Touching, feeling and the ancient art of sexual healing

Louise Jury visits a 'playshop' that aims to add some spiritualism to people's sex lives
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The pelvic thrusts will not be obligatory. If 150 women at the tantric sex workshop want to sit and talk about it, that is fine.

Tomorrow afternoon, Caroline Aldred with friends Michelle Malka and Jahnet De Lijht will make their contribution to the What Women Want conference at the South Bank Centre in central London.

Alongside sessions on women and finance, the art of reflexology, and astrology with Shelley Von Strunckel, the trio will give a taste of the ancient Eastern art of making love properly, based on tantric yoga.

In the 90-minute "playshop" they will not get very far in illustrating the art, but they plan a useful start. "We'll give a few handy hints," said Jahnet, although the scale of successful tantric sex should not be underestimated.

"Tantra is such a large word," she said. "It's the life force, like God or love."

Each of the women brings a different experience. Michelle, 38, is a gardener who also sings jazz with Jahnet and recalls early disastrous sexual encounters. Jahnet, 41, is the daughter of a prostitute whose father was one of her mother's clients. "I was conceived in Soho. I was definitely going to be in the sex business."

By contrast, Caroline, 35, went to Benenden public school and planned a career on the stage. "I was leading a very middle-class life. I trained to be an actress, but I just felt there was something more I wanted in my life. Losing my virginity, at 17, was a blissful experience. Tantra was a way of integrating sexuality with spirituality."

The spirituality matters to Caroline. "It's a question of putting the sacred back into sex, planning how to worship one another as a god and goddess - or god and god, or goddess and goddess."

Jahnet takes a more fundamental approach. "I want to talk about ordinary sex, how to get people to open up about sexuality in general."

"Just being able to communicate is important," Michelle added. "Sharing information. A lot of people lack a language around sex."

Normally their workshops are for both partners, but they did not want to deter anyone from dropping in to the session, so it is for women only. Jahnet said: "Men generate a different kind of current. We don't know what kind of women are going to be coming along and we want them to feel comfortable." Thus, curious men will be barred from the fifth floor of the South Bank while the women demonstrate exercises and techniques intended to "open up the energy centres" of the body.

The traditional idea of tantra, Caroline said, was of a dormant female energy at the base of the spine called kundalini. "The idea is to awaken that energy."

Caressing the body is a start. Learning to breathe and take control comes next. Jahnet described most women, when it comes to sex, as starfish - lying flat and outstretched. But she claimed both partners would have more fun if women took control.

"The traditional image is of Shiva, the male, sitting absolutely still while Shakti, the female, does a dance."

Though Caroline has recently split up from a partner, she said her love life has been immeasurably improved by the tantric technique.

"Both men and women need educating in how to make love. The whole thing is about completely surrendering and staying with the moment. It is not about two personalities, it is about losing your personality."

If that sounds rather ambitious for a Sunday lunchtime, Jahnet was more basic when asked what they hoped to achieve. She laughed. "Four or five orgasms?" she suggested.