For many people the very word Tantra evokes sexuality, but it’s more than just about what goes on between the sheets. I spoke to expert Tantra teacher, Valentina Leo, to get to grips with this incredible philosophy and practise.
The concept of Tantra refuses to be given an objective, neat definition the way a scientific term does. Instead, when trying to understand Tantra we are forced to go through a process of investigation, which will probably end up with a personal, unique definition of this concept.
And so I ask you to let go of anything you may know about Tantra, and instead to imagine it as a way of life, an attitude, a commitment to being awake and aware in every moment.
Tantra is the nature of reality, it’s a philosophy of freedom. The basis of this says that if you understand reality, then you have more freedom. Freedom to know who you really are. Tantra is inclusive and it answers all the human questions by going deep into your true nature, from how you express yourself – anger is a good example.
Tantra teaches you to stay present in anger if that is your current reality, because by being present, you gain deeper perceptions of who you are and this becomes an entry point into understanding your own immensity. You can find moments of realisation in everything you do – from sex and exercising to driving a car.
Tantra is about bringing full presence to you – of being alive and how you interact with yourself and your body.
Tantra is a path that opens a person up to the possibility that sexuality can be a door to higher states of consciousness. It is possible, through meditation and other kinds of practices, to have access to experiences that are just as ecstatic and fulfilling as the sexual experience.
The way Valentina explains it, Tantra is presented as a conversation between two lovers. The reason being that lovers are open, soft and receptive. The conversation is between the student, the female, and the teacher, the male. She is asking questions from a human perspective.
Breathing is a more important part of Tantra than sex. You need to flow with your breathe – if you can’t be intimate with your own breath, how can you be intimate with another person? Breathing expands your sense of who you are.
Penetrative sex, just getting to that part of lovemaking is often an avoidance of intimacy. Often in penetration, the lovers don’t even look into each others eyes – Tantra teaches you to stay present, alert and receptive in moments of heightened tension because that’s where there is an entry point for more.
Valentina says that the teachings of Tantra have come to the fore as a sexual teaching, but only because humans have huge wounds around sex, and therefore place a huge importance on it.
Society has taught us that sex is the opposite of purity. The church has taught us that it must first be sanctified. Young women are told that sex is evil, but that they must get married and have children. So there is a lot of confusion and guilt around the act of sex and sexuality.
Humans are attracted to a distorted perception of what sex is, which is why, says Valentina, pornography is such a huge industry and why sexual abuse is so prevalent in society. Liberation of sexuality can improve society at large. She says that when Tantra is camouflaged as a sexual teachings, it can take away the true nature of Tantra, which is reality.
“Tantra is about purity of heart. It enables my body to be completely available to receive the penetration of existence. So, the lover is something greater than one person – the lover is the whole universe.”
Valentina says that we receive the philosophy of Tantra through the kiss – breath is the kiss of the divine. Life is with you, it is there for your upliftment. So many people go through life thinking that life is against them. We compete with each other, keep things close to our chests, we close up. There is a struggle in life and this translates to every aspect of life, from money and work, to relationships and sex.
Consider how you feel after making love – your body and mind are open, receptive, soft. Your skin glows and is softer. Intimacy makes you more pliable and open. Your body is aware and this brings a different intelligence into play. Tantra teaches you to relate to life from the perspective of bodymind – as one. Not body and mind, but bodymind. Once you can achieve this, you can make conscious and intelligent decisions for your life – it’s a mystical rapture.
If you look for teaching with a full mind, there’s no space for more knowledge. This is why the
breath is so important. Allowing your vulnerable spaces to meet is what tantric sex is all about,
but it’s also what all of life is about.
This is the classic tantric sex position. The male partner sits cross legged with the female partner sitting on his upper thighs, with her ankles crossed behind his back. The upright position promotes alert awareness and aligns the partner’s chakras, also allowing them to breathe each other’s breathe. And either touch each other’s brows or gaze into the eyes.
Open to All
But Tantra teaches that there is an abundance of everything. There is an abundance of time, resources, teachers. There is enough for everyone. Breath is the first teacher and it is always available. Tantra is a love affair with existence.
It is about being open, aware and receptive. Valentina gives an example of the road outside your home. Instead of thinking, ‘I pay my taxes and so that road should be there,’ rather think of the road as its own amazing thing, for example, ‘I’m so grateful that road is there because then I can receive visitors and I can get to work, etc.’
When you are open and giving, you become more attractive. Taking creates struggle. If your are open, the little trivialities of life are just that, trivialities. You are fulfilled. The way you approach anything affects the way you can harvest energy – the more you give, the more you get.
Tantra teaches you to be aware that you are responsible for your internal movements. You have a choice. Valentina says that our lives are interfered with and education is the first interference. We are born perfect, but what we do in life creates interference. Another word for this is woundedness. Woundedness is not who you are – it is a state of confusion and understanding this allows you to become more open so you can clear away confusion and understand your possibilities. You are an unlimited being. A being of harmony with a constant flow of love and balance.
Enter the gates of ecstasy
Get in touch with your most primal part – using a pinch of sandalwood powder rubbed into your hands, breathe the fragrance in and let it fill your senses. Find five words to describe the scent, this will discipline the mind to focus and open it up to ecstasy. The sense of smell isn’t limited to the nose, it will reveal sensations that infuse your whole body with bliss.
Invitation to Learn
For those of us yet to embark on a tantric spiritual path, it’s perhaps best understood as relayed by Valentina Leo. In her words, “Tantra is essentially the understanding of the immense force we call love. It’s a spiritual science that’s been around for thousands of years, and is still applicable to this day. It’s the artistry of being alive.”
With a background in visual and performing arts, Valentina Leo started her career as a dancer and chose to explore a classical indian style with Odissi. Valentina visited India to learn more about this style of dance, and found herself on a journey of immense transformation. In her regular visits to Orissa over a 10-year span, she spent time studying with a variety of teachers of the tantric tradition, and many hours of academic research into the Tantric lineage of the practice. Valentina befriended a temple priest that became her intimate guide into secluded Tantric temples and traditional sites of worship. He became her personal connection to a Tantric lineage of priests that, to this day, are still the caretakers of some major Temple sites in Bhubaneswar.
“In my individual sessions, I see people who come to me for a host of different reasons. From issue with sexuality to lack of life directions. Too much sexual drive or not enough. Adrenal burnout and the feeling of not-belonging. I teach deep Presence and Embodiment. I coach elders with their changing sexuality as an energy resource, as well as teenagers with the expansive potentials of their creative sexuality. I coach performance artists and acrobats, into
birthing truly authentic performances. I mainly work with seekers of Truth and Lovers that have lost their Loving.”
“In Tantra we don’t believe that anyone can ever be broken because we see everyone in their own innate, fundamental perfection. We simply facilitate a deep remembering of a person’s own fullness. I sometimes refer to myself as a spiritual midwife, helping people to give birth to the love that is already inside them.”
Valentina offers intimate and interactive events that use sexuality and the body as a tool to explore and understand the teachings of Tantra. These typically include Retreats, day workshops, Traditional Tantra Yoga classes, Tandava dance, Touch Work and more.
As Tantra is very much about an understanding of reality, this requires us to be truly present in the moment. Try this mindfulness meditation to cultivate the art of being present. Sit in a comfortable position, but not one in which you are likely to fall asleep. The aim is to keep your mind alert but have a deeply relaxed body as if asleep. Sitting upright is more effective than lying down. Experiment with your posture and take time to set it up. Gently move your mind from being caught up in endless cycles of thinking, toward experiencing the present reality as it is. Because the mind has a natural tendency to think, keep it occupied with a few sensations on which to focus.
Turn your attention to:
Focus on the most obvious sounds you hear; and as your concentration gets sharper, notice more subtle sounds, such as bird calls and distant traffic. Allow them to wash over you, letting go of the sounds that have just passed by and being present to the sounds that arise now.
- Bodily sensations:
Feel your arms resting on your lap, your legs on the chair. Feel your clothes against your skin. Notice any pains, muscle tightness, fluttering in your stomach or anxious feelings, the very things you were trying to avoid. Watch how these sensations shift and change, letting go of them and becoming present to those that arise.
Watch your thoughts arise and pass, without getting caught up in them or feeling that you have to act on them. Allow them to arrive, greet them, and then let leave. Think of watching clouds passing in the sky and you are progressing towards a “blue sky mind” where storm clouds pass and the mind is clear, calm and alert.
Watch the natural changes in your breathing as you become more relaxed. You might notice that your breath starts shallow and fast, but becomes deeper and more regular as you relax more profoundly.