Most people nowadays have heard of tantra; far fewer could tell you what it actually is. Sex educator Anya de Montigny thinks that in the process of bringing tantra to the West, it became overly focused on hedonism in order to make it more marketable. But she thinks that focus also discarded many valuable elements of tantra that teach skills in building boundaries and connections to other people through sensual play and breath work.
On March 12, Anya will bring her ideas to Stockroom University in a workshop called “Dark Tantra: Honey on the Razor’s Edge.” We talked to her about what she thinks genuine tantra should be, and how it can be incorporated into BDSM.
The description for your class talks a little bit about how your approach is different from that of most modern neo-tantra. Could give me a little detail about the differences between your approach and modern tantra?
I was raised in a really traditional tantric Buddhist perspective, which doesn’t have sexuality as its whole entire practice. In the Eastern traditions, sexuality is just a part of it. So in Western tantra, they kind of extracted sex and then blew it up and made it into all of what tantra is. Then, what I call the Starbucking of everything — you know, like Starbucks culture — kind of watered it down and made it more palatable for western digestion and kind of added some incense and bells and whistles and a hedonistic approach, which is not what the actual tradition of Tantra is about.
What it is about is more surrendering your ego, and surrendering it to something whether it’s a guru, a teacher, a guide, or whatever it is you happen to believe in, like a deity or something. And surrendering your ego kind of has this alchemical effect of changing your neuroses or poisons into wisdom qualities. So I really sort of took that and added in some more stuff from BDSM around domination and submission and merged it all together, so it’s more like a true teaching of tantra. But it appeals to people who have a kink, maybe around the D/s part of sexuality.
So can you give me an idea of what the non-“Starbucked” version of tantra is?
It’s really a spiritual path, and it’s this sort of alchemical process of taking your neuroses and using different practices to turn them into wisdom qualities or enlightenment. Where there can be a tradition in Hinduism or other types of spirituality of being someone who renounces the world — in different types of Buddhism there’s monks who renounce everything. They renounce sex, they renounce meat, and wine and everything, and they become really pure as a path to enlightenment. Tantrics actually invite all of that stuff in — so, inviting in sex, inviting in other types of raw life experiences, and then utilize some kind of technique to actually change that into an enlightened state. So it’s more applicable for people who are of the world. You know, maybe people who are married, have kids — it’s like you can still do a spiritual practice and still be living your life. So that’s the basic idea of it.
Then how do you incorporate BDSM into that?
Because people are really attracted to the word tantra in a sexual way, I think that I wanted to give people an experience of it that is more true to the actual discipline. So it’s kind of like I’m still using the word to attract people who wanted the sexual experience, but then adding in this idea of surrendering your ego. So I know that in power play dynamics, that’s a huge part of it. So whether it’s donating your body or surrendering your ego, you’re giving in to the trance state that’s possible when releasing some of the control in the situation.
So could you describe to me what a BDSM scene might look like when applying your ideas of tantra?
There’s definitely an element of it that involves playing with erotic trance states, and states that we can get into via meditation and other avenues. So with this, it’s a lot of sensation play. Tantra is all about sensation and senses and getting out of our heads and into our bodies. I’m introducing the use of blindfolds and getting into a trance state with your partner. So the dominant is like the guide, then the person who is receiving everything is going along on a journey.
And then, I bring in different elements of play along breath work to bring in an erotic trance. That’s breath work, not breath play. Not restricting the breath, but actually using the breath to get to heightened states of sexual arousal.
What exactly do you mean by breath work as opposed to breath play? A lot of people are familiar with the latter, but this sounds different.
Breath work would be kind of like full body deep breathing. It could be called yogic breathing, where you go into full orgasmic state using the breath.
Let’s talk a little bit about the class itself. What’s the structure like, and what can people expect coming into class?
I’ll be giving an overview of the stuff that I just told you about the difference between neo-tantra and then this dark tantra. Then there’s group practice — we’ll have blindfold exercises, guided exercises using different sensation toys, talking about negotiation of scenes, communicating, and then using breath work and sensation to bring about an erotic trance.
Have you given this workshop before, and what kind of responses did you get?
I gave it at the Armory Studios on Halloween, and it was great. The feedback that people had was like “I’ve taken tantra workshops in the past, and it just felt really creepy, and people were touching without asking, and this was so great that you laid down a foundation of consent and boundaries and asking permission.” Permission is also a part of bringing in the D/s stuff to tantra: You can’t just reach out and grab somebody, like that fluid, boundary-less neo-tantra. This is very much a practice of understanding where you end and another person begins and being really intentional with that. So they really liked that. That was the number one feedback that I got.
Are boundaries often a problem in standard Western tantra?
I think so. I stay way, way away from those communities. I’ve felt that there can be an element of hedonistic play that doesn’t necessarily take into consideration that not all things feel good to all people all the time. There’s kind of an assumption that to be a tantric, you have to be in acceptance of all sensation all the time, whenever that comes. And I think that can leave a lot of room for people to agree to things that they don’t really want to do. Sort of unconsciously entering into things that don’t work for them. It can be very problematic to my mind.
Dark Tantra “Honey On the Razor’s Edge” with Anya de Montigny
Saturday, March 12
2811 W. Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles