With a clear mind and an open heart, I traveled from New York City to Boston for a tantra yoga retreat, ready to partake in three days of emotional and physical sexual education.
This was my first introduction to tantra and, although I had done some research, I feel like one can never be fully prepared for what will happen in seminars like these. Different scenarios raced through my mind: “Is this a cult?” “How much yoga will be incorporated?” “How much sex technique?” “Can I trust a complete group of strangers enough to be present and vulnerable?”
Tantra — tan meaning expansion and tra meaning weaving together — is the practice of self-love that goes deeper than sex: The secret of tantra and the goal of sex is love. It includes techniques of nurturing the body and mind, moving blocked energy and a deep understanding of the transmission of energy. Tantra is especially important in letting go of emotional, psychological and sexual traumas. The guilt and shame society and our families can imprint on us often gets in the way of our ability to create intimacy, connect with a partner and/or receive pleasure. And in this way, tantra is the practice of unlearning and relearning.
Charles Muir is a key figurehead in the Tantra movement in the U.S., developing many techniques and practices that have been popularized today. Muir, 72, grew up in New York City. At the age of 12 he was inducted into a gang in the Bronx, and at 18 he met a guru and joined an ashram after he discovered a book of yoga on the train. Shortly after, he won the first prize at the New York Lottery — and he packed up his things and headed west to California, where he has resided ever since. People know his name far and wide and travel long distances (not to mention pay a hefty sum) for the opportunity to be their pupil and soak up his knowledge.
I was invited on this trip by the Source School of Tantra Yoga for their beginners weekend seminar. (The Source School of Tantra Yoga was founded by Muir in 1978.) Muir is retiring soon due to health concerns, so I am honored to have the privilege of experiencing his practices first-hand. Also leading the group is his co-teacher, Leah Alchin Piper. Piper — an advanced certified tantra educator — has been teaching at the School of Tantra with Muir since 2004. And as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, she is an advocate of tantra for sexual healing and has her own private practice, More Love Mentor.
The group was made up of couples and singles from late 20s to early 60s composed of all different ethnicities and body types. At 27 years old, I was the youngest person at the seminar. I attended as a single and found the experience to be very beneficial in releasing romantic wounds and setting intentions for future romantic partners (however, I would totally revisit it with a partner!). Despite tantra being a fairly heteronormative practice (i.e. male/female cisgendered partners representing the yin (female) and yang (masculine) energies), Piper did an excellent job of trying to make the experience more inclusive to genders and sexual identities that exist outside of heterosexuality. As someone who does not identify solely with these narratives, it meant a lot to me — the practice of tantra is not gender-specific, it is rooted in energy and love.
Friday, Day 1: Breathing Techniques and Intentions Behind Sex
The brain is a person’s biggest sex organ and it is important for us to use our minds powerfully in the bedroom. One of the first things we learned at the Friday night class was different breathing techniques. Connecting to your breath helps quiet the mind; a form of meditation. With couples, breathing together focuses on connectivity and increases intimacy. Tantra is also the process of coming more alive – it helps keep us young. We are taught pleasure is “God’s” gift to us. And while so many of us are deprived of pleasure, tantra empowers our personal eroticism.
Tantra teachings focus mainly on opening our chakras. This is especially important because our bodies store stress and by opening our chakras we are moving our blocked energies. For example, have you ever tried to say something in an emotional moment, but your throat swelled up and made it difficult? That is an example of blockage in the throat chakra. Using these tantra practices helps us identify where we have blockages and gives us the tools to release them. Clearing these pathways allows our body more circuitry for pleasure to flow through us.
If you want to be a lover, you have to take care of your body; it is your only partner for life.
Next, we learned about the pubococcygeus muscles (PC muscles), aka the love muscles, and how to use them to our advantage. Have you ever heard of kegels? That is your PC muscle in action. We practiced taking deep, full breaths while clenching and releasing our PC muscles. Who says you have to go to the gym to train? There are many benefits, not only sexually, but in terms of wellness that come from strengthening the PC muscles. Another way to exercise these muscles is while you are peeing: stop and start your pee stream (this was our first homework). It is a lot harder than you think!
Another central ideology of tantra examines the intentions behind sex. Nowadays, it seems like everyone is in a rush to penetrate, orgasm and be done with sex. It has become a national epidemic and turns making love into an impersonal act. Are we having sex to cum or are we having sex for pleasure? A lot of the sex that’s showed to us in porn and media is purely penetrative with little foreplay. Tantra introduces us to elements like depth, speed and angle of entry. This movement (and even the act of stillness) shows us sex is more than just the in-and-out. Sex is a love dance! When energy is flowing between the partners, (or solo) pleasure is taken to new heights. If you want to be a lover, you have to take care of your body; it’s your only partner for life.
Saturday, Day 2: Emotional Intimacy Exercises
The second day of the retreat was grounded in emotional intimacy exercises and absorbing knowledge about female anatomy, specifically concerning our sacred spot, which is located next to the G-spot. Charles and Leah spoke about how important it is to get in touch with the vulva. The more blood and consciousness we can bring to our vulva, the healthier our reproductive energy will be. One way we can do this is with our breath techniques. It is possible to orgasm from breathing and contracting alone!
Women tend to short-circuit their orgasms by forgetting to breathe, thus, holding their breath. This cuts off circulation of oxygen to our vulva and keeps us from achieving release. When you see the door to orgasm, take deep breaths! Breathing through our orgasms and climbing the peaks of pleasure enables us to feel our orgasm throughout our entire body. As long as you can breathe in, the orgasm can continue. Connective breath will carry you over the edge and into mind-blowing ecstasy. It is especially recommended that we make a sound (like ‘Ahhhhhh’) as we exhale, as sound accentuates the orgasm.
For men who cum quickly, struggle with premature ejaculation, or are interested in learning to control their orgasms, we learned about edging techniques like the squeeze. Benefits of edging are being able to last longer during sex and stronger orgasms. Many of these practices incorporate a man’s prostate, but what about men with no prostate? Turns out they are not missing out at all! In fact, men with no prostate can also achieve multiple orgasms.
We also did connective intimacy exercises that were very healing. Letting go of our traumas is essential in making way for new healing energy. There was a lot of eye contact — necessary in creating intimacy— involved, which was uncomfortable at first (especially with strangers!) but grew easier and easier to do. We partnered up and asked each other questions like, “What are you afraid I might see?” I started crying immediately when the question was prompted to me. I thought about all the people who had hurt me and taken advantage of my love and kindness. It was a wonderful release. It is rare that we have the privilege of creating and holding space for such awesome vulnerability — it was extremely empowering.
Sunday, Day 3: Sacred Spot Ritual
The last day we learned two rituals to perform with partners or solo. Sacred spot ritual focuses on the woman (yin-identifying energies). This ritual is centered around holding space for women to receive pleasure solely, without returning the favor to her partner. It is an act of devotion (from the partner) to her divine goddess and is a practice of letting go of control. Before the ritual begins, it is important to go over her boundaries, fears, and desires (also known as BFDs). These intentions help hold the space for pleasure and connectivity. The physical technique places emphasis on massage and hand play that is similar to the “come hither” movement of squirting. It is not recommended that the partner do any oral or genital-to-genital sex. There are usually about three rounds of play where it is highly encouraged the woman have multiple clitoral orgasms.
The male (yang-identifying energies) ritual is another practice in exotic hand-assisted techniques. It is an opportunity to selflessly show love to a man physically, without receiving anything in return. Again, it is important to identify his BFDs, creating space for positively intentional pleasure. There are three main techniques used to honor a man in this way: “Holding the Wand,” “Tapping” and “Churning Butter.” (I encourage everyone who’s interested in learning more about these practices to look up tantra teachings in your immediate communities or researching online. There is an abundance of resources, sermons and instructional videos that are available to introduce you to tantra and transform you into a better lover.)
Through these acts and more, we can stabilize our sex drive by practicing daily and with purpose, making a connective choice to sync our chakras, embrace our bodies with love, and stimulate, nurture and nourish our sexuality. Setting intentions when making love increases passion between partners and is a gateway to consciousness. In this way, we are manifesting sex magic; charging each other up with positive sexual intent. The tantra mindset supports having sex not to cum but purely to love each other. This allows for a higher capacity to feel love, pleasure, youthfulness and creativity. My experience at the Source School of Tantra Yoga was nothing less than extraordinarily empowering, and I am grateful for the opportunity to choose something different.
Shelby Sells is a sexologist, writer, photographer, and cinematographer based in NYC. Her work is centered around the intersection of love, sex and relationships. She aims to liberate sexual prowess through these mediums and educate her audience through emotional intelligence and awareness. She is finishing her degree in psychology with a human sexuality focus.
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