I’d trained as a yoga teacher in the Western tradition, but when it wasn’t until I lived in an Indian ashram and practiced traditional tantra yoga that I truly came to my deepest understanding and expression of what yoga is.
In the shala (a Sanskrit word meaning "home") in India, tantra yoga classes started with students lying on the floor, eyes closed. We would wait until the teacher came into the room, only knowing to start by listening to their words from the back of the room. They did not introduce themselves, nor did they explain anything about what was going to happen, or how to execute the asanas. They simply spoke the words—many of them unfamiliar to me.
At first I was confused and a little angry because I didn’t know what was going on. I had to look at the other students to see what some of the asanas were. Over time I began to find peace in the voice resonating from the back of the room. I found freedom in being able to close my eyes and focus fully on my practice without the distraction of a teacher’s cues.
What I learned over time was that this form of yoga is more a moving meditation than a physical workout. Traditional Tantra Yoga focuses on internal connection and reflection, with physical flexibility, strength, and prior knowledge of the postures taking a backseat to the primary intention of self-knowledge and empowerment.
Eventually I was able to find in each asana exactly what my body needed, because no one was telling me how to do it or how long to do it. I found strength in this freedom and came to consider this form of yoga far more powerful than what I'd personally experienced in the West.
I stayed at that ashram for quite a while, eventually becoming certified to teach this style of traditional tantra yoga. I am now back in my Western home, where practicing yoga usually means racing through traffic, running into a studio at the last minute, and performing whatever sequence at whatever pace our teacher has chosen.