TTY 2016: tantra and the body

Tantra is that Asian body of beliefs and practices which, working from the principle that the universe we experience is nothing other than the concrete manifestation of the divine energy of the godhead that creates and maintains that universe, seeks to ritually appropriate and channel that energy, within the human microcosm, in creative and emancipatory ways.

         — David Gordon White, contemporary scholar

The empowerment of the body, which means its divinization, is the most important quality in the tantric traditions.           
          — Gavin Flood, contemporary scholar 

This week we will look at the transitions and continuity in yogic practice between the time of the composition of the Yoga Sutras (circa 400 CE) and the advent of medieval hatha yoga (circa 1000 CE). During this period there were dramatic changes in the Indian and Asian religious landscape. The traditions and practices of bhakti and tantra spread throughout India and ultimately permeated all of Asia. The effects on the practices and theoretical foundations of yoga were profound. Tantric understandings of body and world transformed the theoretical underpinnings of yogic practice set forth in the Yoga Sutras, as evidenced in a wealth of texts on hatha yoga written in the late medieval period.

In preparation for this week’s classes, please read the following:

1) “Introduction” from Yoga in Practice ( David Gordon White): A brief overview of yoga during the period we are studying, by one of the preeminent scholars of Indian tantra.

2) “Kundalini” from Meditation for the Love of It (Sally Kempton): The kundalini energy and the system of inner channels (nadis) and power centers (chakras) that it moves through is an important aspect of medieval hatha yoga. This short chapter, written by a meditation teacher and former swami, gives an overview and experiential introduction.

3) “Tantra Rising” (Nora Isaacs): This article from Yoga Journal gives a quick overview of tantra’s origins in India, and also describes some of the ways that tantric teachings have been incorporated into contemporary yoga classes in the west. 

Experiential assignment: Practice the following meditation at least three times this week. Find a time and place where you will be undisturbed for at least 10-15 minutes. Set a timer for 10 minutes and sit in a comfortable upright posture. Keeping your eyes open, soften your gaze so that you see everything around you, but are not focusing on any one object. Try to hold that soft and open gaze throughout your meditation. If your thoughts wander, bring them back to simply sitting with an open awareness. When the timer goes off, ask yourself the following question: Am I separate from everything I see? Don’t worry about finding a right or wrong answer; just allow whatever answer comes up to arise.
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