The Secret World of Tantric Hatha Yoga
Most people are familiar with yoga, and some people are aware that there are different types of yoga. But what does yoga have to do with Tantra? Isn’t Tantra all about eye gazing and tea light candles and spicing up your sex life? How can hatha yoga be “Tantric”?
What Is Hatha Yoga?
The word “yoga” literally translates as “yoke” – that thing that joins the necks of the oxen together when they pull a cart. It is a metaphor for “union”, the joining together of two things, usually opposites of some kind.
“Hatha” is made up of two Sanskrit words, “ha” (the sun) and “tha” (the moon). The sun represents action, movement, and heat, while the moon represents rest, healing, and coolness.
“Hatha yoga is an ancient science, devoted to bringing the body into a state of balance, where it is possible to act in a state of complete calm.”
Ancient martial arts also aim to achieve this state of perfect poise.
What Makes Yoga “Tantric”?
The Tantric tradition is thousands of years old. In contrast with ascetic spirituality, which tries to reach the Divine by escaping the physical world, Tantric spirituality views the entire Universe as a manifestation of the Divine.
Therefore, any spiritual practice which uses the body is a Tantric practice. All yoga asanas (postures) can be traced back to Tantric roots.
The connection between the physical practice of yoga asanas and spiritual practice was obscured when yoga asanas were brought to the West. Westerners are generally familiar with yoga as a means to stretch and relax the body, rather than a vehicle for reaching altered states of consciousness.
What Is “Tantric Hatha Yoga”?
Tantric hatha yoga is hatha yoga practice which has returned to its roots in the search for higher states of consciousness.
The purpose of Tantric hatha yoga is not to become super-flexible, or to have a good work-out. The purpose of Tantric hatha yoga is to still the chattering everyday mind, and to bring awareness to more subtle levels of consciousness.
How Tantric Hatha Yoga Differs
If you are familiar with Western forms of yoga, the first difference you will notice with Tantric hatha yoga is the focus on mental concentration. Asanas are held for several minutes, to allow time for the mind to settle, and the effects of the asana to be felt.
“The mind is usually focused on a particular place in the body.”
Not the fleshy physical body, but the more subtle body of electromagnetic energy which surrounds and permeates the flesh body. These particular places in the energy body are known as “chakras” (wheels), because they are envisaged as rotating circles of concentrated energy.
Because Tantric hatha yoga has a spiritual and mental focus, the athleticism and flexibility of your body are not important. We encourage practitioners of Tantric hatha yoga to make use of supports, and to attempt easier versions of the asanas. With proper mental concentration, many of the beneficial effects of the asana can be felt, even when your body is not able to achieve the full version of an asana.
Tantric hatha yoga can be practiced by anyone from the youngest child to the oldest great-grandparent. It is particularly beneficial for people whose health doesn’t allow them to undertake more vigorous forms of exercise.
Tantric Hatha Yoga Works On Many Levels
While Western versions of yoga focus primarily on the physical body, Tantric hatha yoga aims to stimulate and improve your functioning at every level – physical, energetic, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
The Physical Level
Tantric hatha yoga is not primarily focused on increasing flexibility and strength, but such increases are a common side benefit.
Certain asanas affect the mobility of joints, extend the reach of tendons, and build muscular strength. There are also many asanas which require balance in various positions. The inverted postures like headstand and shoulder stand also have many health benefits.
Participants report increasing core strength, balance, flexibility, and strength. Annoying aches and pains reduce, the quality of sleep improves, and your ability to relax and recover becomes greater.
The Energetic Level
When Tantric hatha yoga refers to “energy”, it is not a “woo woo” phenomenon. The body has a detectable electrical field, and the field changes based on heart rate, blood flow, hormones, glucose metabolism, and many other biological functions.
The practice of hatha yoga directly affects these biological functions. For example, simply focusing the mind on a particular part of the body directly increases blood flow to that area. Practices which compress and then release an area stimulate the flow of lymph fluid. Twisting the neck stimulates the thyroid gland, the source of many important hormones.
The effect of Tantric hatha yoga is to increase the overall energy level, as the body operates more efficiently.
The Emotional Level
Our emotions are more closely tied in with our physiology than many of us realise. Simply putting the muscles of the face into the shape of a smile can actually improve our mood.
Tantric hatha yoga involves many practices which directly affect the emotions in this way, as well as more subtle practices, which build up their effects over a longer time period.
Many Tantric hatha yoga postures encourage the opening of the chest, and the pulling back of the shoulders. This is a well-known antidote to depression, and creates a feeling of confidence and power.
“Other practices move energy from lower centres, where it may create lower emotions, to higher centres, where it empowers confidence, gratitude, and unconditional love.”
Breathing practices, known as “pranayama” (control of the energy), have an immediate and powerful impact on emotional states.
The emotional benefits of Tantric hatha yoga cannot be overstated. This is an area where results almost always exceed expectations.
The Mental Level
It is easy to see how the modern world, with its encouraging of inertia and poor posture, sets people up for low emotional states.
These low emotional states contribute to low mental states, such as confusion, indecisiveness, poor memory, and inaccurate self-image.
Certain Tantric hatha yoga practices affect the mind directly, sharpening mental acuity and memory. The continual practice of mental concentration develops the mental “muscle” over time, allow you to develop the capacity for deeper concentration over longer periods of time.
Other practices allow you to expand your awareness to aspects of your thinking that were previously subconscious, and therefore invisible to you.
Alertness, sharpness, clarity, concentration, and a good memory are all benefits of long-term Tantric hatha yoga practice.
The Spiritual Level
When we say “spiritual” here, we are not talking about religion. “Spiritual”, in this sense, refers to your individual experience of the different states of consciousness that are available to us as human beings, including states which have been referred to as “awakening”, “enlightenment”, “Christ consciousness”, “samadhi”, and “nirvana”.
While these states are the ultimate goal of any spiritual practice, there are many benefits along the pathway to this ultimate destination.
“Practicing Tantric Hatha Yoga can increase your access to states of acceptance, detachment, gratitude, unconditional love, purity, appreciation of beauty, and non-judgemental observation.”
It’s easy to get started in Tantric hatha yoga – there are no prerequisites. Simply join a class, do the practice, and observe the effects on your body, mind, and emotions. If you find it valuable, keep going. You may have just started a lifetime journey of fascinating discoveries!