“Polarity” is a term often used in Western Tantra to refer, loosely, to the differences between male bodies and female bodies, usually physical differences which provoke sexual desire. Sometimes, the term is also used to refer to differences in behaviour, thinking and feeling, which are assumed to go along with the physical differences between men and women.

In traditional Tantra, “polarity” is concept far more profound, and far more nuanced, than this simplistic Western notion.

Polarity at the highest level

Fundamental to traditional Tantra is the notion of a polarised Universe. Paramshakti/Paramshiva (the ultimate, supreme Shakti/Shiva) is indivisible, absolute, unchanging and yet encompassing all that appears to change. At the first moment of descent from the supreme Absolute, the very first division is the polarity between Consciousness (Shiva) and Power (Shakti).

These two aspects are inseparable and complementary to one another. The separation between the two, and the appearance that they are opposites (“poles”) is an illusion, but a very pervasive one.

Polarity on the chakras

Each of the seven major chakras represents a level of consciousness, and at each of the levels of consciousness, there is an emissive (yang) and a receptive (yin) aspect. In each individual, any chakra may be more yang, more yin, or completely balanced.

For example, muladhara, the root chakra, represents the lowest, most animal level of consciousness, at which we are focused mainly on our survival needs. A yin muladhara chakra will make us lethargic and inactive, while a yang muladhara will drive us to do something, anything, even when we really should be resting. A balanced muladhara chakra gives us the vitality we need to take action in life, and the contentment we need to take rest on a regular basis.

There is a sexuality at the level of muladhara, as there is at each chakra, and at the level of muladhara, sexuality is pure, animal lust. There is the hunter, representing the yang energy of muladhara, and the prey (or the prize), representing the yin energy of muladhara.

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Sexual polarity

Sexual desire comes into play at the level of the second chakra, svadhisthana chakra. Most desire, pleasure-seeking, imagination, emotion, and social interaction takes place at the level of the second chakra. For around 80% of the world’s population, this is the level of consciousness at which they spend the majority of their time.

In sexuality, the yang energy at this level manifests in qualities we consider traditionally “masculine” – strength, hardness, patience, protection, achievement, and direction. The yin energy manifests as qualities we consider traditionally “feminine” – expressiveness, receptivity, beauty, softness, and “going with the flow”. For this reason, it is a common misconception to associate all yang (emissive) qualities with male bodies, and all yin (receptive) qualities with female bodies, even though the tradition which created our current views of “masculine” and “feminine” is a different culture from the one which created Tantra.

This means that at the level of muladhara, we generally expect people in male bodies to be the hunter, and people in female bodies to be the prey.

The navel chakra, manipura, is the level of the individual self. Sexuality at this level is very passionate and fiery, with the yang energy manifesting as dominance, and the yin energy manifesting as submission. Because of the confusion arising from sexuality on the second chakra, we tend to assume that people in male bodies will be dominant, and people in female bodies will be submissive.

At the level of anahata, the polarity of unconditional love is giving and receiving; in the sexual realm, we expect men to give, and women to receive. At vishuddha, it is teaching and learning, and at ajna, it is perceiving and being perceived. Therefore, when it comes to sexuality, we expect men to teach, and to look, and women to learn, and to be passive objects of perception.

When expectations become prescriptions

The confusion goes one step further when these unconscious expectations are codified explicitly in neo-Tantric (modern, non-traditional Tantra) teachings.

Suddenly, we are being told that people in male bodies should be all the yang aspects of the chakras – active, dominant, strong, directive – and should not be all the yin aspects of the chakras – expressive, receptive, submissive, and so on. And, correspondingly, people in female bodies are served up the opposite set of “should”s and “should not”s.

It may sound bizarre, but I have counselled a woman who was very worried that her lover was starting to study a subject she knew well, and was asking for her help with his assignments. She was honestly worried that by teaching him something, she would “damage the polarity” in their relationship, and there would be less sexual attraction between the two of them as a result.

I have heard men say that they don’t display emotion in front of their lover, because in being emotionally expressive, they would “lose polarity”, and she would no longer find them sexually attractive.

I cannot stress loudly enough that being a full human being is far more sexy than being half a human being!

A confident, knowledgeable woman is just as sexy as a confident, knowledgeable man. An open, emotionally available man is just as sexy as an open, emotionally available woman.

In traditional Tantra, it was always the goal to balance all the polarities – to attain a point of complete harmony between the apparent opposites in each polarity. In the moment of perfect balance, the energy can enter shushumna nadi, the central channel, and open the crown chakra.

There are some hormonal tweaks which can be done because male bodies and female bodies are different, and these are definitely useful in maintaining the appropriate brain chemistry for sexual desire, without a doubt. However, the across-the-board equation of yang attributes with male bodies and yin attributes with female bodies, and then trying to force people to have only the attributes equated with their physical gender, produces a great deal of suffering.

In this model, men become isolated, competitive, emotionally suppressed, and stressed. Women with multiple degrees are left contemplating trays of bindis and make-up, and wondering if softness and beauty are really the only attributes for which they can be valued.

Using polarity in traditional Tantric practice

Given that it is very rare to achieve complete balance on all the chakras at once, we can develop a spiritual practice of merging energetically with someone who is manifesting the opposite polarities from ours, and thus achieving, temporarily, a more balanced state. This is one of the many benefits of practising sexual Tantric rituals.

It is a grave error, however, to assume that because we can compensate for being out of balance in this way, that we should, or that it is the ideal to do it this way. Some modern gurus actually teach that we should be trying to take ourselves further to the extremes of each polarity so that the rebalancing effect, when we manage to find an appropriate partner, can be more extreme. This is a misunderstanding of the nature of polarity.

The ultimate goal of Tantra is always to achieve balance of all the polarities within the individual. Once an individual has achieved a degree of balance, he or she may play a polarised role, to arouse sexual energy before a ritual, or just for enjoyment, but the choice of which pole to play, and which chakra’s polarity to choose, is not dependent on the individual’s body type. Women can play the dominatrix, or the teacher, just as men can play the innocent victim, the sex object, or the receiver of unconditional love.

Tantra has always been transgressive – challenging all cultural norms and taboos. In that sense, you could say that in a culture with our tradition of masculinity, playing the yin pole when you have a male body is even more Tantric than playing the yang pole!

So go ahead and experiment freely; find your own favourite polarity games to play. And remember, in the end, the goal is always to achieve complete balance of all the polarities within yourself.

Written by Jenny Hale of Omooni.com

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