Demystifying Yoga - Tantra

In the Western culture Tantra is largely misunderstood as an ancient and exotic practice that serves to heighten and prolong the sexual experience between partners.  This idea of Tantra became widespread over 25 years ago when in a passing comment to a reporter, Sting boasted of 7 hour tantric-sex sessions with his wife Trudi. Suddenly 'Tantra' was famous and the American new age circuit went mad for what scholars now call neo-tantra;  practices designed to make sex more enjoyable, last longer and enhance intimacy.

The original Tantric scriptures date as far back as 5000 years ago. However, the origins of neo-tantra only go back about 100 years and are based on a combination of second hand tantric sources, Taoist texts & references to the Kama Sutra, which in fact has no link to Tantra. The ubiquitous Tantric-sex programmes, workshops and events of modern times are therefore only related to true Tantra by a thread. The original Tantric texts do not give any sexual techniques or advice, however there is an echo of their teachings in this modern understanding; the body is to be used as a stepping stone or tool to achieve a heightened experience.  Ultimately the practice of Tantra is about building our available energies towards the highest possible dimension, not just sexually but using all aspects of ourselves towards this growth. 

Neo-tantra or tantric sex is designed to deepen the participants sensual experience to something more connected and loving. It requires a vulnerability and openness between partners as a way in to greater intimacy. Part of the experience could be described as 'dissolving into' one another, or into Oneness. Here lies one of the links. Tantra is guiding the practitioner towards this same experience of 'dissolving into' bliss with the source of all being, experiencing that same Oneness. The philosophy of Tantra recognises a single Light of Awareness, or Divine Consciousness as the ground of all being.  Everything that we are, know and experience is an expression of this pure Consciousness, therefore everything is connected and Divine. The teaching and practices found in the Tantric scriptures are intended to expand our awareness of this Divinity, not through intellectual understanding but profound experience which shatters our illusion of separation.

To dissolve separation we must balance both the divine masculine and feminine forces, Shiva and Shakti.  A simple way to view these two energies is that Shiva is creativity and Shakti is creation or Shiva is the container within which energy or movement, Shakti, is expressed. A perfect balance of Shiva and Shakti is ultimate freedom. Neo-tantra will often draw on a light understanding of these two energies as key to their teaching, the blissful merging of these two expressions of the Divine.  

Where does Tantra come from and how is it linked to Yoga today?

Yoga, as a set of practices intended to harmonise the body, mind and spirit, dates back to the time of the Buddha. Around 1000 years later Tantra, originating from northern India and peaking around 9th-12th centuries, enriched the system with layers of additional techniques including breathing practices (pranayama), visualisation, recitation (mantra), yoga postures (asana), hand gestures (mudra) and energy work (nadis & chakras). These methods were handed down directly from guru to student offering a pathway to liberation in this lifetime.

The meaning of yoga is most commonly understood as 'union', 'to yoke' or 'join' together – the purpose to dissolve separation between mind, body, spirit and reveal the state of Oneness that lies beneath. Tantra doesn't like to use the word union, as it gives the idea we are going to unite with something we are not already. This ancient spiritual path, is a life-affirming and non-dual (advaita) way of thinking which teaches that the wholeness which we seek is not in the future, but right here within the now.  A good metaphor is the rolling wave in the ocean that sees itself as separate and is searching for the ocean, yet it is and always was the ocean. We are what we seek!
The word Tantra means a vehicle through which to expand, to stretch and grow oneself. The root 'tan', meaning to stretch or expand and 'tra', meaning a device or instrument.  To be a life-affirming path it calls for embodiment and for us to show up fully in each moment of our lives, not to run from what we fear or to hide from our vulnerability and pain. It asks for us to leave behind ideas of good and bad or right and wrong, and to simply acknowledge and see everything as it is. To know the different textures and feelings that move through and around us whilst understand that no type of experience is more divine than the other, all are equal and a part of the greater whole.  

The Tantric Path

There are many paths of study and practice through which to explore Tantra. The following are a few ways that you can bring the Tantric teachings into day-to-day living for a fuller and more truthful experience of life.

10 ways that the teachings of Tantra can open the gateway to greater freedom:

Active participation in life. Tantra is life-affirming; it is a practice of witnessing and accepting what is there before us and saying yes to all of life as it moves within and around us.

Divine play! Never forget the essence of play, when the circumstances are hard, work around the resistance and make it a game, use the challenge to meet your growth edge.

Assess your defensive reactivity. This is usually a good starting place to see where we are fooling ourselves so we can live more truthfully.

Let vulnerability be a gateway to strength. We have all been conditioned too well to hide our softness and put on a brave face. By exploring where you resist or turn away and moving into these spaces you will experience yourself in a new way and find greater freedom in the process.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” - Joseph Campbell

Reclaim yourself.  Find the courage to look deep inside and face thoughts and emotions directly. When we realise that we all have the same potential to feel and act it allows us to start accepting all the parts of ourselves. This also requires a willingness to track down our shadows and face our fears.

Understand how you feel.  Learn to be accountable and responsible for how you feel in a loving and non-judgemental way; it is OK to feel what we feel and by learning to see and name feelings we release them, avoid projection and live more authentically.

Facilitate growth. If we can realise we are here to grow we can ask ourself in every single moment, how can I grow from this experience?
Build a sense of acceptance. The only constant is change and flow, look to where you are resisting and work to bring more receptivity into your life. Suffering arises from gripping and not accepting the impermanence and the dance of life.

Celebrate and accept the manifestation of the Self. It is a privilege and a gift to be alive as human being. Practice gratitude daily and remember how precious this life is. Tantra teaches that the body is a demonstration of divinity, no one shape or form more or less divine than the other. Look to where you are not loving a part of yourself.  Please be gentle and remember, as much of what Tantra calls for, this can be deep and sensitive work and you may need support. 

“Yoga is the dance of who we really are” – Christopher Tompkins

Serve each moment. This is the greatest teaching. Acknowledging not only actions but energy and intention and reflecting moment by moment on how to be of service. This accounts for all of the inner work that Tantra calls for, clearing out space and building strength so that we have stability and courage to celebrate ourSelves and this life in all its light and dark, beauty and pain.

The practice of Tantra is one long confrontation face to face with yourself; a journey of deep transformation, transformation which takes you into the darkness where the pain is real and felt, but through this the light is majestically revealed.

Mischa teaches a heartfelt practice with creative sequencing, a deep focus on breath and alignment and a combination of strong steady flow and longer holds to both uplift and tap into the stillness. She draws her understanding from a number of styles and traditions, particularly inspired by the philosophy and practices of the Tantric lineages. Her classes are woven with philosophy, myth and stories and include music, chanting and ritual.
Mischa also works with Ayurvedic Yoga Massage, a beautiful combination of deep tissue massage with assisted yoga stretches and alignment, and Reiki to support the physical and energetic healing process. She is inspired by the potential of these practices to transform, expand and heal and is committed to her own study and practice as the foundation of her teaching. 
Having been based in London teaching across some of the leading studios she is now a travelling yogini who spends her between Asia and Europe studying, practicing and teaching. Mischa's teaching is passionate and knowledgeable, her intention is to both challenge and restore, holding a space for individuals to open, reflect and absorb and you will be taken on a journey of self inquiry and unfolding.

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