Importance of physical health in Tantric practice

There was a time when practicing some form of hatha yoga – that is, physical postures – was inseparable from Tantric practice. In the beginning, serious practitioners are often required to sit for extended periods in order to complete what their gurus ask of them. As one progresses on the path, intense sadhanas require great physical effort to maintain the health of the body while going through the rigors of the path. Hatha yoga is a physical practice that is based on asanas or postures, which are said to prepare us to sit for sadhana.

Cultivating and maintaining physical health is essential to the Tantric path. If you are intent on spiritual practice of any kind, one must remember that the Divine inhabits this physical body as a vehicle. Therefore, only give this body the best and cleanest of foods that are available to you. Keep it healthy by exercising it regularly – take a walk each day, and try to practice some form of physical yoga, whether it is gentle stretching or vigorous asana. It may also be helpful to begin sitting on the floor regularly – if you do work at home, place your computer on a low table and sit on the floor to use it. Be mindful of your circulation, and shift your body as you need to.

One needs flexibility in the joints – especially the hips and knees – as well as strength in the back to perform lengthy sadhanas. One also needs to maintain proper circulation, and get to know how to comfortably sit for an hour or more without physical supports. Getting daily exercise, stretching throughout the day, learning about good nutrition, eating as healthfully as you can, limiting sweets, and drinking plenty of water will all help improve circulation and enable you to handle the physical rigors of puja.

Clear your mind of the false idea that a ‘spiritual person’ looks a particular way.

Finally, keep your mental attitude healthy. Clear your mind of the false idea that a ‘spiritual person’ looks a particular way. There are holy men and women who are thin, some who are muscular, others who are fat, still others who are somewhere in between. We tend to value asceticism and thinness as markers of holiness and good health in America, but in Tantra we don’t care about showing others how holy we are, and know that these are misleading stereotypes. You can’t tell how holy or unholy, healthy or unhealthy someone is by how fat or thin they are, and being thinner won’t make you holier. Health comes at every size, so don’t waste your energy judging others or yourself. Instead, marvel at the diversity in which our Divine Mother has taken shape in every direction, and be grateful that you and everyone else has this vehicle with which to work toward realization of oneness with Her.

Photo credit: Singapore Butterfly, by Kulasundari Devi