— I very nearly didn’t write this: the topic was rather difficult for me. But sometimes, things need to be said, a voice wants to be heard. And sometimes, the more your mind resists your heart’s desire for openness, the more you need to push back, with all your strength, and fight to let yourself just be you… —
This post is for many people. It is for those who have poked their heads around the well-being scene, come across the word “Tantra”, and then, after some frantic Googling, become puzzled as to what any events prefixed by this word might specifically involve. It is for those who feel, for whatever reason, uncomfortable with expressing themselves and uncomfortable in their bodies: whether or not that discomfort has any link with sex or sexuality. Perhaps, as I write this from a personal and feminine perspective, it is for women: particularly those who have felt trapped in their relationships, unable to express their desires, or caught in the “mould” that they feel society has formed for them. But, I hope that whoever is reading, will find something useful in my sharing, and feel armed with the confidence to explore the world of Tantra – if that is where the heart leads.
I’ve wanted to write about Tantra ever since my first experience of it at a festival, which brought about a profound shift in my relationship with my own body, and my relationships and connections with others. But it took a while until I was comfortable enough to write this article: because irrespective of how I act in private, saying certain things in public, in a society that can be judgmental and isolating, is another matter.
Yet in a peculiar way, as my reluctance built up, I realised more and more the importance of breaking past this resistance: to defy those rules embedded in my mind and the detrimental perceptions which prevented me from truly being comfortable with myself. Also, from speaking with others (women in particular), I realised that many of the fears and discomforts I had about my body were certainly not unique. So, I finally decided that I wanted to reach out and share my experiences.
I remember how terrified I was the day before I actually showed up at that Tantra festival. I had absolutely no clue what to expect, and my heart thumped wildly with the growing concern that I’d find myself in the middle of a hippy orgy, feeling very, very out of place. The reason why I wanted to explore Tantra was because I’d read about its potential to heal the mind and body from negative experiences and trapped tensions, and promote the ability to open up, trust, and build positive connections with other human beings. I was in a vulnerable place, and the last thing I wanted was to do was to take my clothes off in front of a stranger.
So what led me to wake up early on a Saturday morning and drag myself there, despite being so unwilling? I suppose there were three main reasons.
Firstly, I’ve had a negative relationship with my body for a long time: in terms of how I perceive, treat, objectify and judge myself. Part of this is having a deep-rooted difficulty of feeling normal with, and expressing, sexual desire. I’ve been ashamed of many things about myself; things that, I’m told, in a progressive modern society I should not be ashamed about. Yet still, despite my rational mind saying one thing, it can be difficult to normalise deep-set opinions that we’ve stewed in after climbing into a box, moulded by society. No matter the progressive steps that society has taken, there is still a long way to go.
Secondly, my negative perceptions of myself were impacting my relationships and connections with other people. At the less extreme side of the scale, I was afraid of showing any part of me that I perceived as weak or vulnerable; I was afraid of trusting, of opening myself up, and building deep and genuine friendships. I had friends, but even with those friends who I did manage to confide in, I was only able to do this after psyching myself up with immense levels of effort that just did not seem normal.
At the more extreme side, I was very suspicious and afraid when it came to men: irrespective of the fact I was in a positive relationship with a loving partner, who gave me no reason to fear anything. I knew where this mistrust had come from, and I knew that I no longer had anything to fear, but however much I tried to rationalise myself to move beyond those fears, the fact was that they remained.
Finally, and this is where I get very personal, to put it simply I stopped enjoying sex; or rather realised that I had never really enjoyed myself. But there came a point when things had gone from just average, to bad, to worse. I simply had to find a way of stopping those intimate moments becoming a source of tension and anxiety: at times I should have felt happy, I didn’t feel safe in my bed. When the sun went down, shadows darker than the night sprang up. This wasn’t a sustainable state of affairs.
So I had three aims, going into that festival. I wanted to tackle my negative self-perception; my inability to open up to others; and finally I wanted to actually be able to enjoy myself in ways that I thought surely most adults did. Dear reader, you may have experienced all or none of those things; you may have experienced feelings darker or brighter on the spectrum. But I think these three things are things which we may all, in some way or another, relate to. Since I have now tackled those blockades preventing me from confiding in others, I have spoken with a number of women and men who have negative perceptions about themselves, and with many who find it difficult to open up and to trust. I also came across a TED talk given by Peggy Orenstein in which she discussed the “orgasm gap” – despite young women feeling empowered to engage in sexual activity, many not feeling able to actually enjoy it.
So – what is Tantra, and what can it do for self-perception, for connections with others, and in the end, for pleasure?
Tantra encompasses many things: not just hour-long-sex. It includes clothed exercises both individual and with a partner, such as breath-work, eye-gazing, yoga, and (non-sexual) massage; as well as more intimate activities.
In terms of self-perception, Tantra is all about first connecting deeply with your body and your heart, your needs and desires. It can therefore be a powerful tool for self-exploration. Even doing partner exercises can help you learn about yourself. Eye-gazing with a stranger may open things up within your own heart, press at your boundaries, and encourage you to explore and play at the edges of those boundaries. Are your boundaries positive limits that you’ve consciously set for yourself? Or have you allowed yourself to be trapped by what you feel you’re supposed to be, what society has told you to be? Tantra has helped me to explore the perceptions I have about myself, and to work on developing a more positive relationship with my body.
Next: connection. There is something beautiful about working with a stranger, sharing a moment of transcendental consciousness that helps you to both open up and voice your feelings (which may or may not be sexual, and may or may not be about that other person). And I learnt something very profound about emotion and connection: there is nothing wrong with feeling certain things, and there is nothing to be ashamed of in expressing those feelings to others. The main thing is to be respectful, and to appreciate that other people may have limits different to yours. So long as you don’t push your particular view down anyone else’s throat, there’s no problem (in my opinion) of speaking out.
We live in a society that encourages silence and fosters disconnect at a personal level: we hide behind masks, we hide behind screens, we (women) cover our faces with make-up (literally and metaphorically), we dress the same, hiding behind professionalism, in suits that are straightjackets, containing our identities. We conform. Often, we bite our tongues and don’t speak our mind, because we are afraid of what other people might think and how other people might react. Not only do we lose touch with ourselves, as we forget who we really are beneath the disguise, but we lose touch with one another. All this stiff silence, is it any wonder that many experience feelings of isolation and loneliness, and a lack of genuine connection, despite being surrounded by people? Tantra helped me to tackle this: it quite literally opened my heart up, helped me to communicate, and build beautiful bonds.
As to the final thing that I was in pursuit of: well, I’ll leave it to you to judge from the tone of this article, and the reason why I want to share my story, to imagine how Tantra has helped in that latter regard. Thinking about it logically, it makes sense that once we’ve tackled our own insecurities and negative perceptions about our bodies, and then strengthened our ability to communicate with others, we can relax into a much more natural state of being where heightened pleasure is much more easily attained.
So if you are curious, then here is my advice.
Firstly, know that you can experiment with Tantra either with a partner or by yourself: even if you are in a monogamous relationship. As I said, a wellbeing event that includes the word “Tantra” may not involve any nudity, let alone sexual touching or sex. But, it must be said: every event is different. If you’re interested in exploring, do make sure you get information, as best as you can, about what you’re going to – particularly if you have any fears or concerns. You might decide to go with a friend, or start with events for members of the same sex, whatever makes you comfortable. And if you are in a relationship, then do communicate and talk about boundaries and comfort zones; needless to say, honesty and openness with each other is the most important thing.
To start with a little self-exploration, I recommend Seth Newman’s Tantric Trance Dance (http://www.urubu.com/tantric-trance-dance/) – which is nothing to do with other people. Everyone wears a blindfold and the focus is on connecting with your own inner wildness and desire.
The guys over at WooWoo London are also fans of Togetherness, which is a London based company that host dynamic events that explore relationships and human connection (https://www.togethernesslondon.com/).
A good way to explore different Tantric activities, and find out what might be right for you, is at a festival. I went to this one (http://tantrafestivals.co.uk), which takes place yearly in London. On one hand, a festival is great because you can dip your toes into a range of events, easily slip out of a session if it is not quite suited to you, and meet people from various different backgrounds with differing levels of experience. On the other hand, if you are looking for a more private and intimate space, it may not be the best place to start.
She is also part of the WooWoo family and regularly attends events in the London wellbeing scene.
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