Thomas Stout and Sara Biewen Stout had been married for 20 years when they decided to take their relationship to the next level.
The Plymouth couple had raised two sons together and experienced their share of normal relationship ups and downs, but in general they felt that they had developed a happy, close partnership.
Still, Thomas was concerned that as they headed into their third decade together, he and Sara were at risk of letting complacency take over, especially in the bedroom. So he got online and searched for ways to, he said, “spice up” their relationship.
Thomas’ research eventually led him to Margot Anand, author of the international best-seller “The Art of Sexual Ecstasy,” and creator of SkyDancing Tantra, a body-based method for couples and individuals interested in building intense sexual connection and communication.
Thomas was convinced that tantra might hold the key to reinvigorating their sex life; Sara was game to give it a try, so they signed up for a SkyDancing Tantra workshop in Harbin Hot Springs Retreat Center in Middletown, California.
“That first weekend, we flew to California, and we didn’t know what we were getting into,” Thomas recalled. Turns out the experience was transformational for their relationship: “By the end of the weekend, I was on my knees in front of Sara praising her as a goddess,” he said. “She transformed into a goddess that weekend. I’d never seen that aspect of her before.”
Sara said her transformation came directly from SkyDancing Tantra’s inquisitive, creative approach to love and sexuality.
“Studying tantra has helped me erase a lot of my sexual shame of shutting down or not feeling attractive enough or being able to ask for what I want,” she said. “The blocks have all fallen away.”
The Stouts’ enthusiastic reaction to tantra isn’t unusual, Anand said.
“That’s what happens when people get into SkyDancing Tantra. The sacred aspect of sexuality appears when sexual energy moves though the heart and the spirit and becomes meditation. This is a very ancient tantra where you see your partner not from the ego but instead from the soul and the spirit. You see the light that emanates from your partner and you experience a deep connection because you meditate together.”
This weekend, interested Minnesotans will have the opportunity to meet Anand when she leads a two-day event at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis, 410 Oak Grove St., Minneapolis. The event, which is open to the public with limited seating, will feature a book signing, reading and talk about Anand’s latest book, “Love, Sex, and Awakening,” and an all-day SkyDancing Tantra workshop. Individuals and couples of all sexual orientations are welcome to attend.
Anand said that her search for the sacred roots of sexuality began “after my first orgasm, after the moment I lost my virginity. I was projected outside of my body to a place of pure light, free of any connection to my culture, my parents, my language, my university. After this mystical experience, I was convinced that sexuality was the door to spirituality for me.”
Anand, 73, a French citizen and former journalist, decided that she wanted to keep that unbridled sexual feeling alive. She embarked on a journey to discover the secrets of sexual pleasure.
“I went around the world,” she said. “I learned about the amazing potential that comes from human beings experiencing very joyful and blissful moments. The moment we get into such a place, the first question we ask is, ‘How can I bring that feeling back into my life?’ This was the quest that I set out on. I became a bliss hunter.”
Anand found her bliss in the late 1970s when she studied tantra at an ashram in India. She also earned a degree in psychology at the Sorbonne in Paris. Convinced that she wanted to share what she’d learned with as many people as possible, she wrote “The Art of Sexual Ecstasy” in 1989, followed by “The Art of Sexual Magic,” “The Art of Everyday Ecstasy” and many other books. She began holding workshops around the world.
“I knew this was a practice that could be shared with other people like a yoga of love,” Anand said. “I stopped being a bliss hunter because I found the answer.”
After that first weekend retreat, the Stouts eventually committed themselves to tantra, and, ultimately, to sharing its benefits with others. Tantra had deepened and strengthened their relationship and their connection with themselves, and they wanted other people to reap the same benefits. They became certified SkyDancing Tantra teachers.
Tantric SkyDancing is, Sara explained, “a mindfulness practice. It’s a beautiful dance that Margot has masterfully put together, a whole array of exercises that provide a sense of safety where people can go into being more open with their partners through breathing exercises, meditation and movement. There’s communication and face-to-face connection. So many people want a sense of connection with their partners. What I’ve learned is that they don’t know how to find it. This practice is a wonderful way to experience that connection firsthand.”
This weekend’s events will provide many opportunities for participants to learn about Amand and her philosophies.
“I will be talking about love, sex and awakening,” Anand said. “It’s the title of my latest book, but it’s also the content of the program. The book is very juicy. It includes a series of initiations and adventures in my life, and I will tell the audience more about them.”
On Saturday, participants will spend a full day with Anand and the Stouts, learning the basics of tantric practice, which includes slowing down and paying focused, loving attention to your partner.
“We are always running around,” Anand said. “There is so much to do. In my workshops, I want to bring the enormous, exalting power of bliss or ecstasy to participants so they can recharge their spirits and souls. The experience is sacred and very healing.”
Participants will learn basic tantric exercises.
“The exercises are very simple,” Thomas explained. “It might be as simple as, ‘Hold your partner’s hand and look into their eyes and take three deep breaths.’ It’s all built around how you can slow yourself down and really connect with another person.”
And people who come to the workshop alone will be accommodated, Anand said.
“People can do the meditation and exercises by themselves, by going inside and awakening their inner lover. But usually people love to find someone in the workshop to partner with during my presentations. It’s very fun.”
The spice of life
Thomas discovered SkyDancing tantra when he went in search of sexual spice. What he and his wife found was something much larger. Anand likes to call that discovery tantric “magic.”
“Tantra is mysterious,” she said. “It’s all about bringing grace into the room. It’s allowing people to have a direct connection with their essence, their inner Buddha. There’s magic in the room. People are delighted. At my workshops they learn something they’ve wanted all along but didn’t know how to reach.”
Sara and Thomas now lead SkyDancing Tantra workshops in the Twin Cities and California, and they report that their participants often have transformational experiences that mirror their own.
“After a workshop,” Sara said, “people tell us, ‘I’ve never felt so close to my wife or my partner.’ The wonderful thing is they can then take everything they’ve learned home and practice it again and again.”
The lasting beauty of tantra, Anand said, is the variety that it can bring into a relationship.
“Imagine you go to a restaurant every night and the cook gives you the same dish again and again. Couples often live like that because they don’t know what else to do. When they are offered many different menus, they create a sacred space in which they look at each other and commit to be 100 percent present. This is how we begin again once we have stepped out of the stress and slowed down. There are all these different choices of things they can explore together and renew each other.”
For the Stouts, and for many others, this new menu has made an important difference in their relationship — and in their lives.
“We are promoting healthy sexual connection,” Sara said. “We want to celebrate that and not feel shameful. It is our birthright to enjoy our sexuality, and we’re here to spread that message.”
Tickets for “Love, Sex and Awakening: An Intro to Margot Anand’s SkyDancing Tantra,” are available online and at the door.