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Tantra Yoga: The Ecstatic Union of Wisdom and Love

In this feature Michael Bartelle speaks to us about the ancient philosophy and science of Tantra and how it remains both accessible and relevant to the modern-day yogi today.

What excites me most about yoga is its potential to transform our lives through a direct transformation of our consciousness. I learned about several such transformational tools from my teacher, Yogiraj Alan Finger. Alan is the founder of both the Ishta Yoga Studio in New York City and, along with his late father Mani, the system of Ishta Yoga itself.

What I have found most fascinating since my very first encounters with Alan as a teacher (and, by extension, Ishta as a practice) is his ability to synergise the benefits of the yoga poses with a knowledge of the energetic body and profound, life-enhancing philosophical wisdom. All of this, I quickly learned, comes about due to his extensive experience as a master of Tantra Yoga.

While many people have encountered the term Tantra in various contexts (or, let’s face it, most probably only in one particular context!), there are as yet very few people who have much of an idea of what it actually means or why it might be relevant to their own lives. Although Tantra is an ancient philosophy and science, it is absolutely accessible and relevant to the modern-day yogi.

The common image of the traditional yogi is that of an ascetic in a loincloth sitting rigidly in a Himalayan mountain cave, covered with snow, shut away from the distractions of society and denying every natural human impulse. While this may be a viable path for a select few, it is rather unrealistic to assume that the average man or woman would be capable of leaving life behind in order to attain the fruits of spiritual practice.

As I learned from several years of direct, one-to-one apprenticeship with Alan, Tantra Yoga offers a practical alternative to such extremes. Rather than seeing the body, the natural world, or the challenges and joys of everyday life as impediments to spiritual growth, Tantra embraces all aspects of nature and humanity as opportunities to connect more deeply with the divine. In fact, according to Tantric philosophy, everything in the natural world (including the human body) is an expression of Shakti, the Mother Nature force.

The Sanskrit word “Shakti” translates literally into English as “power,” which indicates the degree to which Tantrikas revere the feminine principle. Shakti is the power of fierce and unconditional love that is responsible for bringing the entire universe into creation. It also governs the instincts of survival, procreation, and evolution in every living being.

The masculine counterpart to Shakti is Shiva, which is the principle of pure consciousness. Shiva gives every being, and indeed the universe as a whole, awareness of itself. Shiva is the space in which Shakti manifests; Shiva is the stage, and Shakti does the dance. Together they create a cosmic matrix, a divine tapestry within which we are all intrinsically connected. When we are born, our place in that tapestry feels natural and obvious. But as we move through life’s challenges, our increasing sense of separateness and fear can tangle and tear the threads which once gave us an understanding of Who We Really Are.

One meaning of the word “Tantra” is “to weave.” It is the process of reweaving the fabric that unites us with the awesome power of the universe, enabling us to feel connected, creative, and conscious in each moment. A Tantra Yogi does this by learning how to honour and to channel his or her inner Shakti. Rather than becoming a slave to ordinary human desires, or going to the other extreme of suppressing and denying them, a Tantrika is capable of shining the powerful light of awareness upon these very natural impulses in a way that reveals the inherent divinity in each instant. Any experience that might otherwise be just another moment of pleasure or pain becomes a doorway into a deeper state of consciousness; an ecstatic sense of union between the profound wisdom of Shiva and the electric love of Shakti within; a feeling of absolute Oneness with Being.

Scientifically speaking, the force that created the Universe itself is the very same force that created each and every individual life. Tantra sees each being as a microcosm of the Universal macrocosm, and recognises that we as individuals have access to the very energy that manifests the galaxies and charges the stars. By harnessing the magnificent potential within, each of us is capable of not only reestablishing ourselves within our natural states of imperturbable peace, intrinsic joy, and unconditional love, but also bringing more of these qualities into a world that so desperately needs all the goodness it can get.

I have felt so immeasurably blessed to receive this wisdom from my teacher. In turn, the greatest joy in my work is to be able to pass the secrets of Tantra along to any student who desires to find the truly transformative power of the luminous, ever-present divine love within.

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