My initial reaction was, 'You've got to be joking, that'll be full of weirdos
I was brought up Catholic.
My parents were devout Catholics. By the time I got to 17, I thought spirituality was a load of hokum, and I became an atheist. At a certain point I started to realise there was more out there. I opened myself up to the idea, and that was enough to set me on this path.
I was a designer working in the film industry.
I turned my back on it as it was a case of, "Well, that's that bit done". But 11 years ago, I worked on a film directed by Aisling Walsh called 'Sinners', about the Magdalene laundries. I got hit between the eyes about our legacy in Ireland around sexuality. By being a sexual woman, you could be ostracised from society and put into slavery. It drenched through me.
I began to realise people don't know they have a [psychosexual] issue until they have intimate or loving sex.
They can have one-night stands just fine, but when it comes to intimate sex, shame starts to come up. It's strange – we're forbidden these days to be repressed about our bodies.
I'd read about Tantra from a historical perspective:
That it was a sacred offering toward one's own enlightenment. Next thing, a friend tells me that there is a Tantra workshop happening in the place in Newtown-mountkennedy where I practised yoga. My initial reaction was, "You've got to be joking, that'll be full of weirdos!" I was terror-stricken the whole way through the first workshop.
People have their preconceived ideas about what Tantra is, but it's an ancient series of practices. Tantra emphasises all aspects of life equally and is remarkable in terms of spirituality in that it celebrates sexuality as a key part of the spiritual journey. I've discovered that 'blissful' states are pharmacological states in our own bodies – when you relax into a full body-to-body hug, oxytocin is released in our systems, and it can feel like an enlightening moment.
Tantra expands from the narrow concept of sex as penetration.
Imagine every word you speak, every touch as a form of love-making, and you'll be closer to the Tantric concept. It focuses on generating ecstatic flow, opening connection and intimacy, letting go of limiting thoughts and beliefs, and bringing awareness of the detail of what is happening in your body.
I work with singles, women and couples in a workshop. Occasionally, couples will come in after the 'spark' has gone. Single people who attend are looking for a way to make connections with others. With women, a lot of the work is focused around their sexual arousal. There's a feeling there that there's got to be something more than just that clitoral 'sneeze' of an orgasm.
Do people get nervous in the workshops?
There's no intimate touching. People don't have to do stuff that doesn't feel right to them. Stress is the last thing that's helpful.
In Ireland, there are more women at Tantra workshops than men.
In the UK, however, they are often looking for women to make up the numbers. We feel men are all up for sex, but men also have sex in order to feel love.
It's funny, when I started teaching, I felt really exposed, putting up posters about it in my home town.
I was expecting the response to be a bit embarrassed and salacious, but people were more like, "God, that's an interesting one!" They wanted to know more.
There are simple, potent techniques you can introduce into your love-making this very night.
Soul-gazing is a way of attuning with your lover. The way of gazing is receptive rather than staring, so imagine you are allowing your partner to see into you.
In the beginning, it can feel awkward and there'll be lots of giggling, but stick with it, breathing gently through your mouth and reminding your body to relax. After a few minutes something in the nervous system relaxes and surrenders to the experience and often a deep feeling of love for your partner just bubbles up inside.
It's about slowing things down and letting yourself marinade in blissful states.
Instead of racing to orgasm, stop at the brink, allow the sensations to spread, open your eyes to your lover's gaze, and for a minute, even two, breathe gently together. This generally has the effect of allowing a second and third wave of arousal, each more intense than the last.
In conversation with Tanya Sweeney
Fiona has a 'Pathways to Love' workshop for couples on March 2, and a 'Making The Ordinary Exquisite' workshop for individuals on February 23, both in Co Wicklow; fionadaly.com