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Have you ever experienced a moment of sexual ecstasy? How did it make you feel? Exhilarated? Luminous? Deeply connected? Intense sexual experiences are one of our greatest sources of pleasure.

At the same time, sex is often regarded with an equal measure of fear and fascination. We may crave sexual intimacy to the core of our being, yet also take great pains to avoid it. We may wish to be touched with all of our heart, yet fear our own vulnerability. We may long to rekindle lost passion, but have forgotten how to light the fire.

The practice of Tantra shows us how to reclaim the sexual intimacy that is our birthright. And through this most ancient of arts, we may discover new joys of the erotic and expand mere moments of sexual ecstasy into a lifetime of sexual bliss. At a time when the stresses, fears and distractions of daily life threaten so many relationships, the age-old practice of Tantra shows us how to open our hearts, our emotions and our sexuality.

What Is Tantra?

Although Tantra has long been practiced in many eastern cultures, it is just beginning to flourish in the United States. Born in India more than 6,000 years ago, Tantra emerged as a rebellion against organized religion, which held that sexuality should be rejected in order to reach enlightenment.

Tantra challenged the acetic beliefs of that time, purporting that sexuality was a doorway to the divine, and that earthly pleasures, such as eating, dancing and creative expression were sacred acts.

The word Tantra means "to manifest, to expand, to show and to weave." In this context, sex is thought to expand consciousness and to weave together the polarities of male (represented by the Hindu god, Shiva), and female (embodied by the Hindu goddess, Shakti), into a harmonious whole.

Couples need not adopt the Tantric pantheon in order to benefit from the sexual wisdom of this ancient art. Tantric sexual practices teach us to prolong the act of making love and to utilize potent orgasmic energies more effectively.

Tantra is also health enhancing. "Sexual energy is one of our most powerful energies for creating health," says Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of "Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom."

"By using sexual energy consciously...we can tap into a true source of youth and vitality."

How Is Tantric Sex Unique?

In the West, we sometimes view sex as a source of recreation rather than a means of transformation. The goal may be to reach orgasm rather than to pleasure our lover or to connect with him or her more fully.