Tantra Therapy, Part 1: Weaving Health and Spirituality
The scope of tantric healing is vast. It stretches from healing our body and mind to healing our families, our communities, and the world of nature. For me, a comprehensive understanding of the breadth and power of tantric healing has been the work of a lifetime. I have been exposed to tantra and tantric healers since I was a child. Initially, my attention was captured by the miracles I witnessed in the village where I was born and by the extraordinary powers people attributed to tantric practitioners. But when I met my first “formal” tantric teacher, Swami Sadananda, my understanding of tantra and tantric healing expanded dramatically.
I had my first direct experience with tantric healing in 1973 when I was a graduate student at the University of Allahabad. In those days, tantric studies and practices occupied more of my time and energy than did my academic pursuits, so I could usually be found at Swami Sadananda’s ashram. One day I received disturbing news from my family back in the village. My sisters told me that for weeks my mother had been having excruciating headaches and now had lost her eyesight.
Not knowing what to do, I told Swami Sadananda about my mother’s condition and asked if he could cure her. His first response was to recite a passage from the scriptures, which can be translated as, “The sun is the soul of the universe and everything that lives in it.” Then he said, “Worry is no solution to any problem. Do the recitation of Aditya Hridayam [a set of mantras dedicated to the Sun God] and your mother will be healed within twelve days.”
I had seen Swami Sadananda healing people, but had never imagined myself healing someone by reciting a prayer. However, I did as I was told. Within a few days, my mother began feeling better and by the 12th day she was cured. I told Swami Sadananda I attributed this healing to his blessings, but he dismissed my statement by explaining the power of prayer and the dynamics of distant healing.
Soon after this, I saw another facet of the tantric approach to healing when a man suffering from violent epileptic fits came to the ashram. Swami Sadananda advised him to feed wild birds, ants, and other insects every day for the next six months before taking his first meal of the day. He further instructed this man to feed the birds and insects with his own hand, and to do it lovingly and patiently. So every morning he scattered grains under the trees, put flour near ant holes, and fed puffed rice to fish and frogs. Within a month, both the frequency and the intensity of his fits diminished. Within six months, he was completely cured.
Swami Sadananda explained that this cure was an example of karmic healing. When I asked him how karmic healing works, he replied, “In this grand web of life, all of us are interconnected. What we do to others we also do to ourselves in one way or another. By feeding birds and insects, we feed ourselves. By providing nourishment to these creatures, we nourish ourselves.”
I asked him how it is that we heal and nurture ourselves by feeding insects and birds and why feeding people does not yield the same result. “Wild animals and insects are much closer to nature than human beings,” he explained. “Nature contains and guards our karmic pools and these creatures are an integral part of nature. By serving them, we reconnect ourselves with nature and this reconnection reunites us with nature’s healing and nurturing forces. Normally one human serves another out of attachment, pity, guilt, recognition, or dominance, and thus service to other human beings is often contaminated by a subtle agenda. To serve Mother Nature and her nonhuman children, we need wisdom, selflessness, and the purest form of compassion.”
Wisdom means abiding in the knowledge that everything in nature is an integral part of everything else. That is why maintaining balance and harmony in the natural world is crucial to our own health and healing.
Swami Sadananda went on to explain that wisdom means abiding in the knowledge that everything in nature is an integral part of everything else. That is why maintaining balance and harmony in the natural world is crucial to our own health and healing. By sharing, serving, and making a difference in the world of nature, we are not obliging anyone nor are we seeking recognition or a reward for our kindness. That is how we become selfless. Birds and insects don’t care about what we may or may not expect. When we serve these aspects of nature our efforts are not contaminated by expectation. Serving others without any expectation is the hallmark of the purest form of compassion.
What I found most intriguing about Swami Sadananda’s explanation of the dynamics of karmic healing was the idea that everyone and everything is connected seamlessly in the web of life. We share one planet, one environment, and one life force. We derive our inspiration from one collective consciousness. Prakriti and Mother Nature are names for this all-encompassing web of life. Mother Nature is bigger than our eyes can see and our ears can hear. She is bigger than our narrow understanding of the natural world. She is the embodiment of all forms of subtle forces, including the healing force. All forms of healing—distant healing through prayer, karmic healing through feeding birds and insects, healing through the power of mantra, as well as the esoteric healing accomplished through rituals and the use of sanctified water or herbs—ultimately derive their power from Mother Nature.
In short, Mother Nature is the primordial and infinite pool of all healing forces. Tantrics call Her the Divine Mother. At the individual level, She is Kundalini Shakti. A vast portion of the powers, potentials, and privileges inherent in Kundalini Shakti lies dormant within us. The fraction of Kundalini Shakti that is awakened and active is called prana shakti. In other words, prana shakti is the manifestation in us of the radiant, indomitable life force. By investing prana shakti wisely and mindfully, we can infuse our body and mind with ever-increasing vitality, stamina, health, and enlightenment. Activating prana shakti and infusing our body and mind with this vibrant force is the core principle of tantric healing.
Working with Prana Shakti
In yogic literature, the word for a living being is prani (one who has prana). A prani is one whose body and mind are united and nurtured by prana shakti. Prana is the fundamental life force. It holds the body and mind together. When the flow of prana is disrupted or contaminated, we become ill. When it is disconnected, we die. Although prana is not a physical force, it has the power to breathe life into the physical body. The most visible manifestation of prana is the breath, so for all intents and purposes, working with prana shakti entails working with the breath.
The science of breath is one of the most fundamental and ancient discoveries of the yogis in India, Tibet, and the Himalayas. The traditional term for this science is shiva swarodaya (the rising of the energy that transports our core being). Astrologers have used this science to attenuate or negate the ill effects of planetary movements. Clairvoyants have used it to read their clients’ minds. Masters of martial arts have used the force of prana to defeat their opponents. Exorcists in the East have used it to cure various forms of psychoses. However, it is the tantric masters who have developed the most comprehensive set of techniques for increasing, containing, and concentrating prana shakti and applying it in their lives and practices.
For centuries, tantrics have used prana shakti to breathe life into their rituals. For example, a unique tantric procedure, prana pratishtha (impregnating an object with prana), enables tantric rituals to awaken and concentrate the power of mantras, yantras, and mandalas by imbuing them with prana shakti. Tantric adepts use prana shakti to awaken the Kundalini Shakti, and lead Her to a particular chakra. In essence, the countless miracles attributed to tantric practitioners and healers have their source in mastery over the pranic force.
Gaining access to the navel center is the first (and foremost) practice for expanding, intensifying, and mastering the pranic force.
Mastery over the pranic force begins with gaining access to our pelvic, lower abdominal, and navel regions. In tantra, this area of our body and its corresponding psycho-spiritual dimension is known as rudra-kuta (the center of active, vibrant, and radiant energies). All three regions come under the domain of fire, which is most concentrated at the navel center. The soul enters this world through the corridor of the mother’s navel center and also receives nourishment through the mother’s navel center. And after we are born, the navel center continues to play a paramount role in maintaining our overall health and well-being.
Many major organs—the ovaries, uterus, testes, kidneys, bladder, and pancreas, as well as the entire digestive system—are controlled by the power that resides at the navel center. That is why gaining access to this center is the first and foremost practice for expanding, intensifying, and mastering the pranic force. Then the prana shakti can be used to heal various aspects of our body and mind. But to heal others or the planet, we not only need to activate our navel center, we also need to further refine and concentrate this force, and then mentally transport it to the person, group of people, or aspect of the natural world that is in need of healing and nurturance.