For me, embracing Tantra began with a question.
How can I see myself as more than what happened to me? This was the question that hummed in my mind as I packed my bags for Asheville, N.C. I had spent hours doing searches on the top yoga teachers and making charts trying to quantify and qualify the unquantifiable. A Web site wasn’t going to show me who my teacher was. The teacher for me was the person who could help me to experience the answer to my burning question. I wanted to hold that understanding in my bones.
All too well, I knew how fleeting momentary bursts of inspiration could be. I had done the new age thing, which helped me to see the brighter side of life, but didn’t teach me how to see myself as more than The Girl Who Was Abused. I had done the Buddhist thing, but I yearned for connection with a higher power and they weren’t really into the G word. Soul retrievals, rebirths, shapeshifting, Reiki, holotropic breathwork, energy work, psychic exploration, yoga, sweat lodges, mindfulness meditation… I had tried it all. A savvier woman would’ve bought shares in Omega Institute. Although each book I read, each experience I had offered a hint of how to define myself beyond my trauma, that glimmer faded as the days stretched between me and the last workshop. From cognitive behavioral therapy to punching pillows sessions, no matter how much time I spent on cushy couches trying to rewire my thinking or allow myself to feel what I’d buried for so many years, there was a sense of futility, of trying to make sense of what would never fully make sense. Like a sad sack roll call, the underlying depression muttered ‘present,’ followed closely by a nagging sense that no matter what I learned or how much I accomplished in life, I was at my core a victim. I wanted a new story but I wasn’t sure how to write it.
There is something about asking the question that sets everything in motion.
The name of the workshop was Yoga Sutras: Light on Self-Mastery. The A-student in me liked that. Self-mastery. I’ll have that, please. My Yoga Soul Sister and I packed up my car and started the drive. We laughed, sang kirtan, car danced to Afrobeat music. We played If You Had a Siddhi, What Would It Be? Our drive felt like a true journey, as hundreds of miles stretched between us and Philadelphia. We were going to spend five days studying with Rod Stryker to see if he was our teacher.
We arrived in Asheville that evening and awoke early the next morning, nervous and excited. The space the workshop was being held in was huge. We settled in the middle of the room, which somehow felt safe. Rod started to speak. I felt like I was in good hands because what he was saying felt grounded. He kept referring to the texts. He spoke of his teacher and his lineage. He didn’t seem interested in getting everyone high on yoga. Quite the opposite, as he taught us how to watch our experiences rather than getting carried away by them.
Initially, I experienced the style as quite different. Where was the trance dance music? What is this revolved triangle with parallel feet? But I trusted. Listened to him speak of sthira and sukham. Hadn’t I heard this before? I had indeed, but the way he was instructing us to breathe and inviting us to observe ourselves being stable and effortless in postures…I was experiencing the unfolding of an awareness that was like nothing else. I felt I was seeing a part of myself that was both familiar and new. As we entered savasana, I felt like a cleaner version of myself. I’d felt a nice, warm, tiredness after yoga classes, but this was the first time I felt like I’d taken a yogic shower, polished bright and shiny on the inside and outside.
He brought us out of savasana and into meditation. We watched the light move on the breath and then I met my highest Self for what felt like the first time. I met the part of me that wasn’t abused, and wasn’t a victim, wasn’t depressed, and didn’t feel like a wrong fit for the world. There was so much light. I was light. I felt like blurting, Yes! This is me. My true nature was a clear bright light that was expansive and full of love. He brought us out of the meditation and I remember thinking, nooo I only just got here, and also wanting to ask, What was that, but I was so busy crying that I couldn’t form the words. Bless the heart of whoever actually asked the question and I remember Rod answering that we’d had a glimpse of Purusha, the part of you that remains untouched by any suffering.
My hands were shaking as I wrote down the answer to my life’s biggest question. There was a part of me that was untouched by all that pain that had occurred. There was a part of me unmarred, free. And for once, I didn’t read it in a book. I felt it. I knew it existed because I had direct experience of it. I’d found my teacher. I had found Tantra.
All this on day two of the workshop. I remember thinking, Clay Davis style, sheeeeee-it, the rest is gravy. But for the next few days we learned how to return to that place. We used mantra, mudras, kriyas, pranayama, meditation, and visualization to keep coming back to ourSelves. We learned how to hold concentratred prana. For the rest of that week my Yoga Soul Sister and I shared experiences that felt amazing and ones that felt like crap, but every practice left me with another experience of my soul.
That experience with Tantric practices two and a half years ago created a foundation from which I continue to learn and practice and grow. It felt like a rebirth. Thanks to the grace of my teacher and our lineage I have learned to use the tools of asana, mudra, kriya, pranayama, mantra, and meditation to remember my true nature, grow my inner light, and transform my life. Practicing ParaYoga taught me how to make peace with my past trauma and how to transform the energy that was tied up in pain and avoidance into energy for being a force for healing and joy in the world. Having Rod Stryker for a teacher showed me that I am never separate. There is no space between me and the Divine, and daily practice is how I remember, especially when those dark days arise from time to time. Perhaps the greatest gift of this practice is that of accessing my inner teacher, who nudges me back on track when I revert to the myth of separation.
I ran across this quote from Rod the other day:
“Tantra’s ultimate aim is to empower us to be a vital, joyful, and fearless expression of our source – an infinite continuum or truth, beauty, and auspiciousness.”
The resulting empowerment has a spacious quality, allowing the light to shine through everywhere, breaking down distinctions bewteen the spiritual and the mundane, the joy of living and the pain that sometimes occurs. For me it has created a sense of acceptance, that yes, some hard things happened to me, but they don’t define me and in fact they helped shape who I am today. The self-acceptance and love I learned through this practice has empowered me to teach others the tools to help them transform their lives into an expression of their highest purpose. Sometimes I am giddy with the thought that I have the rest of my life to learn these teachings.
There are increasing opportunities for seekers to find their way to this path. Most recently, the Yoga Journal Conference: Colorado kicked off with a Tantra Yoga Immersion featuring a panel of the top voices of Tantra, all of whom specialize in leading people to their inner teacher. When I’m asked, why Tantra? Why practice this way? This whole story flashes through my mind, and it’s too much to share. I just say that Tantra returned me to my Self, and let the practice show them how.