Tantric yoga is an updated version of traditional Vedic and yogic meditative practices. The tantrics created novel, unconventional practices to help people realize their true selves and cosmic oneness.
Tantra valued the body as an object of inquiry and pleasure rather than an area to be expanded and focused. In the past, yoga practices emphasized letting go of the body and refusing to dwell on the pain it brought.
Instead, Tantra found significance in appreciating and cultivating one's own inner world of energy. Given that hatha yoga can be traced back to tantric yoga, and that tantra provides a context for the individual practices and techniques of modern yoga, it's important to gain an understanding of the methods and goals of tantric yoga.
What is tantric yoga?
Many yogic texts use the term tantra, but its meaning can vary depending on the context. The term tantra was originally a synonym for 'weave' before expanding its meaning to include technique, device, or method.
Thus, Tantra is a branch of yoga that incorporates a wide variety of practices —including mantra meditation, visualization, mudras, pranayama and initiation —into an integrated whole for exploring the inner universe via the human body.
The primary goal of Tantric practices is to awaken and strengthen the kundalini chakra. To achieve samadhi or enlightenment, the kundalini energy must first be awakened and guided up to the Nadis and Chakras, culminating in the crown chakra.
Tantric yoga is a branch of the yoga tradition that's in harmony with tantra, an ancient Asian spiritual practice with roots in India, Tibet and other parts of Asia. Tantric sex is a sensual, spiritual practice that's often associated with tantra. These sexual rituals, though, are only a small part of tantra and are better categorized as neotantra.
The Sanskrit word for 'weave' is 'tantra', and the practice of classical tantra is focused on developing a deeper awareness of and control over your own energy to achieve enlightenment. Tantric yoga is centered on this conventional interpretation of tantra.
Tantric yoga techniques
Tantric yoga's emphasis on energy comes from its origins in the cult of Shiva and Shakti, the universe's eponymous dynamic and static principles, respectively. Shakti (the dynamic, creative, feminine energy) and Shiva (the static, destructive, masculine energy) are seen as a perpetual dance that takes many shapes.
Tantric Yoga aims to connect the material world with the divine realm by strengthening the subtle energy and astral bodies. Purifying and cultivating prana and awakening kundalini are central to the process of energy development.
Asana, pranayama, mudra and shatkarma are physical postures and breathing techniques, respectively, that are used to channel and focus energy within the body
As a result, the Tantric yogis created the foundations of modern Hatha Yoga, including asanas (postures) and pranayamas (breathing techniques).
Mudras are a combination of asana, pranayama and bandha that are performed with the hands. Shatkarma, also known as Kriya, refers to a set of esoteric practices used to purify the physical body and clear the meridians of energy flow.
Mantra, yantra and puja are used to strengthen the astral body through devotional practices. Mantras are spiritual utterances in the ancient Sanskrit language that are believed to be direct manifestations of the divine.
During Tantric rituals, devotees focus their minds on yantras, which are sacred geometric forms used for meditation and visualization. Offerings of food, incense, light, water and gems are made during puja, an act of active devotional worship of a selected deity.
What is the goal of tantric yoga?
Tantric yogis, who place emphasis on direct experience, developed extreme methods of purifying the body and mind to cut the ties that keep us chained to this world.
Tantra's renowned 'left hand' schools advocated the use of sexual, alcoholic and meaty practices that are illegal in most societies as means of personal development. Tantra Yoga incorporates a wide variety of practices, but its central goal is to honor the sacred unity of all life by treating the body as a sacred temple.
Tantric yoga allows the practitioner to have a personal encounter with the Divine, to feel the oneness of all things. Tantra is a vast synthesis of spiritual knowledge, offering a wide variety of yogic techniques for attaining ecstasy.
Tantric yoga and sex
In the 19th century, the Western world was introduced to the exotic sexual-spiritual practices of Tantra yoga.
The sexual and counterculture revolutions of the late 1960s and early 1970s combined with a growing interest in Eastern spirituality to solidify Tantra's reputation as a yoga technique for enhanced sexual pleasure.
Classical tantric teachings on the pranic body and an embodied presence in sexual union are relevant to Tantra as a sacred sexuality practice. However, reducing this complex system of enlightenment to a few sexual maneuvers and interpersonal closeness is a disservice to the concept of Tantra yoga, as believed by its practitioners.