The very word “Tantra” tends to evoke an image of Sting with an 8-hour erection, or perhaps a tome of illustrated sex positions that would send you immediately to the chiropractor if attempted in real life. Luckily, this ancient practice is a lot more accessible than you’ve been led to believe. (And a lot more fun.)
Tantra, broadly defined, is a set of practices drawn from Hindu and Buddhist mystical and religious texts, some having nothing to do with sex. It includes mantras, meditation, yoga and mudras. But “Neo Tantra,” the kind of Tantra adopted and practiced in the West, is focused mainly on touch and sexual practices. Hence, our original notion of Sting’s endless erection.
According to Barbara Carrellas, a New York City-based Tantrika (a teacher of Tantra), workshop leader and author of Ecstasy Is Necessary: A Practical Guide to Sex, Relationships and Oh So Much More (Hay House, 2012): “The art of living Tantrically is living authentically, consciously, and sensuously.”
Before I met Barbara, I thought Tantra was something only peddled by weird, horny, desperate New Age men. But attending one of Barbara’s Urban Tantra workshops in NYC set me straight. It was one of the most transformative experiences I’ve ever had. I’m not a workshop person, so I came armed with a set of preconceived notions about what to expect, yet my mind was blown.
Although much of the “sacred sexuality” space is still dominated by lecherous older men who are obvious wannabe cult leaders, Barbara offers something entirely different. Her classes, books and other offerings are queer-friendly, super accessible, and her teaching style is warm and funny. When you enter a room of strangers with whom you’ll be naked, at least metaphorically, it’s important to feel safe — and not to take yourself too seriously.
But what you really want to know is this: In Barbra’s Urban Tantra workshop I experienced a “full-body orgasm” with no genital touching whatsoever. Then when I walked outside during our lunch break, I was hit on about 10 times, I kid you not. It was as if I’d slicked on red lipstick and stilettos, but I was in sneakers and jeans with no makeup — it was just my energy, radiating and attracting people. That’s how powerful Tantra can be, even when practiced in isolation.
Tantra is the opposite of the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am sex some of us are used to having on date night. It’s all about slowness and sensuality and feeling every cell in your body.
According to Barbara, “A basic premise of Tantra is self-acceptance. Another is self-love. With these, you can create or change anything in your life. Your mind is either your most powerful ally or your worst enemy. The choice is yours.”
Tantra asks you to confront the rawest, scariest kind of intimacy — knowing oneself. For women, sex is very often a performative act — we get caught up in whether we’re doing it right, or if our thighs are jiggling, or if we forgot to Nair all the way down there. Blame this sad state of affairs on patriarchy and the beauty myth, but know that Tantra is one way that you can take your power back. You can stop internalizing all the pleasure-crushing, slut-shaming misogynistic messages by slowing down and getting back into your body.
If it all seems overwhelming and you’re not ready to hop on the workshop bandwagon, you can experiment with non-sexual exercises to whet your appetite for the multiple orgasms to come. (Sorry not sorry for that pun.)
Like yoga, Tantra is focused on breathing, and that’s the best place to start your practice.
If your partner doesn’t want to brave the Tantra waters with you because he/she thinks it’s just for hippies, there’s plenty you can do on your own, starting with this simple exercise. This is something you can do before a sex sesh with your lover, too, to prime you for a more intimate connection.
How does your little finger feel? Bigger, more awake and more alive right?
Barbara says, “You do not have to devote the rest of your life to the study of Tantra in order to experience its pleasures and perversions. You can begin to experience the yummy stuff right away. You won’t need to go out and buy a lot of expensive or change your wardrobe or learn to speak Sanskrit.”
Another exercise: Four conscious breaths
Eye gazing and Breath of Fire (mentioned above) are two additional simple exercises you can find in Barbara’s previous book, Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the 21st Century. This is my personal Tantra go-to guide.
Like Orgasmic Meditation, the Tantra offshoot highlighted in last week’s column, these practices are goalless. We tend to think of sex as something with a defined beginning and middle, with the end goal of orgasm (which we women often fail to meet). Taking that pressure off both partners invites a whole new way of being in the bedroom.
Barbara says it best: “Tantra is a spiritual practice. In an effective spiritual practice, the spirituality comes to you. You open yourself up to it — you don't have to chase after it. Or, as I like think of it, the spirituality does you; you don't have to do it. ”
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