A Guide for the Tantra-Curious
Sometimes your partner or best friend just wouldn’t understand. It might not even feel right to tell your therapist. But you have this inkling that there’s just something more – that the grass might be greener in a world where you are fully sexually expressed and authentically in touch with your body, pleasure and purpose.
Have you ever felt an orgasm in your heart? Taken in an epic sunset and felt its energy light up your whole body? Melted into the gaze of another human and felt the love radiating from their eyes? Relaxed into full acceptance of your body, your emotions, your deepest desires?
Tantra is a path that can unlock these sensual adventures and so much more. And, no you don’t have to wear Birkenstocks or prayer beads to get it. You don’t even have to believe in God.
What Tantra Is, Isn't and Might Be
Tantra probably isn’t what you think it is. It has nothing to do with the Kama Sutra or sexual positions. And while you may have heard rumors about Sting, it’s not really concerned with you having sex for 8 hours at a time. Many modern Tantra teachers have even started steering clear of the term Tantra because it is so loaded with confusion.
Tantra is a spiritual philosophy and way of life with written texts that emerged in 5th century India. (Oral traditions of Tantra and its precursor religion Shaivism are estimated to date back at least a century earlier.) Many of Tantra’s views and practices are taught in your neighborhood yoga class (just not revealed as such). Tantra is also taught by gurus (both Eastern and Western) in places where students often live together in egalitarian communities – studying texts, performing rituals and meditating (these groups are called kulas). However, you might be more familiar with Tantra teachers and workshops teaching spiritualized sexuality, how to last longer and how to enhance romantic relationships.
Though there is quite a bit of debate as to whether the latter is “real” Tantra, my view is that a lot can happen in 16 centuries. And while I do think it is appropriate to distinguish between Classical Tantra and Modern or Neo-Tantra, I don’t think there’s any reason to disenfranchise any group from the Tantra umbrella. At its essence, Tantra has always been a spiritual path for “the people.” In 5th century India, the practice went against cultural norms by empowering women and including all interested seekers from any caste, even untouchables. It’s a group that has often played with taboo ideas and practices as a way to learn and ultimately achieve enlightenment. And it is unique in the way it encourages worldly success and pleasure in tandem with spiritual awakening. In other words, it’s okay to seek a successful career, have sexual desire or want a family AND have spiritual aspirations.
While a relatively small portion of its original texts dealt with sexual topics as they are currently taught in Neo-Tantra (most notably how to make an erection last longer or give a healing g-spot or prostate massage), there were indeed teachings on sexual energy and union. Though an ancient version of something doesn’t always make it superior, I believe the best Neo-Tantra teachers have some foundation in Classical Tantra and are careful not to water down its essence into some “anything goes” New Age sexual stew. The best way to test this is to ask your teacher which Tantras they’ve studied. Hopefully, you’ll hear something like Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, Mahamudra Tantra, Spandakarika, or Vajrayana and not some glossed over “Tantra is within us all, just open your heart” type answer. Of course there are a 100 other ways to answer that question, and just because they can’t name a text, it doesn’t mean what they have to offer isn’t valuable. It may just not be that authentically (or historically) tantric. Please use your own intuition, discernment and the great oracle Google to research any potential Tantra teacher.
Okay, So Enough About What It Isn’t and Might Be... What Is It Actually?
Tantra contains a view of the world that sees everything as divine and everything as energy. It strives to experience the divine in all things, even the most disturbing, painful, ugly things. But it also revels in the natural beauty of the universe, teaching an aesthetic cultivation of the senses as well as yoga techniques to enhance your breath, movement, mental focus and body awareness.
In Tantra, there is no good or bad. There is no mundane or sacred. Polar opposites exist in a continuum that is to be marveled at with curiosity. Paradox is at the heart of Tantra. You are not only part of the whole universe, you are the whole universe at the same time. Everything is inherently perfect, including you. The only cause of your suffering is your misunderstanding of your true nature. And there is no future moment when the divine will be revealed anymore than it is right now. The only path to liberation is to recognize your true nature underneath the seductiveness of your ego, and beyond the burden of societal beliefs and norms that keep you detached from your own body and innate power.
Can Tantra Heal Me? Is It Sexual Healing?
Tantra isn’t something that someone does to you. It’s not like Reiki or Swedish massage. It’s a path that you practice, study, engage with. Because this is a path that so values embodying knowledge rather than just understanding it, it is seen as ideal to study with a teacher who already embodies Tantra to a further extent than you do. Though there are many amazing books on Tantra, you really need to see it in action and get feedback from a teacher who already lives it.
Tantra wasn’t developed to be a healing modality, but many of its practices can be healing, the majority of which are not sexual in nature. It wasn’t until Neo-Tantra’s teachings started to proliferate that the practice of tantric sexual healing started to evolve.
Modern Tantra teachers who deal in the sexual healing arts often call themselves Dakinis (female) or Dakas (male). And still, if you go to visit one, they can’t do Tantra to you. They can coach you through some of its techniques and help you apply them to your life to heal many things, from stagnant energy and sexual dysfunction to depression, poor body image, sexual trauma and relationship issues. They can also help already thriving people to uplevel their experience of sex and spirituality in pretty profound ways.
But if you aren’t careful, you could end up with someone who thinks Tantra means to lather you in oil while playing Indian music and nothing more. In the sensual massage world, Tantra has also become vastly simplified and misunderstood to be a term that means someone’s massage session will either be more mutually sexually intimate or will include a G-spot or prostate massage. Sometimes this is the case, and sometimes it is not. Every teacher is different.
Just in case you aren’t confused yet, let me also say, you could hire a Tantra teacher who will use oil and Indian music, be sexually intimate, include a sacred-spot massage AND be totally legit. (Again, follow your intuition and do your research!)
In my view, Dakas and Dakinis strive to embody Tantra in their daily lives and find it is their calling to share it, often in intimate ways, with their students. Unlike a sexual provider that offers a menu of specific sex acts, Dakinis are spiritual practitioners who do their best to truly understand what you need to experience the world, including your sexuality, through a Tantric lens. Sometimes this will be sexual or sensual, and sometimes it won’t. It’s the Daka or Dakini’s discretion to provide what they think will serve you the best. As a Dakini, I find the most powerful way I can give someone an introduction to Tantra is to show up fully embodied in my bliss and sexual power while giving them permission and encouragement to do the same using subtle tantric techniques of breath, sound, movement, body awareness and connection.
Not all Tantra teachers work in the same way, and if you find yourself with a Classical Tantra teacher, they wouldn’t even dream of teaching you in a sensually interactive setting for years, if not decades, into your practice.
But like I said before, Modern Tantrikas tend to be mavericks. Tantra, since the beginning, has been labeled as a dangerous path – even a fast and furious path – by some. I can say from over 10 years of study, that this is not a journey for the faint of heart. It takes courage to jump in the deep end and stay in the deep end long enough to learn how to swim. Many opt out of the depths once they get past the sexy parts. Most modern Tantra teachers see our sexual repression as one of the heaviest boulders weighing down our spiritual liberation. Sexual shame has been ingrained in our society with religion and politics since the beginning.
In our society, when a baby first experiences sexual energy through self-pleasuring they are almost always immediately shamed and redirected. This teaches tiny humans that their first instinct of sexual pleasure was wrong. Meaning that not only is sexual pleasure bad, but that one cannot trust his or her own instincts and must rely on another (parent, religion, government) to dictate what is best for them. Disempowered from the beginning, how tragic.
Tantra recognizes that divine play of creation, including the act of sex, as part of the most potent energy there is, and like everything else in the universe, as absolutely divine. So, in theory, there really shouldn’t be any judgment between the Tantric factions on where people begin their path, whether it’s a book or a sensual encounter.
Why I Like Introducing Tantra via Sensuality
First, a few notes on terminology. “Sensual” means a lot of different things in different contexts. In Tantra, it means the activation of one’s senses and reaches further than things of a traditional sexy or romantic nature. A meal could be sensual. A single perfect rain drop could be sensual. In fact, if you are advanced in your Tantric practices, damn near everything is sensual because your senses are finely attuned to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the universe. In fact, it might even feel like you are constantly making love to nature, to reality, to yourself because you have become adept at bringing sensory information into your body and transforming it into sexual energy.
In the massage and sexual service world, “sensual” is used to imply the exclusion of full sexual intercourse from a session but will include other sexual acts, most notably hand sex (AKA yoni, lingam or prostate touch). Most Dakas and Dakinis teach Tantra through sensual and sexual means, but the majority do not engage in sexual intercourse (AKA divine or full union) with their students.
So why is it useful to introduce Tantra via sexual or sensual encounters? Easy. Because it’s a lot more fun than meditating alone in cave, and it has the same liberating, life-altering potential. There are thousands of ways to meditate, to explore your spirituality, to harness the potential of your body. Why not start by exploring pleasure in your body? You can practice the same skills that you would on a yoga mat: connecting your breath with movement, sound and energy… and you might even have a mind-blowing orgasm.
Seriously though, meditation doesn’t come easy for many. You could sit on a cushion all day with the best of Zen music and intentions and still not achieve a moment of peace. Our minds move faster than ever these days. Sometimes it takes something as powerful as activating our sexual energy to get us to slow down, focus and become more aware of the present moment.
Why You Should Work with a Dakini or Tantra Teacher
While there are many amazing books on both classical and modern Tantra, it is truly a path that is best taught as a direct transmission from a teacher. The ancient texts are heavily coded and require deep study to interpret. Also Tantra can be a challenging path. It truly encourages us to accept everything as it is without any judgment. (Much easier said than done.) It also gives permission for you to be exactly as you are without the confinement of cultural norms. As you can imagine, this opens the door to a lot of things. It’s helpful to have someone who has been through it and honed their discernment and practice to navigate the vast sea of being able to say yes to anything without fear, shame or guilt.
Whether you are craving deeper sensuality or intimacy, better relationships or profound spiritual awakening, a skilled Tantra teacher will be able to put together a plan to help you. As we are seeing more and more, in all areas of healing, even Western medicine, holistic healing has been proved to be most effective. Tantra – a system that addresses your entire being, including the potent force of your sexual energy, will provide the deepest, most sustainable help. We are all worthy of this kind of help. The first step is just to ask.