The Spiritual and Health Benefits of Tantra Yoga
Over the past few weeks, I have been studying yoga in a school that is centered around the Tantric teachings. At first I hesitated about sharing this topic due to the common misperception that Tantra is only about increasing sexual pleasure, an intimate area that may not be appropriate for this forum. However, Tantra has many positive elements to it that are not only based on a pure intention, but extremely beneficial for one’s spiritual path and physical wellbeing. For this reason and the fact that it is a form of yoga that is widely misunderstood, I decided to go ahead and share this information in hopes that it might spark further exploration for some readers.
The ancient Tantric texts are quite difficult for the average person to understand as they were written in a code language or terminology that is often better explained orally by a competent guru. For this reason, many misinterpretations have been made about what Tantra means and what the teachings were meant to convey. It is therefore important that one evaluates and chooses a reputable school and/or guru to provide the most accurate and educated interpretation, preferably one that is in alignment with other ancient yogic teachings. It is then possible to really appreciate the characteristics that make Tantra an extremely useful and rewarding area of practice for anyone seeking spiritual enlightenment and ways to use their inherent energy (in this case sexual energy) to maintain optimal health.
According to what I have been taught here at the school I’m studying at, Tantra is a path to reaching a higher state of consciousness, also called Samadhi, utilizing the act of sex as an instrument for going "beyond sex" rather than just improving the pleasure of sex itself. It is also extremely beneficial for improving intimate relationships and health, which I’ll explain in more depth later. Most Tantric schools focus on the left hand path of Tantra. This is deemed the most appropriate approach for the average person looking to practice continence (one of the 5 yanas from the Eight Stages of Yoga) without abstaining from sex altogether. Alternatively, the right hand path, not realistic for the majority, concentrates only on symbolic and meditative techniques relating to sexual energy, without participating in the act itself. Both paths are considered "correct" and neither is better than the other despite attempts to moralize them.
Tantra teaches that sexual energy originates in the base chakras (muladhara, svadhisthana and manipura, all located at the level of the navel and below) and can be moved through the body to the upper chakras, which include anahata (the heart chakra), visuddha (throat), anja (third eye) and sahasrara (crown chakra). This act of moving the energy upwards is called subliming and results in a completely different, more fulfilling and long lasting sexual/spiritual experience. Not only does this pratice provide an array of health benefits, but is also produces feelings of bliss that one strives to experience through sexual union and love, both in the human form as well as the symbolic joining of the masculine and feminine energies also known as Shiva and Shakti in Tantric teachings.
Conversely, most couples would agree that in common sexual encounters, there is often a feeling of dissatisfaction, disconnection and feeling of exhaustion brought on by the peak of the sexual experience. Not only is this loss of energy debilitating in the moment, it can also spill over into other aspects of life where this ongoing loss of energy or prana (life force) leads to health imbalances and eventually a loss of interest in the act itself. However, by utilizing some of the techniques and asanas/yoga postures taught in Tantra, the couple is able to preserve their sexual energy within and move it upwards, awakening every cell in the body.
From the standpoint of love, Tantra teaches a a technique called transfiguration. In this exercise, the couple sits in front of one another and looks deeply into the eyes of the other without movement. The idea is not to stare, but to be with your partner in a profound and intimate way. By doing so, many report seeing what’s behind the eyes rather than the person themselves. What they find there is an indescribable beauty that can’t be criticized, judged or rejected. This awakens the feelings of love that are an inherent part of our being and relinquishes the expectations and conditions we usually apply to love with another. This process prior to lovemaking provides the foundation for a more connected and deep experience between partners.
Some of the somatic and physical health benefits that have been reported by women who practice Tantra regularly that occur due to the vital flow of energy that moves through the body and improved blood circulation are:
-Improved muscle tone
-Vitalized and rejuvenated skin
-Disappearance of fat deposits
-Decreased back pain and spinal improvement
-Release of toxins
-Maintenance of youth and vitality
-Reduction in wrinkles
-Toning of the abdominal muscles and hips
-Regeneration of the calf muscles
-Increase happiness and for longer durations
-Decreased amounts of menstrual secretions
Men’s health is also improved by the act of preserving energy, which results in a lot more creative energy and a healthier body inside and out. Tantra also encourages a health regime that follows a low protein macrobiotic diet system in which the yin and yang energy of foods are balanced in the same way that the feminine and masculine balance one another. This same theory holds true for any other polarity that comes to mind (two halves equal a whole). As with any desire to reach a heightened state of awareness and consciousness, maintaining a healthy body is of utmost importance whether one follows the macrobiotic diet or an alternative approach to healthy eating. These practices further the benefits of Tantra as a pathway for health, happiness, love and spiritual awakening.
Kara wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Food & Nutrition.