Whether he's teaching Tantra, singing mantras, or leading Americans on a pilgrimage to India's sacred sites, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait is full of joie de vivre. Raised in an orthodox Brahmin family, his first spiritual teachers were his parents. He went on to study with yogis across his beloved India before moving to the United States in 1979 at the invitation of his guru, Swami Rama. For the past 30 years, he has traveled the globe as a teacher and currently serves as the head of the Himalayan Institute, a nonprofit yoga center based in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.
What was your childhood in India like?
My father was a Sanskrit scholar. Just by watching what my parents were doing—pranayama, meditation, scripture recitation—I learned. Also, I went to a Sanskrit school, where I was educated just as children in India were educated a thousand years ago. By the time I went to college, I was well established in a practice of meditation, but hatha yoga was not part of my life yet. I visited my father's network of sadhus, swamis, and Tantrics and realized, "Hey, Wow! That's what the scriptures say—you practice pranayama and meditation only after you've gained proficiency in asana." So I learned yoga a little bit backward.
When did you meet your guru, Swami Rama?
I met him in 1976 at a five-star hotel in New Delhi. Until then, I had learned yoga in fragments. Swamiji systematized everything.
How has your practice evolved?
Swamiji helped me find a practice to bridge the different aspects of my being: my body, my breath, my mind, my family life, and my spiritual life. That practice was Tantra, the path of integration. For the last 27 years or so, I've been walking on this path, and I find so much fulfillment in it.
What is Tantra?
Tantra is an integrated approach to life, where the sacred and the mundane are not held apart. The goal is to find freedom here in the world and not waste time finding freedom away from the world, because that does not happen. When people try to run away from the world, it's a complete disaster. Mother Nature has deposited so much wealth right in our body, our senses, our mind, our soul, our family, our society, our natural world. The purpose of sadhana, spiritual practice, is to discover the great wealth within us. This approach to living life fully is the Tantric approach.
You teach Living Tantra. What is it about?
I teach practices that help us discover the vibrant energy of prana, or life force, that which is the foundation for our strength, vitality, virility, youthfulness, inner beauty, and inner joy. One practice I teach is called prana dharana (concentration of the pranic force); it pulls the mind from inertia and sloth and makes it sharp and one-pointed while infusing the soul with indomitable will.
How do you know when you've found the right practice?
If it helps me heal and empower my-self, if it helps me expand my consciousness, if it helps me become a healthier, happier, more peaceful, more prosperous person, then it is the right practice for me.
What's your advice for yoga students?
Give your body, mind, and soul the food that they need to be healthy and strong. Then say, "Hey, Mr. Mind, can you be a little calm and tranquil and turn yourself inward? Mr. Soul really wants to meet with you." Then things will work out!