From famous celebrities like David Beckham to the soccer mom next door, yoga offers something for everyone. However, there are many different practices of yoga, targeting a wide range of spiritual, mental, and physical benefits. Unfortunately, a number of these practices, including traditional tantra, is virtually unknown to the general public.
Tantra, in particular, has been long shrouded in mystery because its practices were passed down orally from teacher to student. It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century when devoted teachers began teaching classes in the West as a way to preserve the tantric tradition.
So, just what is this mystical practice and how is it different from other forms of yoga? Perhaps the main difference is that many yoga practices today, such as Kundalini, Ashtanga, and Bikram, tend to focus on the physical and athletic benefits of yoga.
Traditional tantra is one of the few remaining practices that seeks to preserve the concept of deep introspection and personal experimentation, rather than a step-by-step guide of asanas (poses) or workouts. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that tantra is a philosophy rather than a practice. However, there are specific exercises that can help you tap into the divine energy that’s inside each and every one of us.
Here are 3 simple, yet powerful tantric exercises that you can incorporate into your daily life. Along with spiritual awareness, these asanas have numerous health benefits, including increased blood flow, improved respiration, and stress reduction.
1) Bhastrika (Bellows Breath)
Sit cross-legged with your hands gently placed over your lower belly. Then, breathe in and out vigorously, moving the belly out on the inhale and drawing it back in on the exhale. As you exhale, focus on feeling your pelvic floor lift up, and the blood flow increasing in that region. After 27 breaths, inhale deeply and clamp the muscles in your lower abdomen as you gently lift and lower your head 5 times. Finish by releasing your stomach muscles, then place your palms face up on your thighs and slowly release the breath.
2) Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Stand tall and straight with your arms by your side and your feet hip-width apart. Then, lift the lower abdomen, broaden your chest, and bring the arms straight up overhead as you inhale. Focus on the breath filling and opening the space in your upper chest and back. On the exhale, lower the arms as you focus on contracting your belly button and rolling your lower abdomen inward. Repeat the pose 5 to 6 times.
3) Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Lie on your back with your heels slightly wider than your hips. Place the arms naturally by your side with the palms facing up. While breathing slowly and evenly, allow the muscles in your face and body to relax, followed by your mind. Continue to breathe evenly for 3 to 8 minutes as you maintain the state of being fully conscious yet completely relaxed.
Despite the efforts to keep the practice as pure as possible, tantra is no stranger to modern day misconceptions. The biggest misconception is that tantra is a series of sexual acts or exercises aimed at improving your sex life. In truth, tantra is about spiritual ecstasy, which is achieved when you transcend the limitations of your body and mind. While tantric practices can have sexual benefits, limiting its meaning to “just sex” is a disservice to one of the most important spiritual traditions of India.
Instead, tantra should be viewed as a universal, basic, and accessible yoga practice that attempts to unify all the different aspects of your being - the physical, mental, and spiritual. Rather than trying to achieve a fixed goal of who you should be or what you should look like, tantra is the quiet journey inward, and the eventual ecstasy of uncovering your true self.