Yoga, contrary to what many in the West may think, is more than just a fitness trend or a way of releasing stress. This, by the way, is only one facet of the branch of Yoga called Hatha Yoga. Yoga itself is a group of ancient practices stemming from the beliefs and traditions of Hinduism. Practicing Yoga, it is said, could bring a person profound spiritual insight and a deep understanding of the nature of the universe, which then opens the way to oneness or union with the universe or God or whatever transcendental force their particular school of thought may ascribe to. Yoga covers everything, from life-duty (Karma Yoga), loving worship (Bhakti Yoga), to physical exercise (Hatha Yoga) and more. There are many other branches of Yoga, but the three mentioned are part of the five major branches of Yogic practice.
One branch of Yoga that has recently received some attention in the West is Tantra Yoga. Tantra Yoga is not a style of Hatha Yoga, like Bikram Yoga or Power Yoga. Neither is Tantra Yoga simply a shallow indulgence in gratutious sexual practices.
While it is true that in the West, Tantra is often associated with sex, it is far more than that. In Tantra, philosophy is inextricable from action, as is true with all Yoga. At the heart of Tantra or Tantra Yoga, is the idea that the world is a harmonious combination of opposites that cannot -and must not- be torn apart. Unlike many Hindu beliefs and Yogic practices, which put forward self-denial and asceticism as a way of attaining spiritual enlightenment, Tantra Yoga acknowledges that desire is a good and natural thing. Tantra Yoga also acknowledges that while humans may often be governed by baser desires, such as greed and shallow lust, the truer human desires and passions, especially love, can lead a person to insight and open the way to union or oneness with the transcendent.
The less well-known aspect of Tantra Yoga is its worship aspect. Within Hinduism, there are many different philosophies and religions, and in Tantra Yoga, that is no exception. The more “ordinary” rituals of Tantra Yoga are worship-centered, embracing the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon, particularly Shiva and his consort, the goddess Shakti. Because Tantra Yoga, like all of Hinduism, is so rich, there is no concise way of describing these rituals. In fact, there is no concise way of describing exactly which gods or goddesses are worshiped or venerated.
The “secret” rituals of Tantra Yoga are, ironically, what Tantra Yoga is more well known for in the West. This is where texts such as the Kama Sutra can be found. These “secret” rituals aren’t just erotic in nature though, some of these rituals include themes such as feasting, death, defecation and vomiting, all illustrating the world-affirming view that Tantra embraces. In Tantra, it is said that “Man must approach through and by means of nature, not by rejection of nature.”
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