"So what do you know about Tantric sex?" I recently asked three girlfriends while out for our monthly Sex and the City brunch. "It's what the Kama Sutra's about, right?" asked Deb. "It's what Sting is always yakking about," said Rachel. "Forty-five minute, full-body orgasms," said Celia.
While all these descriptions are partly true, they only get at pieces of the puzzle—as I found out when I sat down with Margo Anand, Tantric scholar and author of The Art of Sexual Ecstasy. Tantric sex, or Tantra, is an ancient spiritual practice, with roots in Hinduism and Buddhism—and, as such, it's pretty much impossible to define. In Tantra, the act of love is sacred. Nourishing sensual pleasures is sacred. "The Tantric approach to life declares that all people are divine," says Anand. "Everything is a prayer. Lovemaking is a prayer; the way you prepare food is a prayer. When you touch, taste, feel something with as much awareness as possible, you will touch God."
Here's a slightly less New Age-y way to put it. Think of how you feel after an intense orgasm: calm, powerful, at peace. Imagine harnessing that orgasmic energy and having access to it throughout your life. Not that you walk around moaning in orgasm like the woman in the Herbal Essences commercial, but rather you use this energy to heal and invigorate yourself, both in daily life and in bed. That's Tantra.
Capture the power
The trick to Tantra is harnessing that energy source in the first place. It's not something that can be achieved with a new position or toy. To open this Tantric energy portal, you must go through several steps, among them getting over socially-imposed sexual hang-ups; communicating honestly with your lover; refining your ability to give and receive sensual pleasures; and finally, using various physical techniques (like breathing or yoga) to open up your chakras—the seven vital energy centers in your body. This kind of thing takes years of practice—but if you want to dip your toe into the divine waters of Tantra, here are a few starter exercises, courtesy of Anand.
Say goodbye to hangups
"We are all conditioned [to deal with sexuality] by our parents, our schools, our culture, our past sexual experiences," Anand says. To achieve Tantra, you have to break though that sexual pleasure = guilt equation. That's no easy task, but as a beginning step, Anand recommends her Moving Beyond Resistance exercise, which is discussed at length (as are all of these tips) in The Art of Sexual Ecstasy. The condensed version:
Sit in a quiet place with your partner (a lover, a platonic friend). One of you will be partner A, the other partner B. Face-to-face and looking in each other's eyes, Partner B asks, "Tell me: What you are afraid of in sex?" Partner A will explain, speaking generally at first ("I'm afraid of losing control"), then speaking specifically about a time when this happened.
Speak for at least five minutes while Partner B listens quietly and maintains eye contact. When Partner A is finished, Partner B asks, "Are you willing to go beyond the limits you have set for yourself?" If the answer is yes, A then visualizes a fulfilling sexual scenario in which the fears are overcome. Then exchange roles and repeat, with partner B talking about a sexual fear. Once both sides have spoken, repeat this exercise, describing in turn first a sexual fantasy and then a peak sexual experience.
The breath of sex
A beginning physical exercise for harmonizing sexual energy is done by something as basic as breathing. Lie back in your partner's arms and start to synchronize your breathing. "Visualize the breath starting in your sexual center [genital and pelvic area], moving through your heart, the lungs," Anand says. "When you are aware of your breathing, you're not thinking—you don't have any resistance or blocks or negativity."
King and queen for a day
This last exercise, called the Yin-Yang Game, is all about learning to give and receive pleasure. It's best to allot at least a few hours to play; and while you'll want to do it with a partner, it need not be a lover. Start by each writing down your "day in heaven" —any and every indulgence (physical, sexual, or emotional) you want: a full-body massage, breakfast in bed, a poetry recitation, a home-cooked meal. A strip tease. (The wishes should be pleasurable to both sides. Asking your partner to clean the garage is not likely to elicit the ideal response here.)
Review your list and put your wishes in order of priority. Then meet up and decide who gets to be the recipient of pleasure (Yang)—and who is the giver (Yin). Then, for a set period of time, Yang gets his or her wishes fulfilled. The trick is, as Yang, or king, to find ways to get your wishes indulged that will also please Yin. ("Lick chocolate off my neck," is probably a win-win request.) When Yang's time or list is exhausted, switch roles. "When the game is over, talk about what went on," says Anand. She recommends talking about what expectations you had of the game, what the most pleasurable—and most difficult—part of the game was, and how you can apply this kind of giving and receiving—and Tantra—to your daily life.