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When we think of Tantra, we think of sex and imagine that it has to do with esoteric practices that make sex better, but it’s not articulated how or why. It’s all a mystery—a deep, dark secret that most of us would love to learn. Talking to Tantra yoga teacher Rod Stryker brings clarity to the age-old mystery. Rod has been teaching Tantra, meditation and hatha yoga for more than 25 years.
The now world-recognized got his start studying and teaching in Santa Monica, becoming a top instructor at Yoga Works in the ’90s. Rod soon began traveling worldwide and developed a system of Tantra that stays close to its origins, called Pure Yoga. He continues to travel and now lives on a farm in Colorado with his wife and two children. Yogi Times spoke to Rod during a break from writing his first book.
The notion of sex defining Tantra came about only recently, Rod explains, when Western teachers began offering “spiritual” sexual practices in the late 70s and early 80s. Although these teachers called the practice Tantra, they really weren’t being accurate.
Practices in the scope of Tantra are called maithuna, meaning “to make two, one.”
“Maithuna was originally developed as a method to awaken spiritual consciousness using sexuality and sensual intimacy,” says Rod. It is one of many practices in the Tantric discipline, and to separate it apart from the whole decreases its effect and power. Rod explained that many of these Western teachers had not properly studied Tantra from a learned master but rather took the sexual hook and ran with it to make money or for other selfish reasons. “Rather than teaching people how to discover the immense and extraordinary life that is possible through real and lasting self-realization, many teachers promoted orgasms—how to have as many as possible (for a woman) or none (for a man). It would have saved confusion if what they were teaching was simply called by its real name.”
Okay. So all Tantra is not sex, and sex in the Tantric world is maithuna. So, what is Tantra then? Tantra in Sanskrit means “to weave.” It describes the weaving of fabric or tapestry from the ancient times. With Tantra, one attempts to weave spiritual experience throughout daily life, instead of keeping them separate. It doesn’t ignore urges, but instead embraces them and helps us use them wisely in order to live our lives more fully. In Tantra, one weaves practices of yoga postures, breathing techniques, energy locks, meditation, chanting, Kundalini, astrology and many others, including maithuna. The lesson is that all aspects of life are sacred, not just our yoga practice, but our household activities, our work and our relationships. The practices are used to help each of us shine brightly and find more joy in our life.
Rod broke Tantra down even further. He explained that in the big picture of Tantra there are two schools: the right-handed path and the left-handed path. Both have the similar goal of “the realization of spiritual and worldly abundance,” but are different in their approaches.
“The left-handed path emphasizes more external ritual and is weighted more towards bhoga,” explains Rod. Bhoga is sensual enjoyment, and focuses more on delighting the senses. Maithuna fits in here as a left-handed practice. However, what most don’t know is that the approach is very methodical, even mechanical and tedious. “Think of it as a sexual version of a model airplane kit—lots of pieces that you have to put together precisely,” he says. While some people can find a spiritual awakening, Rod warned that “another downside to this approach is that exaltation is temporary,” for there’s no training for long-term effects.
The right-handed path “emphasizes integration and how to sustain a heightened state for as long as possible. This is done through breath, postures, energy cultivation and at some point, developing a deeper reverence for life,” says the yoga teacher. He goes on to say that while the right-handed path might seem the less exciting of the two at first, its power is longer lasting. “If you are practicing the Tantric approach to yoga, you bring the practices with you when you make love and the experience will become spontaneously ecstatic and heightened.” By following the right-handed path, all experiences in life “become more profound and sublime,” not just what happens in the bedroom. In his advanced trainings, Rod addresses the practices of maithuna for sincere students who are interested in the big picture.