It all started when I was taking my first yoga class in Australia at the age of 20.
During the practice, the instructor gently suggested, “Relax the skin above your skull.”
That was the beginning. That was the start of my journey toward awareness.
I had been holding on to so much tension between my eyebrows for so long that I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Learning that I had the choice to let it go was mind-blowing, and I took advantage of it.
My first experience of this awareness tempted me to learn more about the way I function as a human being. For years, I operated habitually, not knowing that I had a choice in the way I go about life. I felt like a curious child again.
Naturally, I chose to study yoga in-depth, enrolled in a yoga teacher training program, and went about studying and living and breathing yoga. I moved to Costa Rica where the environment felt more supportive of my yogic lifestyle. I spent my days practicing up to three classes per day, meditating for hours on end, and eating very little solid food, which was primarily vegetables and fruits when I did indulge. I happily practiced celibacy in order to harness my vital life force energy and avoid feeling depleted. I was alone often, and felt very content in my own space.
As time progressed, I gradually witnessed my way of being increase in constriction and mental resistance.
I was so intent on living the yogic lifestyle that I resisted pretty much all forms of pleasure.
Years of vigorous asana practice sank deep into my bones and silently taught me that struggle was the only way to freedom. If my body was not excruciatingly sore on a daily basis, I felt I was lazy. I remember returning home to my parents’ house from one of my teacher training programs and attempting to persuade them to throw out their couch and sit on the floor instead. They thought I was crazy.
I also became obsessed with micro-managing my food. I thought I was being a yogi, but I was really suffering from an eating disorder. Even though on paper it looked like I was following the yogic diet, it was fueled by self-neglect masked as hunger for the non-physical and spiritual. I chewed every bite 50 times, only ate when I was alone, sat upright, and practiced special breathing techniques before and after eating. I cut everything into symmetrical shapes and literally worshipped food as if it were God. Don’t get me wrong, I am still a fan of mindful eating, but this was over the top.
According to the yoga sutras, the second sutra clearly depicts “Yoga Citta Vitti Nirodahah,” or “Yoga is the practice of stilling the fluctuations of the mind.”
Despite my philosophical understanding of this verse, my life was clearly not a portrayal of anything peaceful. The path was arduous. After a while, it became exhausting. Even living in the jungle became burdensome as my physical body was weak, my mind was tired, and my being was starved for love and nourishment.
Interestingly, during my years of self-imposed torture disguised as living a yogic life, I took part in the nightly ritual of reading. The only books I read were Osho books. I suffered from insomnia due to the lack of food in my body and overload of energy, and Osho’s wisdom flowed effortlessly into my subconscious and would put me into deep sleep. I felt like his main teachings were speaking to whatever part of my heart was still pure and alive and yearning to come out and play.
I later discovered that Osho was teaching Tantra, the language of the heart. His book, The Book Of Secrets, is a beautiful, in-depth explanation of the link between yoga and Tantra. I realized that I had been seeking Tantra my whole life, but I didn’t trust myself, so yoga was more appealing. Yoga, despite its physical and spiritual benefits, also sneakily satisfied my ego. I could easily use my brain to follow the system of yoga. There is no system for Tantra. I knew I was achieving “success” in yoga to the extent that I could resist life’s inevitable temptations and distractions. I felt superior, yet simultaneously envious of those who seemed to master the art of conscious consumption.
Osho says that yoga is the path of deprivation with awareness. Tantra is the path of indulgence with awareness. They both lead to the same place: Samadhi, bliss, enlightenment, source, God, whatever you want to call it.
Unlike the systematic discipline of yoga, Tantra is a complete letting go and surrendering into the dance of our innermost being. Tantra teaches pleasure as a path toward the Divine and our physical body is the vessel through which to experience the ecstasy of life. Tantra celebrates the sense organs as a temporary gift of existence that we must not only accept, but honor and celebrate if we desire true bliss in this human experience. We must not discount any part of ourselves.
It is ultimately the opposite of what we’ve been told. We are enough. We are abundant. Peace is now in this breath. In this heartbeat. In a flower. In a morsel of chocolate. In laughter. And in tears. All is welcome and seen as a part of the same source which is divine.
I believe learning and living yoga is a necessary step on the path. It can radically detangle and unravel old limitations and conditionings and provides an opportunity for re-birth and freedom from the past. Yet without deep trust, even yoga can become just as mechanical and automatic a life as being completely unconscious. I’ve experienced it myself.
Now that I have awareness and self-understanding, it has been imperative to move back out into the world. Otherwise, I believe that I would have remained in a state of fear. Fear of trusting myself to stop eating when I’m full. Fear of what may happen if I let go into pleasure. Fear of the unknown at the other end of following my intuition. Fear of taking up more space on the planet. Fear of my light. Fear of my potential. Fear of my self.
Of course, each and every one of our journeys is unique. Awareness is a gift that, once realized, never can and never will diminish. We must trust ourselves fully if we want to live with a relaxed mind and a healthy balanced life.
When I call myself an “ex-yogi,” I am referring to a way of being that was excessively pre-occupied with “becoming.” As a health coach, I am exposed to many people with a seemingly insatiably desire to “become” something different or better than their current state of being. This incessant striving for self-improvement subconsciously teaches us that we are not okay as we are. And if we feel that we are inherently broken, no real healing can be done.
Only when we look through the eyes of self-acceptance can we truly evolve from a place of wholeness.
I still practice and teach yoga, now from a place of self-love instead of self-denial. This is the essence of Tantra—total acceptance. Only when we accept ourselves can we grow. Resistance does not birth expansion. Resistance only results in more contraction. More restriction of energy. Tantra is a way of looking at life, which is a reflection of how we relate with ourselves.
In fact, I believe the whole “self-love” movement is a sign that the ancient teachings of Tantra are surfacing. I believe that adopting this simple perspective shift is essential to keep the teachings aligned with yoga’s original purpose, which is peace of mind. Plus, it can heal our world.
Not only did embracing the Tantric lifestyle help me heal from my eating disorder and attract my twin flame (who happens to be a Tantra teacher as well), my entire life and career have become filled with opportunity, aliveness, and abundance in every way possible. It is my purpose and mission to empower people who have a desire to live an ecstatic life and experience the bliss that is inherently our nature. This is something I theoretically understood as a “hardcore yogi,” but never truly experienced until I started adding Tantra into my life.
Tantra is experience. Yoga is mostly theory. For me, at least. Both have tremendous value; they are two sides of the same coin, masculine and feminine.
I currently run Tantra Yoga workshops and retreats around the world with my partner, in service of spreading the teachings of self-love, healing, and irrevocable peace of mind.
Consider that you are whole and complete just as you are.
This is not to say you should simply accept what is and not move forward. Existence wants you to grow.
When you fully accept the miracle of life, which is expressing itself through you as you, that understanding becomes fuel to propel you to any destination you desire.
Author: Shayna Hiller
Editor: Emily Bartran
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Leah Sugerman