Tantra: It’s not what you think
From sex to celibacy to mind tricks, there’s more to tantra than meets the third eye
What do you think of when you hear the word “tantra?”
Sex, most likely. Orgies, perhaps. Hours of multiple orgasms. Then, of course, there’s Sting.
The rocker is known for, among other things, his practice of tantric sex. He told England’s The Guardian in 2003 that tantra is about “a journey,” not “fucking for eight hours.”
And yet, becoming a better lover and experiencing better sex tends to be a far bigger incentive for most Western bodies to practice tantra than how Sting described it in the same interview: “It’s about reconnecting with the world of the spirit through everyday things.”
Take Destin Gerek, “The Erotic Rock Star,” for example. On eroticrockstar.com, viewers see the sexologist’s bedroom eyes, his long hair, his rock hard body using a sex toy as a microphone. They can watch seven different intro videos titled “Orgasmic Mastery,” with subject matter like “ejaculatory choice” and “male multiple orgasm.” He was even at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas recently promoting his services. His techniques may help people reconnect with themselves and their partners, but the tone emphasizes sex over spirit, which makes some tantra practitioners cringe.
“Don’t get me wrong,” says Lisa Rizzoli, a spiritual sexual educator in Reno. “I enjoy sex, and having sex with a spiritual connection is way more intense than anything else, but I don’t want to be exploiting sex. I think there’s all these expectations and that sensationalism of it, and that’s not what I want it to be.”
That’s why you won’t see the word “tantra” in the title of her Feb. 14 Sacred Loving Workshop for couples at The Studio.
“The workshop is very tantra-based, but I’m really not using the word much because most people, when they hear ‘tantra,’ they think, ‘Oh, that’s that sex thing.’ It’s really not that.”A many colored thing
So what is it? In some ways, it depends on whom you ask.
It comes in many colors—red, white and black, to name a few forms of it. For some, it’s about connecting with a lover both physically and spiritually. For others, it has nothing to do with sex and can even involve celibacy. For a few, it can be about mind manipulation. One yoga instructor explained tantra as embracing the body on the path toward enlightenment rather than—as with some yogic branches—viewing the body as something to overcome to reach enlightenment.
A big component of tantra is unblocking chakras, the seven energy centers yogic practitioners believe line up along the center of the body.
Beginning at the perineum is the base, or root chakra, which is related to security, survival, sex and lust. The second is the sacral chakra, which is in the sacrum and governs reproduction, creativity and joy. The third is located in the solar plexus and deals with issues of power, fear, anxiety and growth. The fourth chakra is in the heart, governing unconditional love for oneself and others. The fifth is in the throat and relates to communication and growth through expression. The sixth chakra is at the “third eye” region along the brow between the eyes, and it governs intuition and clarity. The final chakra of wisdom is at the crown of the head, where energy that no longer serves a person can be released and new energy can move in.
Unblocking these various chakras is thought to strip away the muddle of the mind to reach clarity.
“Tantra says we are beings; our spirits within are already complete and whole and pure, but we have all these filters, so we can’t necessarily get to that spirit,” says Rizzoli. “Yoga says kind of the same thing, but tantra says we can break these barriers down even faster with a partner. It’s not just my energy, but his energy also. It’s not just doubling the energy, but magnifying it, exponentially. The energy that happens is bigger.”
Some Indian scholars trace tantra’s roots to the second millennium B.C., and there are a variety of branches of it, aiding in the confusion over its definition.
For black tantric practitioners, it involves mind-reading and manipulation, sometimes called black magic. Red tantra places a strong emphasis on sex. White tantra, however, has nothing to do with sex.Sex-free tantra
Anocha Ghoshachandra, who practices white tantric yoga, is a kundalini yoga teacher at The Yoga Center. Unlike some practices, one doesn’t just go to white tantric yoga class, as there is no such class. Ghoshachandra says it’s “not to be practiced under any circumstances without the guidance of Mahan Tantric,” also known as the late Yogi Bhajan, who became “Master of White Tantric Yoga” in 1970. With a facilitator representing the Mahan Tantric, it’s typically done in a large group setting, such as during the solstice. A white tantric yoga ceremony close to Reno will take place in Oakland, Calif., on April 10. Participants line up shoulder to shoulder in a cross-legged position. They dress head to toe in white and wear a white cotton head covering to, as Ghoshachandra explains it, “insulate your seventh chakra,” which is located at the top of the head and represents pure consciousness and inner wisdom. The purpose of the practice is to clear the subconscious junk from the mind to make way for clarity.
“White tantric yoga in itself can be powerful but also have a very subtle energy,” says Ghoshachandra. “When we do it, you will often have a release—and that can sometimes be an emotion that comes up from out of nowhere, and you might not even know what it’s related to. You let it out, you let it go, and just know that it’s gone.”
Release is part of both white and red tantra, though it may take different forms. (Less reliable information is known about black tantra, which other branches of tantra tend to frown upon.) They also share the idea of bringing along someone else for the ride, though not necessarily sexually.
White tantra, “is a spiritual practice in the conscious mind, and you can do that with a partner—your husband, girlfriend, even a stranger,” says Ghoshachandra. “When you have a partner, like when you look into the eyes of a partner, it’s like looking into the soul of yourself. Your partner is your mirror. It’s hard to quantify why it works.”Sex and chocolate
In his book, Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy, Georg Feuerstein writes, “Whatever tantra you may read, you will always discover an emphasis on personal experimentation and experience.”
To illustrate the idea of direct experience over denial, Rizzoli compares sex and cake.
“I am a very sexual being,” she says. “We are all sexual beings. From a biological standpoint, we’re here to reproduce. But we tend to shove that down, and like anything, if you shove it down …. If you’re dieting and can’t have chocolate cake, you obsess about chocolate cake. No one says we can’t have cake. Tantra says we have to let that go.”
She says experience allows people to uncover the part in them that is already whole. “How do you know what pain is unless you’ve had pain? How do you know bliss if you’ve never had bliss? If we can get to that space of love, that’s where we want to be.”
She adds that getting to that space may be easier with a partner at first, but the ultimate goal is to get there on your own. “Tantra says you can have the experience, but then have it on your own. Eat that chocolate cake. But the cake is just the cake. What was the experience you had? What did that bite do for you? Now do it without the cake.”Now, for the good stuff
If someone were to stumble into Rizzoli’s Sacred Loving workshop at the right time, they might think they’re at a couples dance class. One part of the workshop will have couples standing face to face with their palms touching and moving in what Rizzoli calls “ecstatic dance.” They’ll be looking into each other’s eyes and experimenting with flow and movement with no direction. Other parts of the workshop get them cozier, with their arms and legs wrapped together in what’s deliciously called the Yub Yum position. They’ll learn about nurturing touch, communication, breathing and the chakras. They’ll do it gently, and they’ll do it clothed. No crazy group sex going on here, though participants may feel the more intimate benefits with each other later in private.
“When you ground yourself, you open up energy fields, and sometimes you need someone to help bring that along,” says Rizzoli.
So connecting spiritually with yourself, your partner and the universe. That’s good stuff. But seriously, what about the sex?
Let’s go back to those chakras for a minute. The first two—the root and sacral chakras—are located near the genital area and deal with issues of safety and sexuality, passion and pleasure, respectively. Unblocking these energy centers may be able to free a person sexually, enabling them to deal with issues ranging from sexual abuse to erectile dysfunction.
“Most of us have issues with our base chakra,” says Rizzoli. Women particularly tend to have traumatic issues with their sacral chakra in the genital area, she says. With permission in a multi-day intensive workshop, Rizzoli literally may hold that space to release the energy. This can be done with or without clothes, and the technique may involve going inside the genital area itself.
“The G-spot can hold a lot of pain,” she says. “So we hold sacred time with this sacred space. … It’s about opening up and releasing that trauma.”
For men, their sacred space is in the first chakra, and a tantric technique for unblocking it is the prostate massage, where, as Rizzoli explains it, “you enter the anus—not stroking it—but finding the spot, touching it so it awakens.”
These techniques can be done in fun, sexy, loving ways by your partner to release blocked energy. Once that energy is freed, tantric practitioners say, it can lead to an increase in strength and frequency of orgasms, longer lovemaking, female ejaculation, and male orgasm without ejaculation. The tantric techniques used to do that may be a combination of looking into the eyes of your partner, massage of all sorts of interesting places, and communication.
Rizzoli describes the idea of the “cosmic orgasm”—wave after wave of feeling that explodes into a “glitter light”—as a release of the physical and going into the spiritual. “Cosmic orgasm is about timelessness, about egolessness. You become part of the universe.”
The ability for people to have these sorts of sexual experiences is “there for everybody,” says Rizzoli. “It’s getting rid of that shell that covers it up.”
The shells may come in the form of body hang-ups, like women uncomfortable with the word “vagina,” let alone looking at or touching it. “And men are afraid of touching their anus, or even having a prostate exam, for fear of homosexuality,” says Rizzoli. “But give them a prostate orgasm, and they’re all about it.”
Then there’s the goal-oriented pressure on lovers to perform. The mentality is if the partner has an orgasm, it means the sex was good, nevermind the fact that multiple orgasms may be possible or that a spiritual connection may have been missing. Some Vedic scriptures discuss how the pursuit of orgasm can trigger cravings and suffering, as anyone who’s had performance anxiety in bed can attest.
For the less sexually inhibited, there is a subculture of naked yoga and tantra in Reno that you won’t find advertised on any local yoga website schedule. This is in part to prevent voyeurs from coming for a peep show rather than a spiritual practice. “Imagine the kind of people who would come,” says Rizzoli.
So better sex may be the “hook” to get people in the door to tantra. This is somewhat similar to how obtaining a hot yoga body may be the original impetus for yoga students who later find themselves deepening their spirituality. But Rizzoli says tantra can help people self-heal, as well. The first workshop she attended consisted of all women, and the emphasis was on nurturing, rather than sex. “I had this whole thing in my mind of what would happen, but for me, I went through a huge paradigm shift, this massive thing I didn’t even expect, and it was healing on my own. We have to heal our own person to be able to truly be in a relationship.”The eyes have it
Still don’t know what tantra might be? Here’s a tantric technique for you: Look into someone’s eyes. They might be that of your lover, your friend, a complete stranger. This needn’t be a sexual thing. Soften your gaze, even in the middle of a conversation, and look. Notice what happens. There is a subtle shift, a sudden awareness of the person inside, a connection—however strong or slight—that wasn’t there when you were each carelessly shifting your eyes around each other’s face.
You’ve likely just experienced the definition of namaste—that blessing given at the end of yoga class but the meaning of which is often unknown to those who utter it: “I recognize the truth, light and love within you, so that when you’re in that place within you, and I’m in that place within me, there is only one of us.” It’s a recognition of one soul by another.
Rizzoli has an example that might better suit modern audiences. “Have you seen Avatar?” The film is not particularly steaming up screens with sex. And yet, “When they come together, even with the animals, that’s like tantra.”
Whether tantra is done alone or with a partner, Rizzoli says it will intensify the connection you get with your partner.
“It becomes so enriched. These enriched, intense feelings happen as you open your body and spirit to love. That’s what it’s really about. It’s opening to love.”