Everything You Need to Know About Tantric Yoga
Wait, is it a sex thing?
Thinking about tantra synonymously with sex is like associating crust synonymously with apple pie. Sure, the crust is part of the apple pie, but it’s certainly not the whole pie! Same concept applies to tantra. “Historically, sex was a very small slice of tantric pie, but Western interpretations of tantra have pushed the other parts of tantra underground in favor of the sexier, bedroom-based ones,” says tantra practitioner and sexual empowerment coach Sarrah Rose of Tantric Activation.
What exactly is tantra?
“At its core tantra is about connecting with your own energy to establish a deeper understanding of yourself,” Rose says. While some of that energy is sexual, not all of it is.
Like the secret ingredient in Grandma’s apple pie recipe, the exact origins of tantra are hard to pin down.
Tanta expert Barbara Carrellas, ACS, AASECT, author of “Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex For The Twenty-First Century” explains why:
“Countless tantric texts were lost during the numerous times throughout history when tantra was driven underground. And other tantra teachings were never committed to writing at all and only transmitted through word of mouth.”
No one knows exactly when tantra began. Some believe the ancient tradition begin around 500 A.D., others say it didn’t come about until the 16th century.
While tantra has evolved over the last thousand years, “tantra is still first and foremost a personal practice of liberation,” according to Carrellas.
It’s a technique that allows you to use energy and go deeper into yourself and experience enlightenment.
What does this have to do with yoga and other meditative practices?
Good Q! Yoga is Sanskrit for “oneness” and is anything that connects you to yourself, says tantra educator Leah Piper of More Love Seminars.
Because tantra is about becoming aware of and whole with oneself, tantra can be yoga, she says.
“Tantric yoga weaves together many yogic and meditative practices to help you get as deep an understanding of yourself as possible, so that you can accept that self,” says Rose.
Tantra yoga may include:
- breath work
- yoga poses
- chakra work
Tantric meditation teacher Hilary Jackendoff with Yoga Wake Up in Los Angeles, California, says it’s an awesome way to explore tantra without a partner and without having sex, or to spend time with yourself.
How is this different from tantra in sexual activity?
Tantric yoga and tantric sex are from two different branches of tantra. Traditional tantra is divided into red tantra and white tantra. White tantra is the solo practice, which incorporate yoga and meditation. Red tantra is the sexual practice. While both use sexual energy, the goal of the two practices is different. The goal of red tantra is to create a deeper bond with a partner, while white tantra is about creating a deeper bond with yourself. While the Western practice of tantra might suggest otherwise, you actually can’t have red tantra without white tantra, according to Piper.
“Red tantra is your opportunity to bring everything you’ve learned in your solo practice into an exchange with a lover,” explains Piper. No solo practice? No way to bring that to a lover.
“Tantric yoga can still make you a better lover,” says Rose, who has used tantric yoga to help people overcome dependence on porn or erotica, premature ejaculation, and erectile dysfunction.
What’s the point of this practice?
Two words: spiritual liberation.
Experts say a regular tantric practice can help you reap the following benefits:
- reduced stress, anxiety, or depression
- better understanding of and love for oneself
- improved sleep quality
- boosted confidence and performance in the bedroom
- improved quality of life
- increased capacity for intimacy
Are there specific postures, or is it more about the approach?
Unlike Bikram yoga, which features the same 26 postures in every class, or Ashtanga which always has the same sequence, every tantra yoga teacher will lead you through a different sequence of movements, meditations, chanting, chakra work, and breath work. Jackendoff explains, “In one tantra yoga [practice] you might hold Downward-Facing Dog while concentrating on the throat pit (a chakra point) [and] mentally repeating a mantra and visualizing energy move through your body with your breath. In another, you might not.”
However, according to Piper, all tantric yoga classes should include these 5 positions:
- side bends
- Forward Folds
Can you do it alone? Should you try it with a partner?
“You can absolutely do it alone. You don’t even need a coach or teacher,” says Rose.
Because the practice requires a very subtle level of awareness, it can be challenging to self-guide. Some experts recommend waiting to practice alone until you understand the principles.
Is this something you can do at home?
Yes! There are various online classes such as SourceTantraYoga, Tantra: The Art of Conscious Loving, Yoga Glo, and Yoga International that allow you to practice without going to a studio.
“If you create a deep inward focus in your home yoga practice — whatever that entails — and feel that your movement is a sacred doorway to direct experience of the Divine, that can qualify as tantric yoga,” says Jackendoff.
If, however, you want to do a deep dive into classical tantra yoga, Rose says, “you’ll want to work one-on-one with a tantra guru.”
What if you want to join a class — what should you look for?
Unlike classes like CrossFit, there’s no ruling body governing who can call their offerings “tantra.”
“Because sex sells, most ‘tantra’ classes only teach the sexual aspect of tantra and ignore the solo, yogic parts,” says Piper.
To find out if the tantric class is legit, ask:
- Are your classes solo or partnered? (Classical tantra yoga should be solo.)
- Are you teaching red or white tantra? (The answer should be white tantra.)
- What is the goal of the class? (The answer should suggest self-growth and self-awareness.)
- Does the class include chanting? (The answer should be yes.)
- What is the teacher’s training? (The teacher should be trained in Hatha yoga, Integral yoga, Kundalini yoga, and tantra.)
Where can you learn more?
There are so many sources that “you could spend the rest of your life studying the history and many philosophies of tantra,” says Carrellas. Though, you don’t need to — unless you want to, of course.
Start by reading one or two of these popular tantric yoga texts, all of which you can buy online:
- “The Radiance Sutras“
- “Tantra: Path of Ecstasy“
- “Tantra Illuminated“
- “The Yoga of Light: Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika“
- “Shiva Samhita: A Classical Text on Yoga and Tantra“
- “The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy, and Practice“
You can also check out the websites of the tantric experts we cite throughout this article.