Use all available experience and phenomena to deepen your connection to yourself: That’s the heart of tantra.
Tantra is a centuries-old, highly refined method for self-realization that originated in northern India. The type of tantra familiar to most Westerners, however, is closer to neotantra, which borrows heavily from the Human Potential Movement of the late 20th century.
And while most Westerners associate tantra with sex, tantric touching provides a way to delve into your erotic side in a way that’s sensual, though not necessarily sexual.
[Read: “Let’s Talk Tantra.”]
Gwenn Cody is a sex-positive therapist who works with people pursuing ethically non-monogamous lifestyles. She has been studying and teaching tantra for over 20 years. She defines tantra as a practice combining spirituality and sexuality while emphasizing the importance of intimacy.
Tantra, Spirituality, Sexuality
“The meaning of the word ‘tantra’ is much less important than understanding that the practice is committed to using all available experiences and phenomena to deepen the connection with your own being,” she says. “And to come to know what in Eastern traditions is often called your true nature.”
Neotantra seeks to deconstruct the emotional and physical armoring people build up as a consequence of living in a shaming, sex-negative culture.
Tantric practices focus on intimacy with one’s self, one’s partner(s), and with the nature of reality. “Sexuality is a deeply intimate channel for our self-awareness,” Cody notes. Through arousal, she says sexuality becomes a vehicle for more subtle or higher states of consciousness. ”This allows perception to shift and the practitioner to experience deeper unity.”
The more common tantric practices include:
- Tantric yoga, which often consists of meditation/awareness exercises
- Rituals that shift our identification towards our divine nature, including our sexual selves
- Breathing practices (pranayama) that activate and open the nervous system and integrate sexual arousal
- Eye-gazing to increase vulnerability and self-understanding
- Breath, movement, and sound experiences that open up the senses and our self-expression
For those who wish to try tantric sex, Cody offers these suggestions:
- Gain control of your pelvic floor muscles and your breathing.
- Slow sex down enough to stay out of your habitual patterns.
- Create a conscious intention with yourself and your partners to connect with whatever rests under the personality.
Exploring Tantra With a Partner or Group
While tantric practices don’t require a partner, the activation of sexual energy and the opening of the heart, pineal gland, and other subtle body phenomena is often easier and more explicit when doing these explorations with a compatible person.
Cody notes, “This work requires intimate communication with your partner, as well as a willingness to interpenetrate each other in ways that go far beyond the physical. Even without a commitment to awakening, these practices allow for an integration of love, awareness, and sexuality that can provide tremendous bliss and deepen the bond between people.”
Some choose to take this exploration into group settings by participating in a puja, which is the Hindu word for worship. These group rituals focus on enhancing connection, practicing transpersonal contact, and creating a shared community of practitioners.
Cody describes the core practices of neotantra as practiced in a puja: “These can include eye-gazing, breath practices to harmonize and exchange energy, and exercises that help you practice acceptance of impermanence and deepen connection to your chakras and your energy body.” Doing these practices in a closed space with other people allows you to be in a temporary sangha of sorts by creating shared experiences and meaning.
Consider gathering together a few like-minded spiritual seekers and hire a facilitator to guide your group in this journey. Be mindful of the signs that a particular leader may possess unhealthy or spiritually narcissistic tendencies.
As you continue in this journey remember that a hallmark of the tantric path is that it embraces desire as fundamental to existence. “Tantra might describe existence as life’s longing for itself,” Cody reflects. “This puts desire and delight at the center of the path rather than something that must be overcome.”
Schools and trainings can be quite helpful in experiencing community-based neotantra and creating relationships with like-minded others. Cody suggests:
For insight on cultural appropriation and experimenting with Eastern rituals, Cody recommends Christopher Wallis's book Tantra Illuminated as an excellent resource to ensure that your use of tantra terminology and practices honor the history of this ancient practice.