What is Tantra? An introduction

What is Tantra? An introduction

So what is this mysterious thing called tantra? We break down the basics, squash the misconceptions (psst! it's not all about sex!) and share how tantra can improve your connection to self.

By: Starielle Hope

Recently, when I brought up my experience with tantric sex to a friend she immediately scoffed and said, “Oh yeah where people just stare into each other’s eyes for hours and when they finally do have sex the men don’t orgasm. Ugh who has time for that?”

While “tantra” and “tantric sex” have become more common topics of articles and conversation over the past decade, this conversation helped me realize there is still a lot of confusion about what tantric sex is and why people who practice it keep doing so.

I want to be clear that this article is not about Classic Tantra or a history of Tantric texts. I am not anything resembling an expert in these topics. If you’re interested in learning about classical tantra I highly recommend the book Tantra Illuminated by Christopher D Wallis. 

The type of Tantra I will be writing about today is often colloquially called “Tantra” today, but is actually Western Neo-Tantra. Margot Anand, often credited as being one of the key teachers who brought Neo-Tantra to Europe and the US, studied under Osho in Poona, India in the 1970s before bringing the work to Western students. I personally learned about Tantra through Margot Anand’s lineage and teachings.

For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to Western Neo-Tantra simply as “Tantra” moving forward.

So what is Tantra?

In the most basic terms, Tantra is the practice of intentionally building sexual energy and moving that energy throughout our bodies, either on our own through self-pleasure, or with a partner.

During the process of building and moving this energy, we become more aware of how it flows in our bodies in general, often finding places inside our bodies that feel like a “block” or somewhere the energy is not able to flow freely. We then “process” or “move” the energy that is stuck in that block so it can flow freely once again.

This is not so different from a knot that occurs in one of our muscles as a result of tension. With “attention” to the knot and “intention” to release the tension, we can massage out that knot and return to a state of healthy, relaxed muscle.

In Tantra, we believe these energetic blocks are the result of past pain, survival patterns that no longer serve us, and unprocessed grief. Further, we believe in intentionally building and moving sexual energy and experiencing pleasure as a way to clear memories of painful experiences, bring consciousness to old unconscious patterns, and allow old grief to be processed and freed from our bodies.

Part of what motivated me to seek out my first Tantric workshop was that, years before - in my early twenties - I had started experiencing intense pain during sex. It continued to become worse and worse. I went to all sorts of doctors and specialists but no one had an answer for me, except for one doctor who offered to surgically remove the part of my vulva that was painful… Um, no thank you, I think I’ll get a second opinion.

About 7 years after the pain first started, I found myself in an incredible women’s retreat in Bali facilitated by three amazing women. In this retreat we learned about the ways our body communicates with us, particularly our pussies. I finally realized that all this time my pussy was trying to tell me that I wasn’t honoring my sexuality and my body, I wasn’t honoring her and I was making choices to engage in sexual relationships that were not serving me.

The pain was her voice, and as I continued to ignore the pain, she had to raise her voice louder and louder.

Once I began to understand how powerful my body’s wisdom could be, and knowing this was directly related to my sexuality, I sought out tantra to continue to develop my connection to my body and my pussy.

Simply realizing that powerful information lay inside of my physical body, not just in my mind, was a major turning point for me. I had always done well in school and been rewarded for my logical and analytical thinking. Now, as an adult, I began to realize that my body held all of this information that my logical brain simply could not access.

The process of honing my ability to be aware of how energy is moving inside of my body through tantra has been a big piece of learning how to communicate with my physical body. By being more in touch with my body I am able to recognize something is feeling off (rather than trying to push through it as I used to), and then give myself the permission to move and process that energy. This is what ultimately has empowered me to heal my sexual pain and open myself up to sexual pleasure and arousal once again.

Here’s an example of what this might look like for me:

During a sexual experience with my partner I notice that I’m not becoming as aroused as I normally would. I start to breathe deeply and scan my physical body to look for any feelings of resistance. For me this often shows up as numbness, feeling closed or blocked off, or tension. 

This time, as I’m breathing I notice a tightness in my chest, and a closed-off feeling around my heart. I stay with that closed feeling, breathing into it more deeply, and gently asking it to reveal what’s going on. Sometimes it is instant, sometimes it can take up to an hour, but eventually whatever is going on in my body will pop into my head. 

Many times for me, this is my heart telling me that I need to speak with my partner about something that I was trying to avoid or not make a big deal out of. Every time, as soon as I talk with him about whatever it was, my body relaxes and becomes much more easily aroused.

One of the many reasons Tantra is often considered as helping people have better sex is that as these energetic blocks are cleared, people can generate and hold more sexual energy inside of their bodies, leading to more sexual pleasure as well as increased vibrancy and vitality in general.

This is a process that is easy to learn yet can be challenging to master. To start, I recommend checking in with your physical body throughout the day. Start in the morning with a five minute body scan meditation to establish a baseline. You will be looking for any physical sensations in your body. Some examples include: Feeling closed or open, tightness, lightness, warmth, a tingly sensation, expansion or contraction, sharpness, numbness. These are only a small sample of what you might experience. 

Once you’ve established what your body normally feels like, start to notice how your body reacts to experiences throughout your day. How does your body feel if someone cuts you off in traffic? Or your lover surprises you with flowers? Or your boss calls you into her office?

Staying in touch with physical sensations in your body during these obviously positive or negative experiences will help you develop awareness of more subtle sensations that happen in your body when something feels off but you don’t know what or why.

Ready to bring what you’ve learned into the bedroom? Stay tuned for my next post!


Photo by Isabella Bejarano