciousness, and teaching you to engage yourself fully in each moment and experience. And each person’s experience of tantra is unique to them as individuals.
There are also several different forms of tantra. White tantra is spirit-based, and involves meditation, daily breathing exercises and even celibacy. Red tantra is body-based around sexuality, pleasure, touch, and the combination of spiritual enlightenment and physical release. Pink tantra (as taught by Tantrapure) brings mind and body together through breathing work, sensuality and sexual energy, using the heart as the bridge to a blissful state of deep intimacy. Black tantra is power-based, and embodied by sexual practices such as BDSM, extreme exploration of sensations, and erotic fantasy.
“It’s probably why a lot of people associate tantra with great sex,” admits Sidtsara. “And it can be. But only when both people have taken the often bumpy journey through all the stuff/baggage/life experiences that act as a barrier to intimacy. Tantra is not just about sex, or even pleasure. More importantly, it’s about sexuality. That’s what informs our experience of life in every moment: how we see ourselves and others in the world, how we are treated in accordance with our gender, our attractiveness, our beliefs, our chosen practices, the way we dress (or don’t, in the case of being a naturist). We still largely live, unfortunately, in a patriarchal, fear-based society, shaped by a paradoxical doctrinal teaching of sex as both sin and pleasure, all of which affects our expectations of relationships and sex more than we know. The mind is the biggest sex organ, yet rarely do we know ourselves enough to make conscious decisions. We just follow common beliefs and misconceptions without questioning the truth of how things can be. Most of western society carries unconscious shame, guilt, repression or anger around sexuality, which is what often leads to relationship dysfunction.”
So are we back to Sting and Trudie again?
Not necessarily, as Sidtsara is adamant that “a good tantra teacher will bring awareness, both challenging and supporting you in finding your truth. It’s great to explore tantra whether in a relationship or not. But of course, for those in an established relationship, intimacy is often the reason for trying tantra. The longer we are together in a relationship, the harder it is to know and honour ourselves. We lose ourselves, often with resentment building, until we either explode or numb out, leaving ourselves or the relationship. We might even still be there physically, but not emotionally or spiritually. Part of us dies. And that of course affects your sex life. And naturally, major life changes such as bad health, unemployment, the menopause or retirement can affect couples. From there, it’s a vicious circle of guilt, frustration and resentment, and it sometimes seems easier to ignore the problem rather than face it.”
So, how would Sidtsara sum up tantra?
“Making a conscious choice in every moment,” she says. “Respect yourself and others equally. Stretch yourself and expand your consciousness. Take responsibility. Be open to change, challenge old beliefs, and realise your full potential.”
And the benefits?
“A healthy lifestyle. A calm and clear mind. A reduction in anxiety, depression and stress. You’ll sleep better, and wake up feeling rested and restored. And yes, it will awaken your sexual potency, allowing deeper intimacy and more freedom, exploration and expansion in your sex life, as you discover yourself, your partner, and how things can be, as opposed to simply pandering to conditioned beliefs.”
A message for us all, perhaps. Even if it didn’t come in a bottle.
© PAUL ROUSE