How did I find myself at a tantric yoga workshop this weekend?
Several weeks ago, one of my yoga teachers, Kim Wilcox, read a beautiful passage at the top of our yoga practice, during pranayama. The words reverberated with me so strongly, I asked her about the author immediately after that practice. She told me it came from Rod Stryker, whom she considered a “real deal” master teacher.
I told her that I’d never heard of him. She told me that he was coming to Chicago in a few weeks to lead a workshop on tantric yoga.
I signed up that night.
Upon telling a few friends about this event, most immediately went for the obvious: So will you learn how to improve sex? Anytime I’ve ever spoken the words “tantra” or “tantric” — even before signing up for this workshop — the conversation has inevitably included the themes of sex and/or Sting.
I knew there was more beneath the surface of this ancient philosophy and practice, and that this Western fixation on sexual gratification was a distortion. But I could never speak intelligently on it. The workshop would give me a chance to explore it in an experiential way …
Truthfully, I’m not much clearer on what tantric yoga is — exactly — after this workshop. I guess that would have been a lofty expectation on my part. Rod threw a lot of philosophy and methodology at us. It wasn’t frustrating. It was intriguing and challenging, and gives me the first few breadcrumbs to explore the path further. I am reading his book, “The Four Desires,” right now — and that is helping to crystallize things a bit more.
My biggest “big theme” take away from the workshop, coupled with reading the first few chapters of his book: Tantra is a system by which you can weave spirituality into everyday life. The spiritual world and the material world have no distinction. It’s not about perfecting meditation or asana or channeling shakti in private. The measuring stick of “success” among the tantrics comes with the quality of your life — are you approaching dharma (soul’s purpose), artha (means necessary to accomplish dharma), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation from boundaries) within your life in a meaningful and appropriate way?
I love this basic overview of tantra. And — surprise! — it doesn’t emphasize kinky sex and crazy orgies at all. Us Westerners have a penchant for throwing our minds in the gutter.
Here is a snapshot of the workshop weekend …
Evening One: Guided Meditation
We meditated for one hour. But it felt like five minutes. Time stood still. It was amazing. I don’t think I’ve meditated that long ever. Now that I know it’s possible, and that I can do it, I won’t be so “scared” to try it again.
Day Two: “The Seven Auspicious Practices”
I really enjoyed this day. It was the first time I introduced bandhas so vigorously into an entire practice.
- “Yoga minimizes patterns that don’t serve us, and maximizes those that do.”
- The 7 “auspicious” practices are:
- Physical Purity: When the body is functioning well, the mind has a better ability to process and see clearly and the body has more energy. Practicing the kriyas enhances this.
- Sthiram (Stability): Be steady in your body, mind and practice. With steadiness, you are better equipped to handle the changes of life and adapt. The tool is asana.
- Vridhata (Determination): Without this, progress is not possible. The tool is mudra.
- Langhanam (Lightness): Freedom and ease will keep you from feeling weighed down. The tool is pranayama.
- Dhairya (Patience): Patience is how we deal with the gap of wanting things and having them. Can you balance patience with determination?
- Pratyaksham (Direct Seeing): Ability to see the Self and the Truth, without identifying either as the exterior that constantly changes.
- Detachment: Clinging to desires is dangerous. Avoid clinging to anything.
- We spent a lot of time on sthiram/steadiness. In asana, Rod recommended holding poses longer; doing fewer poses; stop micro-adjusting so much while in the pose; and emphasizing the breath more. He actually likened all of the cues for alignment and adjusting as “wiggling around” and not giving the body a chance to sink into the pose fully. It was a funny realization — I’ll definitely be more mindful of this in my own practices and teaching.
- “Use asana to perfect the breath.” Rod said that you can be a brilliant Cirque du Soleil performer, gymnast or ballerina — meaning, you have mastery over the physical body — but still have a personality ripe for freaking out. Why? No attention to breath.
- “If you’re forgetting the ‘unimportant’ things, there is a good chance that you’re forgetting the important things.”
- We applied bandhas and mudras throughout the asana, which definitely added a new level of intensity. It forced us to confront our lack of stability, and stay focused. We held locust and bow poses for 2 minutes! And Warrior III for 1 minute! The last 30 seconds were always a killer, with my mind zipping every which way and screaming to give up — but I focused on the breath and found determination to hold on.
Day Three: “Kundalini Shakti”
This day, frankly, confused me. And left me sore in the abs/belly, given all of the bandhas we incorporated into our practice. (Especially after the vigorous previous day!) I’ve never done so much uddiyana bandha work in my life. See photo below, if you’re unfamiliar with this technique.
- There is a jewel (mani) within our heart, locked in a glass box. It shines bright. But that light is obscured by dust that clouds our true nature. That dust is made up of our samscaras, our doubt and our misappropriated choices.
- Through tantra yoga, we seek to awaken the kundalini shakti — the realm of being asleep within most of us — by shaping the prana shakti.
- “Our goal in yoga is to become more awake to what we are asleep to.”
- We need to do this slowly and mindfully, as if we awaken everything in an accelerated way, it will shake up everything in our unconscious nature, including undigested pain, and become overwhelming.
- Kundalini: “Kunda” = fire bowl, fire put & “Lini” = she who dwells. Shakti: power. Yogi: that which animates yoga and shakti.
- Chanting while in posture, while moving and breathing (i.e. bringing our hands up in down in tadasana) added a new layer of focus that enhanced the experience.
- Don’t teach or share without assimilating new concepts into your own practice. You need to understand the concept and feel it making a significant impact in your own life, so that when taught, it comes from a place of integrity and experience.