Some mornings I wake up with a buzz of desire fluttering around my nerve endings. When our enthusiasm matches up and time allows, my partner and I indulge our pleasure. Inevitably though, there are mornings when that is just not possible. Until very recently, my response would be to shelve the buzz in corner, so that I could focus on the practical to-do list for the day.
Or, less productively, I’d be grumpy.
Until three weeks ago. That’s when I started taking an online course on the history and practices of tantric sexuality from the Centre Summum. I’ve been intrigued by tantra practices for more than a decade, but could never work up the courage to actually sign up for anything.
A brief and necessarily incomplete description is that tantra is a spiritual practice (across many traditions) of gathering and harmonizing our feminine and masculine energy. So, yes, tantra is about so much more than sex. And, it’s about sex.
Thanks to the pandemic, the class about sex is online. Thank you zoom for the ability to enroll in classes that would be logistically complicated or psychologically daunting, if they were in person. How much easier is it to show up from home? No one can really see when I blush, nor are there those awkward moments before and after class where we talk about … our sex lives?
We get homework. The first and second week (the third class is tonight, after this piece posts) one of our assignments was to notice those buzzy moments that I mentioned earlier (the class is in French and I love the French word for the buzz—frissons). Instead of setting the frissons aside, as I used to do, we learned to pause and simply savor the sensation of our life force energy. That’s what tantrism calls our sexual energy—our life force, the root flame of our vitality. Well, that was fun homework. Enlivening.
Another delightful assignment is practicing Kumbhaka breathing to cultivate our vital energy. Breath practices are key in tantra. As explained in the class, Kumbhaka breath is to cultivate our life force energy. It goes like this:
Ideally (but not necessarily!) done in seated meditation position. Take a deep breath in, moving the breath down from your heart into your pelvic floor. Hold the in-breath for a moment and then breathe out, moving the breath through your root chakra at the base of your spine. Allow the out-breath to continue up your spine, flow over the crown of your head and back down to rejoin the in-breath at your heart. Hold your breath at empty until you feel the urge to breathe. Repeat the breath pattern. Repeat again. You may set yourself a breath count or an amount of time, or you may just do it until your vitality is buzzing.
An online search yields a variety of slightly different descriptions, with prescriptive advice on when and how long to do the breathing. Our teacher, Stéphane, has a permissive spirit, much more about flow than structure. My personal approach is to try out different ways of doing the breath and feel into what works for me. In that spirit, I have a visualization that manifested with the practice. The in-breath is to anchor my life force (my power). The out-breath straightens my spine and as the breath flows over my head and past my face, I imagine putting on a warrior’s helmet. That’s my courage. Finally, as the breath reaches my heart, I tap into love. I’ve been doing Kumbhaka during my meditation, where it feels energizing and helps me focus (not on sex, but on what I need to focus on for the day).
Where I’ve really noticed a difference is when I do the breathing in bed, as I’m waking up on those buzzy mornings when I have to get up and start the day, no time for dalliance. When I go for my workout, which is cross-country skiing these days, I feel extra strong. The first time I felt this abundant energy during my ski, I just chalked it up to feeling happy. After all, spending a few extra moments to breathe into the frissons is happiness-inducing. The second and third times I felt the kick of vitality on my skis, I thought—hey, there’s a pattern. First, I searched around online to see if there was anything specific about my experience. While there is lots about tantric yoga and about other breathing practices and sports performance, there wasn’t anything specific about the particular connection I am experiencing. So, I asked Stéphane, if I was imagining the connection or if the Special K-effect (as I think of it, a reference to the breakfast cereal, not the drug) was a known result? He wrote me back (oh, right; because I did not have the courage to ask the question in class, live on zoom, I waited to ask in writing!): “Yes, whenever we channel our sexual energy there will be a tendency to increase all of our internal energies. It (*our sexual energy) is the source of all our strength.”
Yes! I’ll have what she’s having. Oh wait, I’m the she who is already having. That sentence may have been nonsense, but you get the picture. I’m grooving to this class, even on my skis.
Interestingly, at the risk of over-sharing, but hey, I’m already in pretty deep here: when I actually have sex in the morning, that does not make me feel stronger for my workout. The more likely result is that I am more at ease with however the workout goes. That’s an equally great outcome, since I can get caught up in performance-busting narratives in my head.
And, in case it isn’t super obvious, these practices are intended for all people with sexual energy, whether or not you are in a relationship or solo and whatever gender creates the sparks.
There’s more personal, anecdotal research to be done on this front. I plan to be very diligent about my homework. And if you’ve been wanting a new kick of energy to supplement your morning coffee, check out the Special K-effect for yourself. You can’t fake the deliciousness.