When most of us hear "tantra," we think about sex, Sting, and steamy sex — not necessarily a Pilates workout. Sure, tantra is often brought up in the context of sex, and many people including Sting use the principles to connect to their partners and enhance their sex lives. But sex is just one aspect of tantra, and as whacky as it sounds, tantric principles like breathing can be applied to your workouts.
At its core, tantra is an at least 5,000 year-old system of health, wellness, and empowerment, explains Meg Berry, a tantra expert and classically trained mat Pilates instructor based in South Orange, New Jersey. Tantra is a school of thought that incorporates meditation and breathing, and is broken up into "sutras" or texts. The most well-known sutra is the Kama Sutra, which is why tantra is often associated with sex. "Tantra is really all about empowering yourself to create your health," she says. "When you have that functionality and that connection with real life, that makes you feel blissful." In other words, everything in tantra comes back to integrating the mind with the body, she says.
So, how exactly does tantra relate to Pilates? According to Berry, there's a natural link, because they're both "core-centered philosophies." In tantra, there's a belief that people (regardless of their gender) have feminine energies in their lower chakras, and masculine in their upper chakras. "Our lower chakras are what we call in Pilates, your core," Berry says.
The philosophy of tantra and the philosophy of Pilates are remarkably compatible, to put it mildly.
Meg Berry, Tantra expert and classically trained mat Pilates instructor
But, core work isn't the only similarity between Pilates and tantra. Pilates is a system of exercises designed to promote core strength and stability, but it's also "a moving meditation," in that it involves integrating the mind and the body through the breath, Berry says. Breath is a cornerstone of mat Pilates, and most classes incorporate specific breathing techniques that allow you to activate your abdominal muscles to perform exercises. In tantra — particularly during tantric sex — using breath is fundamental to feeling connected to yourself and the world around you. "The philosophy of tantra and the philosophy of Pilates are remarkably compatible, to put it mildly," Berry says. "I actually wonder if Joseph Pilates studied tantra and was influenced by it."
At Berry's Pilates studio, Artful Body, she teaches a class that fuses Pilates and tantra, called Tantra Core. But she says anyone can bring tantric breath into their workouts or daily activities. Learning tantric breathwork is exercise in itself, but there are some helpful YouTube video tutorials that you can use to learn. If you are curious about tantric breath, the basic gist is that your core muscles have to contract and release fully each time you breathe, she says. It sounds simple, but Berry says it can make a huge difference in your workouts.
Tantric breath can be incredibly invigorating, Berry says. "It really teaches you how to manage your energy, and does build up your energy and vitality so that you feel ready to take on the world," she says. If you're able to harness all that energy in your workout, then it could help you get a deeper result, or at the very least make you more aware of what's happening in your body.
If this all goes over your head, that's understandable, because tantra is a heady concept to digest. But, at the very least, consider paying more attention to your breath, and see what happens when you bring that skill into everything that you do. And if it doesn't instantly help your workout, at the very least it could boost your sex life.