Practical Tantra: Intro to the Rasas and Anuttara – Tasting the Emotions: Working with Desire

Tantric practices often work with emotions or situations that tend to be overwhelming, helping us to gain the stability to be awake and present in the experience without getting lost in it.  Every experience and emotion has something to teach us, and when we can stay aware in it, we are more likely to learn the lesson sooner, without having to repeat the lesson as many times to begin to receive the teaching.

One of my teachers, Parvathi Nanda Nath Saraswati, offers the practices of the rasas, or tastes, as a way to practice being able to taste the experience of different emotions in a liberated state, so that when we encounter these emotions in real time, we have experience with being able to go through them without blocking them or getting stuck in them.  We can recall the liberated qualities evoked in the meditation right in the moment when we need it, when these emotions come up in our day to day lives.  The meditations are also really potent when struggling with one of these emotions, to breathe in the liberated qualities while sitting or lying down to help re-balance ourselves.

From this standpoint, there is no inherent good or bad per se, yet different qualities can be in a liberated or obstructed form.  When aspects of ourselves are obstructed, we can become aware of this and try to set up the conditions so that they can shift to a more liberated state.

One meditation that is particularly useful for me is for dealing with desire.  This can be desire for anything that you really want, where you, and maybe even those around you, are suffering because of your attachment to the desire.  Whether you are able to fulfill it currently or not.

Starting with the anuttara pranayam, a breathing exercise where you don’t actively breathe the breath, yet let the breath breathe you automatically.  Which is interesting in itself – it can be challenging to pay attention to the breath – or anything – without controlling it.  I have come to experience it as that the action is getting out of the way of the flow of the breath and letting it breathe me deeply.  Like I am removing the dams from the tidal river of the breath and allowing it to flow in and out at will.  You may still be controlling it some.  Just do your best.  To do as little as possible.  And remove the resistance.  At least part of the experiential metaphor here that you are not the do-er of your actions, allowing things to come to you.  Setting up the conditions to be open and ready, and then just receive.  Paying attention all the while.

Each emotion has different qualities that evoke the taste of that emotion in a liberated state.  For desire, they are trust, detachment and respect as a form of adoration.  Just let that sit with you for a moment.

Desire can be grasping, trusting you will be ok.  Whether you get it or not.  That how things play out is how they play out and that you will be able to work with it much better if you don’t fight the inevitable but work with what you are given.  Not giving up, but utilizing what is in front of you instead of wishing it was different.  Desire as the inspiration, some detachment from the results.  Or perhaps non-attachment – not numbing yourself to the desire yet moving back from the drama a little bit to get some perspective.  I experience it like I am coming back into myself, back into my body, after losing my grounding by grasping outside of myself.   As Parvathi has suggested, moving forward to toward the desire, moving back away from the object of desire.

And respect as a form of adoration.  Key.  We adore what we desire, except of course when we hate it when it eludes us.   Respecting that which we desire, rather than dishonoring or even abusing it by grasping for it to fulfill our wants or perceived needs.  Even if we think we trying to be nice, forcing something is not respect.  When we can trust and let go of our attachment to the object of desire, perhaps we can respect it.  Adoration through respect.  This can really shift things for me.

You can just think these qualities, or let them breathe in and out of you on the anuttara breath.  If you are in a state of desire, let the qualities come in see what that feels like.  If you are experimenting with the meditation, you can flash the memory of the sensation of desire to feel it for a moment, without getting to caught up in the story around it, just feeling the sensation.  The experiential metaphor is this – you allow these qualities to come into you on the in-breath, they mix with your own trust, detachment and respect as a form of adoration, and then they pour out of you on the exhalation and mix with the collective trust, detachment and respect of the universe around you, and then the collective pours back into you, mixes with you…  With each breath the collective become stronger.  You don’t have to fight for it, grasp for it, what you need to liberate desire will come to you if you let it.  When you are open to receive it.

Try it.  It can be pretty profound.  You can do it while sitting or lying down, in yoga postures, driving your car, anywhere really.  If there are different qualities that come to you that are useful, experiment with them too.  These practices are not static, they evolve through us.  Paying attention to what is really useful, we find what works for us.

Practicing in a special defined ceremony of meditation or yoga can help instill the liberated qualities of desire inside of you so when it consumes you in the moment you will maybe remember to stay steady and have some tools to navigate the intensity.  Maybe.  Or maybe you just watch yourself be consumed and learn to do better next time.  We learn as we go, trying to get burnt by our grasping as little as possible along the way.

There are other rasas to play with, I’ll add more later.


Reclaiming Tantra

Tantra has become quite a loaded word, largely due to the extremity of practices utilized by the so-called left handed path of tantra as ways of challenging practitioners to be able to stay awake and steady in the midst of the most overpowering of situations and emotions.  Which can be quite potent, even if just looked at as metaphor.  And tantra IS this – practicing awareness and stability through the trials of life without getting lost in that which overwhelms us.  Staying awake so we can navigate as best as possible, whatever comes our way.

Tantra is not hedonism; its potential is quite the opposite.  Utilizing the guise of tantra to engage in risky behaviors in order to test ourselves before we are ready – or at all – will most likely not lead to enlightenment.  More likely it will end up causing us to get even more stuck in self serving greed and grasping for what we can never get enough of.  We all know this trap.  It usually is too good to be true.

Physical hatha yoga, for example, which is a form of tantra, helps us to bump up against both what is uncomfortable and what is ecstatic and gives us the opportunity to touch these sensations while steadying our nervous system with the breath and rhythmic movements.  Facilitating calm presence and awareness so we can go through whatever experience we are having.  Cultivating the strength and awareness to sensitize to the subtleties.  So that we can experience intensity – and boredom, which can be even more overwhelming – without losing our grounding or having to react.  Potentially.  Sometimes.  With practice.  And when we practice this, we are more likely to find this presence in the moment as we need it.

We don’t have to cover ourselves in the ashes of the dead and meditate in the cremation grounds or practice the 5 M’s of the ritual consumption of  meat, alcohol and sex in order to be able to help ourselves become strong and sensitive in the face of that which has potential power over us.  Such practices can be seen as metaphor, and we can bring the potential of them into our every encounter – grounding ourselves and staying present in whatever we do in our lives, experiencing the fullness of every moment.

Although, as it is said, nothing is forbidden, nothing is advised.  There is no one stock way to behave that fits everyone and every circumstance, it is very subjective.  It is up to us to learn what is useful for us and those around us, and what causes harm.  And be really honest with ourselves about this.  We suffer when we won’t learn.  Our karmas are the lessons we need to learn to evolve, and if we refuse to learn them and keep trying the same things that aren’t working, we have to learn the same hard lessons over and over again.  Tantra teaches us to notice our intentions and experience the results, and as much as possible, learn to move from a place of respect and love over greed.  Liberating what is obstructed in ourselves.


Practical Tantra

Tantra, simplified, as I have been taught it or at least as I currently understand and practice it, is recognizing that everything is sacred and a vehicle in which to awaken consciousness.  It is experiencing every moment, every act as a teaching, and honoring it as such.  Being awake and a part of the world as our spiritual practice, with a deep reverence for absolutely everything – all things a part of the whole, nothing excluded.  The continuum that spans all pairs of opposites and holds the center.

The practice of this involves cultivating the capacity to be able to experience all aspects of the spectrum of being alive with honesty and respect, without having to block or hide from anything, and without getting too caught up in the drama either.  Observing, noticing, experiencing, with as little judgment as possible, allowing awareness and wisdom to grow.  This is the ideal, we work from where we are.  And when we fumble, shifting back to harmony, as best we can, with deepened perspective.  Each moment another chance to try again.



It is not always easy to know the next right thing to do.  It can backfire to simply rely on a preconceived idea of right and wrong, for the nuances of each circumstance are too subtle for that.  So I work to keep myself as strong and clear as I can so I can be sensitive to the particularities of each situation.  Noticing with as little judgement as possible, with compassion, empathy, AND discernment.  Aware of my own intention.  Willing to shift when I realize I am out of harmony, even when that is after the fact.  Even when it becomes clear that the appropriate action is counter to the stock answer.  Moving from a place of love and respect over greed.  As best I can, each moment a new chance to try again.  Experiential wisdom – paying attention and learning as we go.

waking up centered meditation

Take a few deep breaths, letting your belly expand on the inhale.  Bring your mind into a relaxed focus on your lower abdomen, as if your belly is filling with a warmth, or a light.  If you can, do this with your eyes closed for a few moments to be able to really turn inward into the sensation.  Once you get acclimated to the practice, you can do it anytime, eyes open or closed, with active deep breath or letting the breath breathe you automatically

Feel as if a warm river of sensation is moving down your legs into your feet, filling your body with the warmth, or the light, as if your body is coming back into color.  All the way down into the arches of your feet and each toe, a continuous river of warmth, of sensation, of aliveness, from your belly to your feet.  Your belly like a spring of warm water, the sensation flowing all the way up into your heart, take a few deep breaths swirling it here, and then bring the awareness up in to your face.  Softening the eye muscles, softening the jaw, allowing a very slight smile to come to the corners of the mouth.  Not as pretense, yet to relax the face.  Buddha smile.  Awareness like a warmth, a light, bathing your brain.  Awareness flowing like a warm river from the belly both into the feet and the head at the same time.  Some of the sensation flowing from your belly up into the heart pouring out through the shoulders and down the arms, through the pulse points of your inner elbows, of your wrists, and out into the sensitive palms of your hands and into each finger.  Relaxed focus grounded at the belly and lower back, the pulse of your breath expanding and contracting softly, a continuous stream of awareness flowing out into the soles of the feet, the center of your chest, the palms of the hands, the back of the neck, into the cheekbones and your eyes, the crown of the head.  Grounded at the center, whole body awake and alive with sensation.

If your eyes are closed, allow them to open on an inhale, playing with staying grounded in your body, especially with the relaxed focus at the lower abdomen, and looking out.  Rather than leaping out as you look out, staying grounded in yourself while aware of what is around you.  The lateral eye muscles, at the corners of your eyes, slightly drawing back into your face.  Mona Lisa smile.  Of inner knowing.  The sensation of looking out yet drawing back in.  As if the sight is coming forward to you.  Breath at the belly and heart.

Play with this when you first wake up in the morning while still lying in bed to awaken in every cell of your body, especially if you are still sleepy.  When you are starting or ending meditation or yoga, or any activity where it helps to be really alive and present in your body.  Play with this all of the time, when you remember.  When you feel scattered or off, ungrounded, whether from being uncomfortable and overwhelmed or when you’re feeling really, really good and starting to spin out.   Come back into yourself.  Experience it from the center.  And when you get off balance, just come back.  Over and over again.


turiya yoga

turiya is pure witness consciousness, alive inside and all around us, all of the time.
yoga is the continuum, yoking all polarities as parts of the same whole, balanced at the center.
turiya yoga is a playful exploration to uncover the spontaneous, embodied, direct experience of our interconnected consciousness, manifesting uniquely through each of us.
body geometry, pure consciousness

play with your mind

Next time you meditate, maybe instead of trying to meditate, play with letting your mind rest.  It may be easier than you think.  If your mind keeps on talking to you, no matter.  That’s what it does.  Instead of fighting it, shift your mind back to the sensations of aliveness in your body.  Really, you can do this anytime.  Letting your mind rest from all its figuring by focusing on the subtle sensations of the body.  For just a little while.

This could but doesn’t have to include the sensations of the pulsing of your breath breathing you automatically.  Of the beating of your heart.  Of the air on the surface of your skin.  Maybe even going back and forth – the air on the surface of the skin.  The warmth of the interior space of your body.  Both at the same time.

When you find you have followed a tangent of the mind away from right now, bring it back.  With as little judgment as possible.  No big deal.  The taste of your mouth.  The scent and sense of temperature of your breath.  If your eyes are open, the sensation of drawing yourself back into your body even as you are looking out.  Deep breath into your belly can help with this.  And the sensitivity of the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.  The lining of the inside of your cheeks.  And the curve of the nape of your neck.  If your eyes are closed, the light on the back of the forehead.  The sounds around you coming in through the amphitheatres of your ears and translated on your eardrums.  Utilizing your senses to bring you inside your body.  Grounding yourself here.  Maybe from this grounded place, awareness of what’s around you too.  This can go back and forth too.  Awareness of what’s inside.  Awareness of what’s around you.  Every once and awhile, both at the same time.

Instead of a fight to stay present, make it a game with yourself.  A playful reverence.  Coming from a sense of love, a desire to be present, rather than just a strict discipline to avoid distraction.  Perhaps the result is the same, although the intention more friendly.  Your mind like an errant child – if you fight it, it fights back.  If you play with it, it pays attention.

But don’t trust anything I say.  Try it for yourself if you are interested.  Your direct experience much more valid than anything I could tell you.