I’ve been practicing yoga now for over 20 years. It’s a big part of my life, has changed me for the better (and continues to), and is something I am passionate about both as a student and teacher. A few years ago, I started practicing Tantric Hatha, and that change became greater, stronger and my worldview broader and more balanced. Yoga is so much more than Asana, the physical postures of Hatha yoga, and has little to do with exercise, although you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise in our social media, Instagram post-it world.
The beautiful thing about Tantra, is that it allows us to see all of life as beautiful. It allows, actually demands, that we see the beauty in the shadows, in the not so good and in the downright bad. It embraces all of our messy lives, and gives us tools to access and harness the innate energy and power we have inside ourselves. Being a non-dualistic philosophy, it sees us as part of the Universal Consciousness, connected to everyone and everything, including God/the Divine/Universe. Indeed, we are all one, and 100% pure unconditional love.
The Tantra I’m talking about is not about sex. It’s not about staring into your partners eyes in a room full of others ‘connecting’ your sexual energy together while off your head on hallucinogens. It’s not about communing with the dead or intoxicants or any of that other stuff that is usually associated with this path. The Tantra I am talking about here, is from the Misra or Mixed school of Tantric philosophy. It combines the right handed path of Kaula Tantra which focuses on ritual e.g asana, pranayama, bandha and mudra, mantra, puja etc with the Samaya school which focuses on meditation and Kundalini. It is the science of energy management. This is true Tantra. This is the Tantra that allows you to find and then fulfil your true potential. No dead bodies or genitals required.
In a world where spirituality has become a commodity, a trend, Tantra guides us back to tradition. Guides us back to ourselves and to each other. By using Asana for specific energetic purposes we begin initially to cultivate stability and calmness of both energy and mind through the use of forward folds and gentle twists, long exhalations and pranayama that activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Once established, we begin to bring in Prana – life force – by practicing backbends and lateral postures such as Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), long inhalations, mudra and bandha (energy gestures and locks) and breath retention. And finally, once we have cultivated inner expansiveness and awareness of Prana, we can begin to stoke the inner fire, and awaken Kundalini and embrace our greatness.
It is a systematic practice, and requires the practitioner to follow the steps, and to do the hard work. It is not all about asana, and beautiful flows. It is also deliberate cultivation and shaping of the breath through pranayama exercises, and most importantly, it is about meditation. This is the crowning jewel, this is why we do asana to start with, so we can sit for extended periods of time in meditation, because it is in this practice that we connect to Source, to our true inner, unchangeable Self. To practice otherwise will create imbalance and increase ego. You only have to look at the spate of yoga teachers embroiled in controversies whose practices have been focused on solar aspects and little or no moon, to see the effect of not cultivating stability and calmness before generating prana. And asana alone might give you that ultimate yoga body, but it won’t realise any true change. Yoga without mediation and the deeper aspects of the practice is just exercise.
This systematic progression creates a body and mind focused, clear, stable and calm. We begin to realise our purpose, realise our connectedness to each other and to everything around us. We realise our connection to the Divine, because it is us. Seeing life as wonderful rather than as suffering gives us permission to explore the shadow side of ourselves and of life, and from here, we can begin to overcome self-limiting beliefs, become more self-aware and ultimately transform into the best version of ourselves. Looking at the shadows, at those parts of ourselves we may not like or try to deny, is not easy work. It takes effort to allow ourselves to see them. It is easy to push them back down when they rise to the surface or to continue to live in denial of them. But deeply looking at our more unpleasant aspects allows us to fully embrace all of who we are, and it allows us to give love and compassion to ourselves so we may more fully evolve. We no longer need to hide from negative emotions, or traits we don’t like, but can explore and learn from them. Becoming more aware of emotions as they rise and having the ability to look at them dispassionately, helps us to realise our trigger points but also, more importantly, we learn to not to collapse into our emotions, both the good and bad. Allowing the emotion to arise, recognising it, seeing it for what it is and then releasing means we don’t continue to tell ourselves stories that feed the emotion, or become reliant on it. If you can realise that any emotion whether it be anger or sadness or happiness and joy, is only transitory, then you stop being so invested in it and begin to move through life with more ease and grace. These tools and this allowance that Tantra gives us is truly life changing and liberating, and one of the reasons I am so passionate about the tradition.
Have a look at how your practice makes you feel. If the good vibes only last for a short time once you're off your mat, think about changing the way you practice. Maybe that hot yoga flow, or dynamic style your practicing isn't serving you and you need to slow down. Maybe it's actually making you more agitated in the long run. Or perhaps you're practice is actually draining you of energy. Observe, and be the silent witness. Slow down. Breathe. Meditate. Find and own your shadows. Stop thinking of yoga as part of your exercise program. If your yoga is shredding you, you ain’t doing yoga. Delve deeply into your heart, mind and soul. Beautiful flows are wonderful and give instant gratification, but also do the hard work. Believe me, you won’t regret it.