What is tantra and what does it have to do with yoga practice?

Where does yoga come from? You could say that yoga comes from tantra. Tantra is a system that was born in India thousands of years ago and documented in these massive collections of verse called the vedas. One of the core principles of tantra is that you are pure awareness. What that means is that at the core of your being, you are perfect and there is nothing you need to change about yourself. The challenge is that we don't always see this within ourselves! We've got habits and baggage and strong opinions that are not always based in truth which cause conflict in our every day life.

Hundreds of years after these tantric texts were written, this guy Patanjali crafts this text called the yoga sutras. What he did is distill these massive teachings included in the vedas into four chapters of little one-liners about how to manage your mind. What's significant about The Yoga Sutras is that, while it's not a religious text, it also doesn't dismiss the existence of the divine. It can appeal to anyone, regardless of spiritual orientation. Though the sutras are hundreds of years old, it's still a relevant text because it has very practical tools about how to deal with universal human problems. He begins by outlining how our mind works and all the patterns of thought that get us stuck, and then lays out a path to change. There's esoteric stuff in there too about siddhis (yoga super powers like levitating and other out-there stuff) but for the most part, it's a guidebook to navigate your mind.

Now the postural part of yoga, the physical practice of poses, is not so ancient at all! Some of what we do in yoga classes is inspired by these very old teachings, but a large portion of what you're likely to see in a yoga class has been developed in the last hundred years and is inspired by calisthenics, military training, and gymnastics, perhaps even more so than it's inspired by these ancient teachings.

It can be a real challenge to integrate the physical practice and the philosophical teachings of yoga, especially in an hour-long class where there is so much going on. I don't think it's necessary to try to recreate some ancient postural practice (if it even existed!) because, hey, even Patanjali took something ancient and reframed it. However, I do think it's important to consider how to relate a physical practice with a mental and/or spiritual one, and I think it can begin very simply with the intention to really be curious about developing a relationship between your breath and your movement, and to be open to the idea that through yoga practice, you can get to know yourself better and really feel how it is to be you. If the idea is that you are perfect, pure awareness, then there is only good stuff to be found on that journey.

Are you curious about yoga philosophy? What would you like to learn?