Friday 21 July 2017

Tantric Sex: Re-invigorating love lives

Library Image. Photo: Getty Images
Library Image. Photo: Getty Images

Amanda Phelan

For Del Eagle (63), learning the ancient practice of tantra has been life-transforming.

"I went to one of Dawn Cartwright's workshops 10 years ago, and I never looked back," says Ms Eagle.

She attended the workshop on her own, and admits she was a bit nervous.

"I didn't know what to expect, but everyone was the same, and we were soon laughing and enjoying the whole experience," she says.

Now, Californian-based Dawn is coming back to Ireland for the 13th year to run one of her courses in Wicklow, with the title 'Endless Love, A Week of Tantric Bliss'.

Tantra may already ring a bell with you as it gained a profile some years back when rocker Sting and his wife Trudie emerged as fans of the practice.

"Tantra is about seeing life as a meditation," says Del. "So it can improve love-making as it encourages you to be wholly present, through simple methods such as breathing and body movements that make any experience of the senses -- eating, sex and life in general -- a much more intense and amazing experience."

Following her first experience in 2001, Del undertook Dawn's training, and continues to teach couples and singles from her base in the west of Ireland.

Tantra -- a 5,000-year-old blend of Hindu and Buddhist teachings on intimate togetherness -- is often misunderstood in the West, and conjures up unwelcome images of ageing hippies bonking to bad music.

In fact, the practice is more meditation says Dawn, a slim 49-year-old with a tinkly American voice who has a strong following in the US and Europe, and a soft spot for our own little island.

She grew up in Tennessee with a Methodist family, and says her parents have come to support her life's mission, although she couldn't imagine them attending one of her classes. So what's a tantric lesson like?

Classes are mixed or single gender. I'm not a group person, so that's the first barrier when I go along to sample a tantric workshop similar to Dawn's red-tent sessions for women only.

And so here we are, 20 earnest females seated on the floor in a circle, learning to "get in touch with our inner goddess".

To tell the truth, it's far from inner goddesses I was reared in northside Dublin, but I keep this to myself.

Our tantricteacher asks us each in turn to say why we're taking part in the class. "I want to get more in touch with my sexuality," intones a coiffed woman in expensive robes.

The next woman, who is older, is more personal. "I've remarried and I want a better sex life -- someone who can find all my bits."

Dawn says humour and camaraderie are common, and the women's courses spark "a really vibrant and fun energy" as participants learn techniques such as blissful breathing and contracting their pelvic muscles (a good skill in traffic jams, I'm told).

Tantra has no pornographic links and is about enjoying the day-to-day sensuality of life, but it's often misunderstood, Dawn says.

Her observation is soon proved true, when male friends who have never expressed the slightest curiosity about my job suddenly develop a fascination.

This is all very well in California, but what about holy Ireland? Dawn says that despite being a little repressed, Irish people are keen to tickle their tantrics.

But we "aren't pushovers", she says, and take a bit more convincing than our American counterparts who "line up in droves to sign up for anything".

"The Irish are passionate people who are very connected to the land and to their own bodies and have strong roots in paganism," says Dawn. Janey, don't tell the Mother Superior.

Tantra began when the Indian deity Shiva answered his lover Shakti's request to tell her ways to realise bliss.

He taught her 112 methods but only three are directly linked to sex. So perhaps it's the Western obsession with sex that leads us to focus on this aspect.

Ms Cartwright says those signing up for her courses are "open-minded, fun, curious people", ranging in age from their twenties to sixties, with one woman in her eighties.

Now that's what you call enthusiasm.

If you can afford it, you can even get a private session.

"Sometimes if a couple is having a special anniversary I'll meet them somewhere where I prepare their room,'' Dawn says. "Then I will help them to have a beautiful love-making experience."

Call me a repressed Irish girl, but I believe it only takes two to tango.

The Verdict

We tried: Tantric sex classes

Did it work? Puts a Sting in your sex life

Pluses: Meditative experience

Minuses: Can be a little contrived

Cost: Eight-day Tantra Immersion Course, May 27- June 3. Takes place in a residential retreat in the Wicklow Mountains: €175 per day; €300 for two days; €500 for four days; €800 for eight days. Vegetarian meals and accommodation included

Contact: www.dawncartwright.com or Del Eagle for courses throughout the year. 086-1908171 for further details

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