I started practicing yoga at the age of 15 at a boarding school in Vermont that was designed to cultivate artistic abilities. In the dance program there was a Pakistani teacher, Adnan, who taught the dance students basic sun salutations. Our homework was to complete 10 sun salutations each day as soon as we woke before attending to our dormitory chores. That was 17 years ago and the practice obviously stuck with me as I encouraged each of you to try your hand at daily practice last month.
There were times when dance has been center-focused and times when yoga was the highlight of my life, either way body alignment, precision, and even perfection have been constant goals to strive for throughout my life.
I have discovered that body control, while amazing and addictive, only brings me so far. The mind and the energy of the body are an infinite field that I seem to be continuously peering into without any real sense of understanding. What is this feeling of energy? What is this feeling of connection to the world around me?
Tantra answers these questions.
Tantra has been decidedly misinterpreted, depicted in the image above, as sexual rituals and techniques, witchcraft, black magic, and even mind control. Tantra by definition, as it first appeared in text in 1700BC, is "loom" or "weave" - symbolically demonstrating the interwoven connection between the body and the metaphysical world surrounding us.
Have you ever been in your yoga class and just finished a really challenging pose or a long round of fire-breathing and felt that tingling sensation that breaks down all barriers of the body and leaves you with a feeling that you are literally attached to each person in the room?
There is something there, if you want to call it energy, if you want to call it spiritual, if you want to call it God, Allah, Yahweh, the Word, Brahman, Qi, anything you like, it is present around us all the time. I personally have not spent much time in worship or prayer throughout my life but I have spent some time on energy, meditation and reflection which is basically like opening the door and yet not quite committing to walking through. Tantra is a way to walk through that door. It is very deeply rooted in spiritually and at the same time many of the techniques have been proven to show scientific results which I am more naturally inclined to get onboard with.
As a spiritual path Tantra emphasizes purifying our mind and energy and cultivating a spiritually illuminating philosophy of life. As a science, Tantra experiments with techniques whose efficacy depends on the precise application and use of specific materials, practices, and exercises. These techniques can be thought of as tantric formulas. They will yield the same result each time when properly applied regardless of the character, spiritual understanding, or intention of the practitioner.
There are several different paths of Tantra yoga which I won't go into here but all paths practice through repetitive rituals and techniques though they may vary across teachers and ideologies. Some examples are: repetitive words or phrases (mantras), repetitive gazing at geometric patterns and symbols (mandala), hand gestures (mudra), mapping of the microcosm within one's body to the macrocosmic elements outside as the subtle body (kundalini-yoga), assignments of icons and sounds (nyasa), meditation (dhyana), ritual worship (puja), initiation (diksha) and others. Tantra is best practiced with a guru or teacher who can explain and observe as you learn the techniques. The goal in Tantra is to become more aligned mentally and energetically to the world around you. For me, the precise alignment of the physical body has been a primary focus and now I am beginning to shift and include the alignment of the mental, spiritual and energy bodies to move as one.
I am traveling to Koh Phangan, Thailand on the 1st of November to find out more about Tantra Yoga at Agama Yoga Center. I am looking forward to adding some deeper levels of understanding to my primarily western, super alignment and body focused, training. I will use Instagram regularly to add insights that I gain throughout the month. Great job with the sun salutations, keep it up! This month try a mandala mediation.
Chakras and Nadi A chakra is an energy point or node in the body. Chakras are believed to be part of the subtle body, not the physical body, and as such, are the meeting points of the subtle (non-physical) energy channels called nadi. Nadi are believed to be channels in the subtle body through which the life force (prana) or vital energy moves. Various scriptural texts and teachings present a different number of chakras. It's believed that there are many chakras in the subtle human body, according to the tantric texts, but there are seven chakras that are considered to be the most important ones. Each chakra is associated with an area in the physical body and when the energy of a chakra is blocked it is believed to cause physical ailments to that area of the body.
Mandala Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning “sacred circle,” which represent the infinite universe, unity, harmony and wholeness. Mandalas have been widely used for centuries by Buddhists, Hindus, American Indians and others who find significant meaning in them. each mandala has different symbolism and meaning and when choosing a mandala for meditation look for one that draws you in.
Mandala Meditation 1. With the chosen mandala placed at arm’s length in front of you at eye level, sit comfortably – either on a chair with your feet flat or on the floor with your legs crossed. 2. Breathe slowly and deeply from the diaphragm. 3. Set an intention for your mandala meditation. Choose a question or focus on a problem you are struggling with. 4. Gently gaze at the mandala and relax your eyes so that, initially, the image goes slowly out of focus. 5. Sitting quietly, concentrate on the image fully and allow its shapes, patterns and colors to work on your unconscious mind. When distracting thoughts arise, let them drift away and gently bring your focus back to the mandala and back to your intention. 6. Sit for at least 5 minutes initially, gradually building up your meditation period to 15 minutes or more. 7. When you are ready, slowly bring your attention back to the world around you.