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Thinking about tantra synonymously with sex is like associating crust synonymously with apple pie.
Sure, the crust is part of the apple pie, but it’s certainly not the whole pie! Same concept applies to tantra.
“Historically, sex was a very small slice of tantric pie, but Western interpretations of tantra have pushed the other parts of tantra underground in favor of the sexier, bedroom-based ones,” says tantra practitioner and sexual empowerment coach Sarrah Rose of Tantric Activation.
Ready to learn more about tantra, including what tantric yoga is — and how to get it om? Scroll down.
“At its core tantra is about connecting with your own energy to establish a deeper understanding of yourself,” Rose says. While some of that energy is sexual, not all of it is.
Like the secret ingredient in Grandma’s apple pie recipe, the exact origins of tantra are hard to pin down.
Tanta expert Barbara Carrellas, ACS, AASECT, author of “Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex For The Twenty-First Century” explains why:
“Countless tantric texts were lost during the numerous times throughout history when tantra was driven underground. And other tantra teachings were never committed to writing at all and only transmitted through word of mouth.”
No one knows exactly when tantra began. Some believe the ancient tradition begin around 500 A.D., others say it didn’t come about until the 16th century.
While tantra has evolved over the last thousand years, “tantra is still first and foremost a personal practice of liberation,” according to Carrellas.
It’s a technique that allows you to use energy and go deeper into yourself and experience enlightenment.
Good Q! Yoga is Sanskrit for “oneness” and is anything that connects you to yourself, says tantra educator Leah Piper of More Love Seminars.
Because tantra is about becoming aware of and whole with oneself, tantra can be yoga, she says.
“Tantric yoga weaves together many yogic and meditative practices to help you get as deep an understanding of yourself as possible, so that you can accept that self,” says Rose.
Tantra yoga may include:
Tantric meditation teacher Hilary Jackendoff with Yoga Wake Up in Los Angeles, California, says it’s an awesome way to explore tantra without a partner and without having sex, or to spend time with yourself.
Tantric yoga and tantric sex are from two different branches of tantra.
Traditional tantra is divided into red tantra and white tantra. White tantra is the solo practice, which incorporate yoga and meditation. Red tantra is the sexual practice.
While both use sexual energy, the goal of the two practices is different. The goal of red tantra is to create a deeper bond with a partner, while white tantra is about creating a deeper bond with yourself.
While the Western practice of tantra might suggest otherwise, you actually can’t have red tantra without white tantra, according to Piper.
“Red tantra is your opportunity to bring everything you’ve learned in your solo practice into an exchange with a lover,” explains Piper. No solo practice? No way to bring that to a lover.
Two words: spiritual liberation.
“This isn’t about toning the body or getting a workout,” says Piper. “Tantric yoga is about being purposeful with your breath, embodiment, and making love with your own body.”
Experts say a regular tantric practice can help you reap the following benefits:
- reduced stress, anxiety, or depression
- better understanding of and love for oneself
- improved sleep quality
- boosted confidence and performance in the bedroom
- improved quality of life
- increased capacity for intimacy
Unlike Bikram yoga, which features the same 26 postures in every class, or Ashtanga which always has the same sequence, every tantra yoga teacher will lead you through a different sequence of movements, meditations, chanting, chakra work, and breath work.
Jackendoff explains, “In one tantra yoga [practice] you might hold Downward-Facing Dog while concentrating on the throat pit (a chakra point) [and] mentally repeating a mantra and visualizing energy move through your body with your breath. In another, you might not.”
However, according to Piper, all tantric yoga classes should include these 5 positions:
- side bends
- Forward Folds
“You can absolutely do it alone. You don’t even need a coach or teacher,” says Rose.
Because the practice requires a very subtle level of awareness, it can be challenging to self-guide. Some experts recommend waiting to practice alone until you understand the principles.
“It’s a fun date idea to do your solo tantra practice in the same room as someone else,” says Piper. “It’s like fine-tuning your instruments in the same room so you can make music together later.” Hot!
“If you create a deep inward focus in your home yoga practice — whatever that entails — and feel that your movement is a sacred doorway to direct experience of the Divine, that can qualify as tantric yoga,” says Jackendoff.
If, however, you want to do a deep dive into classical tantra yoga, Rose says, “you’ll want to work one-on-one with a tantra guru.”
To find a guru, ask around at your local Hatha or Kundalini yoga studio, or explore tantra yoga teachers online.
Unlike classes like CrossFit, there’s no ruling body governing who can call their offerings “tantra.”
“Because sex sells, most ‘tantra’ classes only teach the sexual aspect of tantra and ignore the solo, yogic parts,” says Piper.
To find out if the tantric class is legit, ask:
- Are your classes solo or partnered? (Classical tantra yoga should be solo.)
- Are you teaching red or white tantra? (The answer should be white tantra.)
- What is the goal of the class? (The answer should suggest self-growth and self-awareness.)
- Does the class include chanting? (The answer should be yes.)
- What is the teacher’s training? (The teacher should be trained in Hatha yoga, Integral yoga, Kundalini yoga, and tantra.)
Another option: Go to any Hatha yoga class.
“Hatha is the practice of developing awareness in your body and balancing your energy, so anyone doing Hatha yoga is already doing tantra yoga,’ says Piper.
Kundalini yoga is also deeply rooted in tantra yoga.
There are so many sources that “you could spend the rest of your life studying the history and many philosophies of tantra,” says Carrellas. Though, you don’t need to — unless you want to, of course.
Start by reading one or two of these popular tantric yoga texts, all of which you can buy online:
- “The Radiance Sutras“
- “Tantra: Path of Ecstasy“
- “Tantra Illuminated“
- “The Yoga of Light: Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika“
- “Shiva Samhita: A Classical Text on Yoga and Tantra“
- “The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy, and Practice“
You can also check out the websites of the tantric experts we cite throughout this article.
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York–based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.