This morning I had a “Tantra Yoga” tech session, which I registered for with some curiosity. I’ll be honest: prior to today, the only reference to “tantra” I knew was related to kinky sex – and I doubted we would be engaging in that kind of behavior in the yoga studio. So I was interested in learning more about this topic, and exploring a “tantra yoga” practice.
When I arrived at the studio, I quickly learned (i.e,. within the first 5 minutes of the class) that “tantra” was just code for more mantra meditation – the kind of meditation I sat through for 2 hours yesterday, the kind that left me fatigued and irritated instead of peaceful and renewed. Oh man…. crap. Seriously? Crap.
To be fair, the teacher of today’s session was super-well-prepared; she had detailed handouts (which I deeply appreciate), so I didn’t have to scramble to take a ton of notes; so I really could just settle in and receive the information. And the teacher was incredibly-well-informed, too – she has been practicing this method of “yoga” (meditation) for nearly 20 years, and was able to share the facts quickly, clearly, and succinctly, yet still comprehensively. (And for any fellow teachers out there, we know that this is no easy balance to achieve.) So while I didn’t appreciate the topic, I absolutely did (do) appreciate the instructor.
That being said, here are the highlights of what I learned about tantra:
- “Tantra” just means “book of” – so, a book with the word “tantra” in the title simply means that the book can be considered like a textbook relating to that topic. (So “Tantra Yoga” just means “the book of yoga”.) Nothing kinky.
- There are two main types of tantra – a Hindu style, and a Tibetan Buddhist style.
- The goal of tantra is to achieve a non-dualistic view between Divine and self. Tantra holds that everything in the world is Divine, and that it is us (humans) who create a sense of separation from the Divine (thanks ego). But, this separation is false, and because it’s false it’s painful – and so we suffer.
- There are three schools of tantra. The first one addresses the three natures every person possesses (namely, animal, human, and Divine). In this first school of tantra, the focus is on becoming free from the animal nature (specifically with regards to food, sex, sleep, and self-preservation urges). To get free, a person has one of two choices: repress, or release. So when people do crazy sexual stuff in the name of “tantra”, they likely claim they are “releasing the animal within”. But, like so many things in life, this approach is not the intention of tantra – people are just twisting the method and selectively taking out what they like to fit their personal wants and desires and agendas. We humans are crafty and clever, and can make pretty much any idea conform to what we want, instead of what was originally poisted. But, I digress…
- The second school of tantra focuses on the heart, specifically on internalizing what is discovered/uncovered/released in school #1.
- The third and final school of tantra focuses on fully realizing/actualizing the Truth of what was internalized in school #2.
After the class conversation of what tantra is and isn’t, we spent about 30 minutes engaging in three different forms of tantra meditation. The first style of meditation was a group chant, where we repeated a mantra about Ganesh 108 times. Oy. I tried chanting for about 10 rounds, then stopped; I was just too, too, too irritated to continue. And God forbid I invoke the wrath of Ganesh (who can totally tell when people aren’t being sincere in their prayers – and I’ve been told that he can be a lovely man, but be can also a big terror if he feels you are not treating him appropriately and giving him due respect…); so I simply opted out of the group chant, and just sat silently on my mat.
For the second style of meditation, we laid flat on our mats, and then I think the teacher instructed us to do some sort of silent mantra repeating in our own minds? Honestly, as soon as we laid down on the mat, it was “Game Over” for me; I completely checked out, and enjoyed a little mental nap while the rest of the class session wrapped up. (And to be clear: I did not physically fall asleep; but my mind was certainly not in the room for the final 20 minutes of class. I’m not sure where it went; I only know it came back when I called it to leave the session.)
So, to summarize: True tantra isn’t kinky; “yoga” doesn’t always mean moving; mantra meditation is not for me (for now, anyway); and Ganesh and I are still cool.