Picture yourself having an orgasm for five whole minutes. Better yet, picture Sting having an orgasm for five minutes — without even having to play one of his own CDs. Then picture that same adult-contemporary deity having a thirty-minute orgasm. As the most well-known celebrity practitioner of tantra, the ancient yoga practice that combines sexual energy with spirit, he must find this easy.
Now let your mind wander like the Ganges and picture another tantric devotee, Woody Harrelson, having a thirty-minute orgasm, his body undulating with divine bliss. Then picture Sting and Woody having a thirty-minute orgasm with one another. Mmm … are you getting hot? That energy you feel tingling in your nethers, my friend, is your kundalini, your life force. It’s the godhead of good head, that chakra-shakin’ horniness we all feel when the energy from our yonis (the tantric word for vagina, meaning “sacred space”) or lingams (the word for penis, meaning “wand of light”) is delighted into ecstasy.
Tantra is a form of yoga believed to have originated in India around 3000 BC. The practice combines breathwork, meditation, touch, ritual, and movement, all designed to move energy through the body via the kundalini. The energy moves through our chakras, energy centers that span the crown of our heads, to our foreheads, to our throats, stomachs, genitals, and the base of the spine.
In tantra, when a body feels arousal, the chakras can be opened up, the energy pumped and funneled through the center, and an ecstatic feeling can bathe every cell. But it’s not just a physical sensation. For tantric practitioners, it is a spiritual experience where your body literally becomes one with your partner, the earth, and the universe. Nirvana.
“Tantra is the path of the ecstatic,” said Evalena Rose, a prominent tantric educator and practitioner based in San Rafael. “It’s that path that includes desire and uses desire as a means to create enlightenment.”
How do you know when you are enlightened? “If you’ve had an orgasm, and you find that you are going way beyond your normal consciousness into an experience with a lot of light and an expanse of consciousness, then you have,” Rose said. “It’s a feeling of blending with the whole universe.”
But tantra, say its adherents, ain’t just for the bedroom. You carry your life force into your daily life and live as a more balanced soul. It’s a spiritual path like any other. It’s also not that easy. It takes a long time and lots of study and practice to reach the states described above. But more and more people are willing to learn. MTV recently asked 14-to-25-year-olds what they would most like to know more about, and “tantra” came out in front; bolstered, perhaps, by the Louisville, Kentucky, band Tantric, and Los Angeles band Artificial Intelligence’s song “Bottoms Up” about tantric sex.
Most true tantra adherents didn’t learn the practice from reading a book, though most usually start there. To truly follow the tantric path, one must have a teacher. It is the difference between teaching yourself Bikram yoga at home by putting in a videotape and pumping up the thermostat and taking a class where an experienced teacher can guide you and correct your posture in a sacred space.
In the Bay Area, there are dozens of tantric educators, most of whom lead workshops, write books, or hold retreats. Some go even further and hold private, one-on-one, or couple’s sessions. They are mostly women, and depending on their preference, typically refer to themselves as a “high priestess,” “tantric coach,” “tantric educator,” “Tantrika,” or “goddess.” Just don’t call them sex workers.
“Bast,” a 28-year-old tantrika named for the Egyptian goddess of playfulness, life-giving pleasure, and cats, may be everything you could ask for in a tantric educator. She is kind and patient. She is calm and joyful. She is open and nonjudgmental. She is smart and intuitive. She is highly educated in the art, with more than ten years of experience. And she is drop-dead gorgeous.
“Hello,” she said invitingly, extending me her hand as she opened the door to the live-work studio where she counsels her clients. Her hand is attached to an arm and well-set shoulders with the same yoga-induced musculature as Madonna’s, but her shape is a bit rounder in all the right places. She has slightly curly auburn hair that wisps into her face and stops at her shoulders. At first you think she has freckles, because when you look at her there seems to be something offsetting her beauty; but no, Jesus, she actually just sparkles. Her eyes are big, her lips are full, her cheeks are flushed, and goddamn it if she couldn’t turn a straight girl queer.
Bast has chosen to use her dynamic power of attraction for good, not evil. She knows she is beautiful, and uses her beauty to get the kundalini moving in people. “Some men, they stand near me, and they shake,” she admitted, somewhat embarrassedly, about some clients who are intimidated. “But we then need to move through that. Tantra is about energy and attraction beyond looks.” If any man can stand next to her in an aroused state and not need to satisfy his urge, maybe there’s something to all this tantra after all.
We moved into the large expanse of her main studio. It had twenty-foot-tall windows and sliding glass doors on one end, some gigantic potted palms, a large red oriental rug in the center of the floor, and a big carved chest with a laptop on top playing New Age music and displaying psychedelic graphics. She motioned for me to have a seat in an immense beanbag against one of the walls, and then lay down beside me. Ulp. Then she smiled slyly and sweetly and I was ready to take it all off and undulate with the best of them.
I came here to learn about her practice, but also to attempt to learn some of the breathwork that is the first key to learning tantra. From what I have heard from other tantrikas, with some coaching it seems possible to simply breathe in and feel my lotus flower bloom with lust.
Bast pulled out a notebook in which she had scribbled some points about tantric education she wanted to clarify. She is one of the few people I called who would talk on the record about the practice, which is private by its very nature but also has the added problem — at least with some of its practices — of being viewed as a form of prostitution. Three teachers declined to talk, a fourth described her work and then changed her mind about being identified, and more than one accused me of being a vice cop out to bust instructors of alternative sexuality.
As we settled in, the phone rang. Bast apologized but said she was expecting an important call. Once on the phone, it was apparent the call was from someone she didn’t want to talk to. “Yes,” she said hurriedly, “I think I remember talking to you before. I have a visitor right now so I have to go.” Her terseness was surprising, especially since our phone conversations were so tender.
We had just finished talking about how Bast separates would-be clients who truly desire to learn tantra from those looking for fast kicks. “That was one of them,” she said of the call. He was looking for something she said she didn’t want to offer: pure sex. It was the type of call that she said usually ends with her telling them “I don’t think I’m a good match for what you are looking for.”
Bast never takes same-day appointments. If people want to learn how to make their sexuality more spiritual, they are going to have to learn patience anyway. They can wait a few days. That usually weeds out callers with other things in mind, she said.
So what does go on in a tantra consultation? Bast didn’t want to go into specifics, but according to her Web site, sessions can range from meditation, to massage, to ritual bathing, to simply holding the other person while they talk. The big topic most practitioners don’t want to discuss involves “genital touch,” although some tantrikas who advertise on the Internet offer “sacred G-spot and prostate massage.”
Some dedicated teachers of tantra admit that they manipulate a client’s genitals as a way to get the kundalini moving. They view themselves as healers and see the act as a teaching tool to let their client move further into tantric bliss. Then there are the women who simply put bindis on their foreheads, declare themselves a “goddess” on their Web sites, and appear to charge by the hour for specific sex acts.
If enlightenment is truly what you seek, Bast suggests doing your homework to separate the sex workers from the tantric educators. Ask them how long they studied and with whom, why they are doing what they are doing, and what they want from you. The tantric teachers interviewed for this article stressed that they will not enter into a contract for sex, and in fact will discourage any callers who attempt to do so.
After all, for real followers and teachers of tantra, the genitals are mere bumps on the road to nirvana — albeit pleasurable bumps. Once you have practiced it long enough, you don’t even need to go near your naughty bits to achieve an orgasm. “I have worked with people who have barely touched me, but because they had gotten to a certain level of experience, I was sent into full-body ecstasy, barely being touched, without any genital contact,” Bast said. “It’s not an issue. I have spontaneous G-spot orgasms. I ejaculate. I have total control.”
“I’m walking down the street, the sun hits me on the back of the neck, and I’m like, whoa …”
“Fiona,” another tantric coach who agreed to be interviewed only if she could be identified by a pseudonym, says she can bring herself to orgasm simply by sitting in a chair and moving her hips ever-so-slightly. She first got into tantra after going to a class at Good Vibrations that taught her some of the breathing methods. “I was like, whoa,” she said of that first experience. “I want to learn more about that.” She, like Bast, wanted to have a career working with people that went beyond therapy or massage, things that focus on either just the head or the body. Tantra is about combining everything, and once she felt she had begun to master it, she decided to go into the business of teaching it to others. She runs a studio out of her house in Oakland.
Fiona, like Bast and the others, advertises on the Internet. The photo accompanying her ad shows her topless. Other women are pictured naked in bubble baths, or placing their palms together in the Hindi style between their pert bosoms. Go to Bast’s site (UndercoverPriestess.com) and click on “visual stimulation,” and you will see her in all her glory doing nude yoga poses. To the casual looker it may appear that, yes, these women are selling themselves. But according to Bast, the encounters she has with people are so personal that she wants to give the person a sense of who she is physically, since either or both could be undressed in the session.
“We play with sexuality,” she said, which is another reason tantric teachers let it all hang out on their Web sites. When you look at her picture and your blood begins to move quicker, her work has already started. You have just sent out an APB to the gods.
Most teachers know there are naysayers who scoff at what they do, laugh at their New Age approach to sexuality, or accuse them of being Shiva sellouts. They don’t care. All of the women I met not only claimed to have full-body orgasms by doing something as simple as washing dishes or bending over to tie a shoe, they also had a healthy glow to them, and seemed happy, grounded, and genuine.
Okay, except for one. Margot Anand is the tantric expert and someone whom every tantric educator in America knows about. Her book The Art of Sexual Ecstasy is a must-read for every tantric student. Fiona studied under her, as did many other teachers. She is the mother of tantra in the West. Since tantric experts take great pains to move the discussion of their art form away from the purely sexual aspects of the practice and into its life-giving, spiritual rewards, one would think that a woman who had been practicing it for as long as Anand has would have the grace and serenity of the Buddha himself.
Not so. Anand was contacted for this story, but huffily declined to talk once she learned she wasn’t the sole subject. “I should be featured prominently,” she said, “not thrown in with a bunch of people I may or may not respect!” She also was upset at the idea of playing second banana to Joseph Kramer, who is profiled in the accompanying story. “I’m more important than Joseph Kramer!” she shrieked in her French accent. “I was the first on this scene. He is less important in scope!”
After more discussion and the suggestion that perhaps her ego had gotten the best of her, Anand decided that an interview would be okay if she was guaranteed a plug of her books or workshops. “Go see what you can do about that,” she said crisply, as if talking to a servant.
Anand had a mantra alright, and it was “What’s in it for me?,” which she said quite a few times during our conversation.
“There are good therapists, and there are bad therapists,” said one tantrika when told about Anand’s attitude. “Not everyone has fully integrated their spirit like they say they have.” Anand may be widely respected for her teachings, but not so for her immodesty. If the grand queen of tantra can’t get her own karmic yin-yang balanced, then how can we trust anyone to teach us this stuff?
Tantric educators generally seem to agree that finding a good teacher comes down to intuition and feeling. A good teacher is someone with whom you can feel safe, especially since many people who go into tantra are attempting to reclaim their sexuality from incest, rape, or other sexual roadblocks. A good teacher is also focused on your growth, not his or her own agenda or need for attention.
Bast prefers to work with people who have blockages, are shy, or are plagued with that word that makes feminists cringe, frigidity. She sees herself as a therapist who tends to every inch of a person’s physiognomy and psychology.
Speaking of frigidity, I decided to have her lead my own heretofore-dormant energy channels in a breathing exercise. I nestled down into the beanbag, palms up and spine straight. I closed my eyes, and Bast told me to begin breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. As I did this she came up behind me. I could feel her abdomen pressing softly into my upper back. She very carefully caressed my shoulders and face, asking me to breathe through whatever part of my body she was touching. It sounds weird now, but at that moment it made complete sense. Oh, man, could I feel the breath where she was touching me.
Every so often she spoke softly into my ear, her breath wafting across my cheek. “Pretend you are having your last, sweet breath,” she said. “If you knew it was your last breath, how would you experience it?” At that point, the cynic in me wondered if she was about to strangle me, but I quickly refocused on my breathing, bringing the breath up through my tummy, abdomen, and chest, then back down again. Nothing yet was happening below the belt, but I had reached an incredibly relaxed state. It was easy to see how, say, three years of this could lead to spontaneous orgasms.
When it was done I felt even closer to Bast, who had moved from being a mere tantric hottie to someone I wanted to feed me grapes and listen to me cry over my unresolved childhood trauma.
I would be back.