Why on earth had I signed myself up for a 6-day tantra yoga workshop? I had already stepped out of my comfort zone when I did a 7-day fast on this hippie island (check my blog: ‘Fasting with a foodie‘). Why did I feel the need to challenge myself again; to publicly explore my sexuality?
Masculine versus feminine
Like many modern western women, I have cultivated mainly my masculine side: getting things done, being independent, strong and in control. For many years I chose to do only those things that I am really good at; reinforcing this masculine energy. For a more balanced life I felt I needed to step out of this comfort zone and into my femininity: learning to surrender to life instead of trying to control it. But for women like me, getting out of our heads, and into our bodies is a huge challenge. Exactly a year ago I started to explore this by learning to dance Argentine tango. (More about this journey in my blog: ‘Life lessons from tango’, or watch my very personal presentation: ‘Tango as a mirror’). Now I wanted to take my development one (big) step further. It was time to dive into the mysteries of my feminine energy and I heard tantra focuses on this.
Agama: cult or culture?
A Google search for ‘tantra workshop’ offers many different options. I chose the Agama workshop, because it had a high rating and promised to be more of a theoretic course instead of an explicit sexual one. Still, I told myself and everybody else that I had signed up for a “yoga” workshop… I had no idea what to expect. Was it going to be yoga or sexual exercises? What kind of people would the workshop attract? Would I want to leave (run!) after the first session? I promised myself I could leave any time if I did not like it. But of course I was also curious. As the date got nearer I began to hear weird stories about the Agama community. Some said it was a kind of ‘cult’: everybody dresses in white, there are ‘wild’ (sex) parties and lots of gossip. I decided I would have to see for myself. The workshop takes six days, with classes from 8.30 – 11.30AM and from 5 – 8PM. I expected at least half the workshop to be yoga, but there is only 1 hour of hatha yoga in the entire 6-day workshop. The rest is mostly theory lectures. Once per class we do an exercise, ranging from getting to know each other, breathing work or eye gazing to meditation. The teachers are really good at ‘setting the scene’, broadening your horizons, so to speak. They talk about how our culture and society has conditioned us to look at sex a certain way, and they share the ‘tantra worldview’. They also very openly share their personal experiences, creating an intimate and ‘safe’ setting. Even though Agama states there will be no nudity, no sexuality during the workshop, the teachers constantly advise us to ‘practice’ (basically have lots of sex) outside of the sessions, haha…
Indulgence versus abstinence
A short summary of the ‘theory’: tantra is a holistic spiritual path towards enlightenment. It is often associated with sex, which is accepted and used, but it is not the sole focus of the practice. Tantra is about transcending your sexual desire rather than indulging in it; directing the pleasure toward a spiritual evolution. Tantra is in many aspects the opposite of the well know ‘Asceticism’; a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from worldly pleasures (emotions, pleasure, comfort, beauty, relationships, senses etc.), often for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals. Tantra sees the world and its pleasures not as an obstruction, but as an expression of the divine. So feeling sexual desire is a desire for god, for the divine, for unity; bringing yin and yang together. That’s why tantra says to enjoy all pleasures -with spiritual awareness – since they are all expressions of, or offerings to the divine. An orgasm is access to nirvana. You should be thinking: “I deserve this pleasure, this bliss”, instead of feeling ashamed about it.
Conserve your life energy
One of the principles of tantra is to conserve your ‘ojas’ or life force, stored in bodily fluids. Therefore men should learn to have orgasms without ejaculation. To practice that, they first have to break their current pattern and stop orgasm/ejaculation altogether. During 1-3 months they should not go beyond 50-60% of their pleasure curve. Then they can start going further until they can reach orgasm without ejaculation. This might take 6 months to a year, so lots of practicing required! One of the men in the audience voiced his concern: “I have been masturbating 3 times a day my whole life, even up to 10 times a day when I was a teenager: do I have any ‘ojas’ left? Will I die soon?” Answer: “no of course not, but stop wasting ‘ojas’ now and learn to have orgasms without ejaculation.” Women should aim for implosive orgasms instead of explosive orgasms. Basically a clitoral orgasm is an explosive one, because the energy goes outward. The more internal your orgasms are, the easier it is to take the energy back in and upward, making it an implosive orgasm. A lot of attention is paid to moving energy from the lower (sexual) to the higher chakras. We learn breathing, visualization and hatha yoga techniques. It all sounds rather technical and complicated to me, but many tantric women and men say it made a world of difference once they started mastering these techniques. Another focus of tantra is on seeing divine qualities in every being. You focus on the other persons higher self, thus helping them to step into those higher energies and qualities. So you see the god Shiva in each man you make love with, or the goddess Shakti in each woman you make love with.
Truth or lie?
I must say I enjoyed most exercises more than the theory part. You get to know the other people and explore the topic at hand. Our very first one was a great icebreaker: we had to write down three things (preferably out-of-your-comfort-zone facts) about our sexuality. Two statements should be true, one should be a lie. We would share these statements in small groups and the others guessed which statement was a lie. Finally we were encouraged to explore if there is any truth in the lie (there always is…). Things get really intimate, really fast. There was this woman whose ‘lie’ was “I have made love with 5 other couples”. We all thought this statement might express a desire for group sex. When asked for the truth in the lie, she confessed: “well, I didn’t have sex with 5 other couples yet, only with 3 couples…
The first night we had a beautiful ritual. Everybody was (more or less) dressed in white. We made two rows and one person at the time passed through this ‘lane of love’ with their eyes closed, receiving warm hugs and heart energy from everybody. It was really special to get so close to everybody, both men and women. I could feel that some were a bit shy (holding back), or nervous (hearts beating like crazy, sweaty palms) or even needy (hanging onto you like they were drowning). Others just gave such nice, loving energy that I just wanted to stay in their embrace… The interesting thing was that I had my eyes closed the entire time, so I had no idea who I was hugging. At the end of the ceremony it got warmer and some people got really sweaty, making it a bit unpleasant sometimes… But all in all it was a beautiful experience.
One of the last exercises involved heavy breathing, with the woman sitting in the lap of a man. The teacher warned that by using this breathing technique, you could get into an orgasmic state. I wanted to focus on the breathing and chose the option of doing this breathing exercise without a partner. As I was getting deeper and deeper into the breathing, I felt almost like I was hyperventilating: not necessary a pleasant feeling. But all around me the breathing got heavier and apparently some participants were indeed reaching supreme states of pleasure, which they voiced loudly. So basically I was sitting there by myself, hyperventilating, while some couples (everybody still fully clothed) were screaming and yelling and orgasming… Was I missing something? Was I holding back? Or was this just not me?
All the women who had received a three hour yoni massage were raving about it. Either a man or women therapist would massage and explore (map out) your yoni (female genitals) and ask what you feel at each spot. Apparently a great way to get to know your own anatomy and to safely explore your sexuality. Even women who had never had an orgasm had the most fantastic experience and would have many orgasms with other lovers afterwards. By the way, many men on the island offer free ‘yoni massages’ (the most used pick up line on Koh Phanang?!?), but I am referring to the professional massages. There was so much praise and enthusiasm about these massages, that I almost booked one for myself. Almost.
The last night at the closing ceremony everybody brought fruits and flowers, which were beautifully decorated around an altar. Men were dressed in white and women adorned like the goddess: everybody wore nice dresses, bindis, bangles, fake tattoos and glitter. The women danced and prepared together and I could seriously see and feel the glow and beauty of each one of them. Then everybody sat down in a big circle and each man and women gazed into the eyes of the other, recognizing and worshipping the beauty and the power of the god/goddess in the other one. Each minute the women switched to the next man. So for almost an hour I was constantly staring in the eyes of different men. It was a powerful experience. I felt their masculinity; a different manifestation of the shiva energy for every man. And I felt what it means to be truly female: soft, moving, loving, a different kind of strong. With some men I felt literally like a container: a vessel to just ‘hold’ all there is. Other times I felt like a quiet pond in a forest, like nature, just being, just flowing and floating like the ducks in the water. I offered my (what felt like abundant) female energy to each man, silently urging him to take whatever he needed. Some men felt strong, at home in their masculinity, some felt still a bit hesitant. Some got tears in their eyes, or held my hand real tight, others gave me an overpowering sense of self, of being, of being seen. With one (very spiritual) guy, I felt my ego completely melting away, leaving me vulnerable, pure and real. That night I couldn’t sleep. I felt so much energy in my body, like I had been drinking coffee. Was that energy created during the ceremony? If so, it was surprisingly powerful. I could not really believe this ‘caffeine feeling’ that kept me awake all night was generated by the ceremony, but there seemed to be no other explanation. All in all it was a very interesting experience. Overall I enjoyed the workshop and would definitely like to explore some more.
- I decided to dive into it. During the detox I had tried (in vain) to get some work done, which made me feel like I had not fully benefited from the detox experience. So this time I decided to do nothing else but the tantra workshop. I did not even feel like opening my laptop. I was in a completely different energetic state.
- First step is the intention to step into your masculine or feminine energy. Don’t think: “I should”, but rather “I want to” and open up to the possibilities.
- We started each class with a short meditation in which we set our personal intentions. Better even, to surrender ourselves to the divine, to offer our energy and attention to what would matter most. So basically, you ‘step out of the way’ and let the divine offer whatever you need.
- During the workshop we practiced to say “no” to a proposal or a partner, while holding the connection with that other person. Normally you break the connection when you say no. This is more respectful. A great insight.
- To get out of your head, you have to get into your body. So ask your partner for a massage or just to touch your body and follow that touch. Focus on what you feel instead of thinking.
- Anybody can practice to move his or her energy upwards. You can visualize, breath, do yoga or even do headstands or handstands. Just your intention will already get the energy flowing in an upward direction, meaning your sexual energies will be used for your higher chakras.
- See the beauty in other people. We are so fast to judge, to compare, to disconnect. Instead, focus on the divine, the goodness, the humanity, the beauty in each person. When you truly connect and gaze into their eyes, you will feel like one and each negative thought you might have about them is essentially about yourself.
YOU have to do the work!
Many conversations during the workshop started with the question ‘what do you think of the workshop?’ Participants were either raving, analyzing or complaining. Some think it’s too much theory, or complain that other participants don’t treat them the way they should, or they are faced with ‘old’ issues they were trying to run away from. My idea is that during a workshop like this, you always pick up some interesting topics. Themes will come up. It’s like a mirror. Some people blame others, or they are negative about the workshop/teaching/center. I chose to focus on everything I felt to see if I could grow from that. So it’s really up to you how much you get out of a workshop like this; from any situation in fact.