What is Tantra? From its Origin to its Practice

Part of Tantra, or Tantrism, remains a mystery to our society. Before diving any further, let me ask you: “What is your idea of Tantra?”

To make things clear: Tantra doesn’t mean sex!  

Tantrism is very often misconceived by our modern society, which often assimilates it with sex, the same way yoga tend to be assimilated to a workout. 

Tantra comes from so far away in history and has only been discovered recently by Westerners. We don’t have all the knowledge of what started this tradition, even though we are able to understand enough about Tantra to be able to retrace its evolution through history.

Tantric philosophy has a myriad of secrets to be discovered. It’d be hard to explain Tantra to someone that has never practised it, as it’s hard to intellectualise feelings and energy. 

Dive in with me and let’s discover Tantra together! 


What Does Tantra Mean?

The Sanskrit term Tantra simply means “technique”, or “book”.

We know that asanas, pranayama, meditation, kundalini, and other practices existed before Tantra. Tantra is the spiritual path that weaves all of these sacred practices and rituals.

One of the best Tantra definitions I found is probably the one from David Frawley:  

"Tantra can perhaps best be defined as an energetic approach to the spiritual path, using various techniques including mantra, ritual, pranayama, and meditation. It contains a devotional approach emphasizing the worship of the Goddess and her Lord, Shiva. It contains a way of knowledge , directing us to self-realization and realization of the Absolute" 


That said, it is clear now that Tantra doesn’t mean SEX, even though sacred sexuality could be part of your Tantric practice.

Tantra is a devotional lifestyle using different techniques, like yoga, rituals, meditation, herbs or sacred dance, in order to find the light within yourself.

When and Where did Tantra Originate? 

Because we don’t have any academic records that can trace back the origin of Tantra history, it’s very hard to tell exactly how Tantra began. In fact, Tantric teachings were more verbal teachings that were passed on to students by their respective teachers, or gurus. 

As seen before Tantrism is just the movement, or philosophy, that systematized all the practices that were there before, such as yoga, pranayama, mantra and rituals. 

Tantra originated in India within Hinduism during the first Millennium CE (year 1-1000), where it was a spiritual tradition there. 

From its origin, Tantra was more a religion than a philosophy. It was practised devotionally towards a god or a goddess, like Shiva, the father of Tantra. Tantric traditions have changed over time and have a long and illustrious history in India, Tibet, Assam, Kashmir, and Nepal.

While spreading around the world, Tantra got divided into two Tantric paths: the left (Vamachara) and the right-hand path (Dakshinachara).

Dakshinachara comes from the Tantric lineage “Samaya” (according to the rules) and it requires a high degree of purity in conduct and action. Vamachara comes from Kaula (according to the family) and allows various types of practices like sexual practices, the use of meat, and intoxicants.

Shiva, Shakti and Kundalini

In Tantra or in Hinduism, there’s no “human” god. there is just one giant cosmic consciousness that is represented by different avatars.

Shiva is the father of Tantra. He is what represents our divine consciousness. Shakti is the great goddess or the cosmic feminine force.

According to Tantric Science, Shakti energy or the Kundalini resides inside each one of us, but it’s dormant and for most people, it’ll never be awake. In Tantra, we work on our chakras and on our different body channels (Nadis) in order to allow the Kundalini to be aroused. Once all our chakras are balanced and our different Nadis are clear, the kundalini that is represented by a serpent can rise and travel to higher chakras in order to meet Shiva. This is when consciousness begins to occur.

Kundalini Representation in Arunacheshvara Temple, India

In Tantra, the masculine force is more passive and the feminine force Shakti can be very powerful, which is the reason why anyone that wants to go deeper into these practices needs a master.

Tantra and Sacred Sexuality

With the Sacral Chakra (Svadhisthana), Tantric philosophy clearly recognise the power of our sexual energy in the human body. However, If you want to talk about Tantric sexuality, don’t call it “Tantra” but “Sacred Sexuality”.

What is Sacred Sexuality?

Tantra would never encourage self-repression, as some religions do with sex, but to have some self-discipline and live free from uncontrolled desire.

For Tantra, true happiness comes from consciousness and not from possessions, desires, or related activities. Tantra strongly recognises that repressing sexual activities can be harmful as it builds up repressed energy that stagnates inside your body, which usually causes physical and emotional disturbance.

Sex is the core energy of our existence– Tantric Teaching

Tantra tends to turn all ordinary activities such as breathing, eating, sleeping, or having sex, into rituals or sacred estate of the body. For example, if you’re a Tantra practitioner, you meditate on your food before eating.

That said, we should keep in mind that one of the most essential concepts in Tantra is detachment and living a life free from desire. If sexual activities shouldn’t be shamed, they shouldn’t be misused either.

Indeed, Tantric Sexuality is quite specific as it looks more like a loving meditation where two partners are seeking awareness together rather than excitement.

If you want to know more about sacred sexuality, wait until the end!

Where Does Tantric Sexuality Come From?

Now that you know the link between Tantra and sacred sexuality, let’s see what exactly happened that made us think that Tantra equal sex:

When the first Westerners started travelling to India, some of them were fascinated by the Tantric philosophy and brought what they understood of the philosophy back to Europe, or America. As there’s no secret sex is something everyone is interested in, it became the main Tantric characteristic spread out to the western world.

Most western Tantric practices don’t come from India but from Europe or from America, like Tantric massages that come from Germany.

Even though some of these new practices aren’t from India and Traditional Tantra, they still can be integrated as a Tantric practice in order to build a strong connection with the body and Svadhisthana chakra.

However, keep in mind that sacred sexuality is a spiritual practice and that it should never be abused. Moreover, it should never create any kind of attachment or suffering.


Tantra as a Spiritual Path

By now, you should be able to understand that you don’t become a Tantra practitioner in one day. It is a spiritual path that embraces life in its various energetic manifestations in order to reveal who we are.

If you’re really interested in Tantra, I would recommend starting with a yoga class from a certified Tantra Yoga teacher and maybe some readings about Tantra. A good introduction to Tantra is Tantric Yoga and The Wisdom Goddesses by David Frawley.

If you realise that you like it and want to go further in your practice, I highly recommend taking a Tantra yoga retreat. Make sure it’s real Tantra and not some deviant form of Tantra. Some organisations, or gurus, might be taking advantage of people’s desire to experience something new and the misconception of Tantra’s practices.

I can’t recommend enough the Tantric Yoga School where I did my Tantra Yoga Teacher training.Satya Loka is one of the most authentic yoga schools you might find out there. My yoga teacher training was more about the true experience and philosophy of yoga, rather than just the Asanas.

Satya Loka Students practising Yagna Sacred Fire Ceremony – Photo Credit: Barbara Cermak

During your yoga teacher training with Satya Loka, you will experience Tantra ceremonies, sacred dances & meditations. Through all these beautiful rituals, you’ll discover new characteristics and emotions. You will discover what is Tantra!

How to practise Tantra in your Daily Life?

There is no right or wrong way to live in Tantra, as long as there is no attachment, no desire that causes suffering. To live in a Tantric way is to live with awareness as if everything around you was a miracle (which actually is)!

Have you ever paid attention to how babies look at the world? The sparkles and the amazement in their eyes are something precious that we drop as we grow up. However, this state of awareness is absolutely necessary for happiness and for self-realisation.

A Tantric practitioner is someone seeking his true nature by connecting his soul and his body to the cosmic energy of the universe.

Indeed, a Tantric practitioner is someone that is deeply connected to his body, at a cellular level. We can reach this connection by practising some types of yoga (Kundalini, Hatha..), pranayama and meditation.

The goal of every Tantric practitioner is to open all its energy centres (chakras), in order to let the divine goddess energy (Shakti or Kundalini) rise and make one with our divine consciousness (Shiva). This particular phenomenon is what we call enlightenment, but only a few people get the chance to know what is it to be enlightened. Some of the famous ones are named Buddha, or Eckhart Tolle for example.

In Tantra, we practise many rituals in order to connect with the divine, like Yagna fire ceremonies, Shakti Sacred Dance or Tantric Sadhana. In India, they practice these types of rituals quite regularly.

How to practise Tantra Yoga?

As a devotional practice, Tantra yoga is a type of yoga where the yogis set an intention and try to connect their body energies to the higher consciousness.

In India, they would set an intention to a god, or a goddess, but you can also set an intention to the sun, love or mother earth… As long as you are being true to yourself and comfortable with what you’re doing.

Tantra Yoga is usually based on Hatha yoga, which is the first type of yoga that was practised in India. You could choose another type of yoga like Yin or Kundalini, which is a very powerful Tantric practice. Always keep in mind that to practice Tantra it is absolutely necessary that the type of yoga you choose allows you to spend time in the Asana, in order to connect to your chakras and feel what you have to feel.

During a Tantra Yoga class, the teacher should make the students practice yoga consciously. The yogis should be aware of their chakras and feel the energy at a cellular level, in their subtle bodies. The teacher should guide the student through the journey, as connecting to the chakras isn’t something spontaneous for most of us! Especially when it’s the first time.

Time for contemplation is absolutely crucial in Tantra Yoga! Every Asana has an effect on our chakras and you cannot be connected to your chakras or to your body unless you really take the time to feel what’s happening inside. Each Asana should be held for at least 1 or 2 minutes.

Indeed, Tantra Yoga is more of a meditation where we use the Asanas to energise our Chakras and feel the connection between our bodies and our minds.

To deepen the communication between our bodies and our minds, in Tantra yoga we use pranayama, mantra, or banda. Your Tantra yoga class could also incorporate a sacred dance or some mantras in between the Asanas, as long as the dance is adapted to the flow of energies.

This is one way of structuring a Tantra yoga class:

  • 10 minutes of pranayama practise
  • 10 minutes of meditation
  • 1 opening mantra
  • Asanasfor the chakras
  • 1 sacred dance
  • Asanas for the chakras
  • 10 minutes of pranayama practise
  • 10 minutes of meditation
  • 1 closing mantra

How to Practice Sacred Sexuality with a Partner?

As mentioned previously, sacred sexuality isn’t necessarily part of Tantra. However, Tantric science recognises sexual energy as a primal life force, as love itself. Therefore, it should be respected and honoured.

Sexual energy isn’t only responsible for life itself but for creativity and expression.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where our sexuality can be a source of shame and trauma, which is the reason why bringing light to this aspect of our being can be part of the enlightenment process.

Tantric sexuality aims to transform this sacred energy into a conscious and spiritual experience.

Some basic guidelines on how to practice Sacred Sexuality:

  • Choose the right partner. Someone that is willing to explore sexuality in a sacred way with you. Someone that understands the spiritual aspect of life. Ideally, someone that is connected to his/her own energy and someone that practices some kind of activities that promote purity (yoga, meditation, activities that connect with nature…).
  • Create a sacred space and take time to meditate together and recognise each other as more than just a role in one’s life or more than just a body.
  • Breathe together and explore your body. At every moment of excitement, come back to the previous step and use meditation to release any expectation for orgasm.
  • Keep the energy to the heart and above.

I hope that this article brought something new and that you have a better idea about what Tantra really is.

I am a Certified Traditional Tantra Yoga Teacher and I would be happy to guide you if you have any questions about Tantra or about yourself.