Yoga can seem mysterious or even weird at times, when seen from afar. This is especially true the more spiritual the yoga practice gets, or the deeper we delve into Antar Yoga, further away from yoga as a well-being practice focused on the body. One of the highest forms of yoga is tantric yoga, especially the one focusing on the inner goddess.
While practicing yoga and pilates on a glorious beach definitely has its charm, the more seasoned yogis prefer to immerse themselves into spiritual yoga retreats whenever possible. Today’s post will look into the symbolism that embraces the entire yoga philosophy and its principles.
Candles, Incense and Symbols: What Is Their Purpose?
A lit Bhairavi altar alight with fire.
Did you ever wonder why there is this trend among yogis to light candles and incense sticks around altars with some weird-looking objects? I mean beyond the obvious reason of dealing with the consequences of deep relaxation and `wind-release` of their students?
Or why on earth would a person lie in full prostration in front of a statute with three eyes, four arms with skulls hanging around the neck? What is the essence of all these practices? What is the point of all those symbols?
Yes, we’re joking, but spiritual yoga practices sometimes do seem a bit weird from afar. Understanding all of this, just like a really good discipline of yoga practice, aims to make every yogi more aware of their inner sparks of divinity and how to awaken them.
There is the yoga of the exterior called Bahir Yoga dealing with the body through asana and there is the inner yoga, Antar Yoga, searching for the higher self within. The starting point of Antar Yoga is this: if there is divinity in every particle of manifestation, there is divinity in the self of a human as a sentient being having the potential to be absorbed into oneness. In other words, inner yoga aims to awaken the divine within.
The Goddess Within
Dijan, the author, with a yantra, at her Navaratri experience tantric yoga retreat and classes.
As mere words and logic cannot capture such divinity, spiritual seekers relied on a universal language: symbolism. They used colours, shapes, elements of nature to conceptualise and experience divinity. It all starts with the feminine and masculine principles: Shiva and Shakti.
Shiva, the masculine principle is one face of the medallion representing the consciousness, void, spirit, the opposite of matter. Shakti, the feminine principle is representing the power of that consciousness, the matter, soul, energy in all forms and shapes as the other side of the medallion.
These are also principles reflected in science as the ‘+’ and ‘–‘ poles coming together and building up the matter. The statue of a spectacular, adorned woman is just the symbol representing this high concept.
Such symbolism is not only rooted in Hindu culture where yoga comes from. Shakti is also called the Pacha Mamma, mother of earth and time, by the Andes tradition; Durga as the principle form of Mother Goddess in Hinduism; Mahamaya in tantra as the ultimate shapeless form of the divine Mother Goddess; and so on. This figure of the Mother Goddess is revered in many other cultures as the great creator.
Shakti is creation in all forms. It is also the body of a human being in its flesh and bones; the mind generating thoughts and emotions as different forms of energy; the knowledge giving birth to concepts and values such as time, space, death, beauty, compassion, abundance. In short, Shakti is the creative power in everything that we can conceive and beyond.
Tantra, the Balance Between the Masculine and the Feminine
Tantra is a science of working with these energies. Tantrics observing the flow of life developed a technology around this practice. One step towards this practice is using the symbolism of the deities representing different aspects of manifestation.
A divine body is visualized according to many symbols and myths that we can relate to as a reference of our practice. When a sadhak (spiritual practitioner) bows down in front of a Shiva statue, she or he is showing reverence to the supreme consciousness; or when lighting a candle at a Goddess Durga altar she or he is paying respect to the divinity of motherhood protecting her children from harm and ignorance.
The spiritual technology designed for this practice is called mantra+yantra=tantra. The use of mantras, the sacred sounds resonating with certain frequencies and yantras, the sacred geometrical shapes carrying the form, function and power of a frequency are used as the main tools of practice.
This deep connection with universal frequencies also opens the way to some paranormal results, influencing the course of life for some practitioners. A profound tantra practice may lead to the awakening of Kundalini Shakti; the fundamental force of our being that remains latent otherwise.
You can also strengthen this force at the specialized Kundalini yoga resorts that welcome seekers with open arms, but the practice of tantra brings us closer to the roots. The divine masculine and the divine feminine are ancient and powerful artifacts that enlighten us all when addressed correctly.
Although there are many popular practices involving these techniques, a deep and authentic practice of Tantra requires guidance of an initiate, a teacher, a vessel to carry the light. Otherwise you know what they say: if you play with fire…
Yearning to try some of this tantric enlightment yourself? The ‘Navaratri Experience’ Tantra Yoga Retreat will welcome visitors between the 17th and 27th of March 2018 in Koh Phangan, Thailand. Sign up as soon as you can to secure your place in the community!