The first time I experienced a Tantric practice was by accident. A friend of mine was attending a workshop at Burning Man, and since I had nothing better to do, I impulsively joined her.
I was surprised. What we did involved mostly eye gazing and had nothing to do with sex. I’d always misunderstood Tantra as some kind of orgy thing, but now I see how unfortunate that assumption was, and how long it held me back from exploring Tantra further.
Tantra has been the single most healing modality I’ve experienced. When I practice regularly, I feel in my full power, like I can do anything. I also feel a loving connection to people and nature, all through balancing my energy.
So, What is Tantra?
Tantra’s core teaching is that regardless of sexual identity, we all have both masculine and feminine polarities within us, and through balancing and cultivating these energies through our bodies, we become instruments for expansion.
Masculine energy is about getting things done, whereas feminine energy is about nurturing, emotions, and empathy.
For the longest time, I was much more connected to my masculine side, always doing doing doing. Through Tantra I’ve realized the importance of my feminine energy, too.
Tantra’s origins date back to and are first clearly documented around the first mid-millennium AD in India. It has both Hindu and Buddhist roots, and has also influenced Eastern religious traditions such as Jainism, Sikhism, Tibetan Bön, Taoism, and Japanese Shintō.
In modern times, Tantra is widely misunderstood as purely sexual.
Any online search involving the term ‘Tantra’ will mostly return results that only reference sex, which misses the point.
That’s not to ignore that life in general is sexual. Most animals spend their whole lives working to attract one another. I’m watching as cottonwood seeds blow by outside, looking for a place to grow. A day rarely goes by that I don’t see sexuality, usually a woman’s, employed to sell something to me. It can be anything from men’s deodorant to web hosting.
What a strange world we live in, where a basic need is vilified and made dirty, or must be renounced altogether if one wants to get closer to God or Nirvana. Yet at the same time, it’s thrown in our faces every day. But good girls don’t talk about sexuality, right? And real men get laid constantly. No wonder so many people are disconnected from their bodies and feel shame over their sexual impulses.
Yet, through Tantric practices, many of which are mystical and at times, yes, sexual in nature, there’s no division between godliness and humanity. Though each Tantric tradition is different, most agree that the practitioner is a deity and that this state is reachable through ritual, meditative, and yogic practices. This has, at least, been my relationship to Tantra.
My Experience with Tantric Practices
After the introduction at Burning Man, I decided to keep exploring and found that there are many different styles that teachers use to facilitate Tantric practices. Some are focused on yoga, some are focused on relationships like Layla Martin, and some are more mystical, like Sofia Sundari. I like them all.
Within a few weeks of Burning Man I had signed up to attend my first Tantric retreat in Bali with Sofia. It was a woman’s retreat purely focused on stepping into our own power and femininity. I wasn’t sure I understood what that meant but I decided to give it a shot anyway. Over the course of that week we did 50 hours of rituals that had a central theme – releasing shame, loving our bodies, and seeing women as our sisters rather than competitors.
We did it by repeatedly breaking down socially imposed barriers. That’s why eye gazing is so powerful – we rarely do it in daily life and yet studies show that we rate strangers we’ve made eye contact with as more similar to us, believe them to be more intelligent and sincere, and are more inclined to believe what they say. A study by psychologist Giovanni Caputo found that prolonged eye contact sends us into an altered state of consciousness, something I’ve experienced firsthand several times.
We also danced in full self-expression – something that’s been more powerful for me the more I do it, and part of why I love Ecstatic Dance so much. I stop thinking about how I look and let my heart, my throat, or my seat of desire move me. It’s a meditative dance that sounds odd until you try it (here’s a pretty good playlist if you’d like to do it in your own living room).
Many of the practices I’ve done in Tantra, like Yoni Yoga (I’ll do a separate post on this as it deserves its own), breath work, kundalini activation of the spine through Cat-Cow pose, and fully expressed dance, have made me feel like I was high. Yet this natural high is beautiful, without a comedown and without anxiety.
While meditation helped me to understand my mind, I felt like I was walking around like a balloon – my head floating, and my body disconnected. Through Tantric practices I’ve been able to see my body as the vessel to bring me to the highest version of myself, closer to Source, and in plain terms, to feel really damn good and connected to other people.
I think this is why people take ecstasy – to feel an uninhibited connection and to dance freely. I feel like I found a healthier way. I also feel like this is a more powerful way. I don’t need anything other than myself to feel this much love and connection. I feel like I can take on the world.
I also value the opportunity to connect with other women so deeply. The bonds you form with people when you spend 50+ hours going to your edge with them are ironclad, supportive, and loving. They help me see all women that way. Wouldn’t it be nice if we just felt kindred rather than competitive and jealous?
Since that initial exposure, I’ve done around 120 hours of Tantric practices, or at least practices inspired by Tantra, none of which involved sex. The more I learn about it, the more I feel it’s a sexy and trendy term borrowed from India and pasted on new ideas, but all that matters is that what you choose to do feels good to you, and find teachers whose vibe you jibe with.
Not all ‘Tantric’ practices are truly rooted in Tantra, as we’ve established, so how can you know which ones are legitimate?
There are various communities around the world where Tantric practices are common. Bali is a hotspot for retreats, and where I did my first one. Burning Man is another, but I realize that’s not accessible for everyone. Most recently I did another in Ibiza. There are several online as well, if you want to start your process of learning from home.
Koh Phangan in Thailand is another place that bears mentioning, especially since the famous Agama School had over 14 women come forward with sexual assault experiences. Please don’t let this turn you off to Tantra, since abuse of power is everywhere, but let it caution you towards selecting retreats carefully.
Having practiced so much with Sofia Sundari, I can personally recommend her Priestess School for women and coed Tantric retreats.
Camille Willemain recommended the Tantric Way several years ago on the blog, citing it as one of the most transformative experiences of her life.
I also encourage you to see which teachers resonate with you at festivals, like Tantra Festival Amsterdam. What works for me might not work for you, so feel free to explore and learn. Here’s a listing of more in Hawaii, India, and Australia.
While I’ve kept quiet about this part of my journey for quite some time, it feels like a weight lifted to finally share it with you. I hope that you find something here that interests you, makes you want to learn more, or has introduced you to something you previously didn’t know about.
Is this really all that Tantra was initially conceived to be? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that it’s been instrumental in helping me to love my body, release shame, and feel connected to the world around me. What a beautiful gift.
Subscribe below to get next Sunday’s post right to your inbox.