I am grinding my pelvis in semicircles whilst l lie on the floor, imagining a red light is glowing out of my perineum. Around me twelve strangers moan while doing the same. I'm in an energygasm workshop, trying to induce a hands-free orgasm with only the power of my mind.
Gayatri Beegan, our instructor, paces the room barefoot in a black lace blouse and patterned tights. "Focus on the circularity of your breathing! Inhale through the nose and exhale through open mouths!" I stare up at the whitewashed wooden vaulted roof above me and try not to hyperventilate.
I've been sent to cover the tantric workshop on a blustery afternoon in South London. We're approaching the climax of the session, and visualizing the red light emanating from our base chakra (the perineum) is the first step in the process of energygasm.
Weirdly, despite the fact that I'm making sex noises in a room full of people, I don't feel embarrassed. We're three hours into the workshop, and most of this time has been spent building trust with other participants as well as learning the techniques used to achieve energygasm, so I'm pretty chill, actually.
Arriving at the workshop earlier that afternoon, I felt very differently. Pulling Gayatri aside for a chat before it begins, I confide that I'm terrified and spent the journey here trying to think of excuses to give my editor so I didn't have to go. Gayatri, a petite woman in her mid-forties, addresses my concerns in warm Scottish tones that give way often to an unexpectedly wonderful, full-throated chesty laugh.
"I was the same before my first energygasm!" she reassures me. "It was part of my training with [famous tantra practitioner] Barbara Carrellas, and I'd been dreading it. I was so scared I'd just be lying there like a stone whilst everyone else had these hugely ecstatic experiences, and it would be really embarrassing. And instead the energygasm opened up something tremendous inside me, and I had a vision of myself leading roomfuls of people towards orgasm. Since then I've run these workshops with over 400 people."
We watch as she experiences a full-on orgasm without touching herself. I'm 100 percent certain she wasn't faking it.
I ask her about her biggest individual group. "Probably leading 50 people, all in orgasmic experience at the same time. That was quite something." Her eyes glaze over in misty remembrance. I gulp down chai.
By this point people are trickling in, arranging yoga mats in a semi-circle around the room. I chat with a red-haired woman wearing Hand of Fatima earrings. She tells me that she wishes people would feel less shame around orgasm, before evangelizing about other tantra sessions she's attended with Gayatri.
As it turns out, most of the class (which ranges in age from early twenties through to people in their sixties) have encountered Gayatri previously, at festivals or specialist tantra workshops. As they enter she greets them by name and hugs each of them individually for what looks to me like a strangely long time.
The session begins with us sitting in a semi-circle and introducing ourselves to the group. I explain I'm here to cover the class for Broadly, but won't be describing anyone's experiences other than my own—a key condition of my being allowed to attend. After introductions are finished, we set an intention for what we hope to achieve today. I close my eyes. "I vow to keep an open mind."
Now for some trust-building exercises. We're asked to lock eye contact with another person in the room. "Welcome them with your eyes!" Gayatri urges. Maintaining eye contact with a complete stranger is oddly intimate. I fight the urge to laugh nervously as I welcome a green-haired girl to the room with my eyes.
We're taught chakra breathing as well as learning to focus our energy on the individual chakras within our body. This means breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth with no gaps in between, in what Gayatri calls a "circular breath." After practicing our chakra breaths, we close our eyes and imagine an entire universe circulating within the tip of our little finger.
I'm struggling badly at this point. I don't practice mindfulness or tantra, and sitting still for this long is alien to me. I find myself worrying I left my bag too close to the radiator and that the prawn salad inside it is going to go bad. I shove the thought out of reach, as if forcing an overflowing wardrobe door shut, and go back to imagining the Milky Way in my pinkie finger.
After two hours we break for tea, then it's back to class and we launch straight into some movement exercises. Gayatri hits play on Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On."
"Rock your hips in a figure of eight!" she bellows. "Repeat after me, I am sexy!"
"I AM SEXY!" I bellow whilst thrusting manically.
We do a frantic pelvic dance around her.
"Now, turn to the person next to you and say, YOU ARE ORGASMIC!"
I bounce up and down like an obscene lottery ball and shout "YOU ARE ORGASMIC!" at an unassuming man with glasses. I love this.
I'm getting really into it, so it's disappointing when Gayatri turns off the music and beckons for us to sit down.
Alongside breathing, energy, and movement, sound is the final component of an energygasm. Which means practicing our orgasmic sounds in a group chanting session, led by Gayatri.
Gayatri walks around us, telling us at what point to breathe, when to clench our PC muscles, urging us to chant louder in orgasmic sound.
Look, I could describe this for you, but what's the point? It sounded exactly how, reading this right now, you're imagining it sounded. I close my eyes and emit a monotone groan, imagining I'm scoring a porno soundtrack for the visually impaired.
After learning the final aspect of energygasm (clenching our PC muscle, which is the muscle that stops you peeing, basically), we're ready to move onto the actual process of achieving energygasm ourselves. Firstly, Gayatri gives us a demo. She moves a sheepskin rug to the centre of the circle. A dimmed hush ensues. We watch as she experiences a full-on orgasm without touching herself. I'm 100 percent certain she wasn't faking it.
The vibe is unsexy—it doesn't feel seedy at all. I find myself thinking how cool it is that Gayatri's so comfortable with her body, and I reflect on how social conditioning makes us feel like even talking about sex is wrong. I remember what the woman wearing Hand of Fatima earrings said earlier about wanting to break the taboo about orgasm. I get what she means now.
I start to feel a delicious sensation drifting through my body, a woozy, disconnected feeling.
By now it's darkening outside, and candles flicker in the dimly lit studio as we position ourselves on blankets on the floor and prepare for energygasm. Shamanic healing music blares out. We grind our hips whilst imagining a red light glowing out of our base chakra. Gayatri walks around us, telling us at what point to breathe, when to clench our PC muscles, urging us to chant louder in orgasmic sound.
I start to feel a delicious sensation drifting through my body, a woozy, disconnected feeling. The room seems warm; inviting. I feel floaty. I know this feeling. I love this feeling.
Reader, I fell asleep.
When I wake up Gayatri is tucking a blanket over me with a smile. I wonder if she knows I fell asleep. The rest of the class recline in post-energygasm bliss. I feel fucking great. I love napping.
Everyone I spoke to after the session told me they'd experienced something profound, although it's worth pointing out that an energygasm isn't the same as a sexual orgasm—if you're a dude you're not going to spunk in your pants. To be fair, I think a person more open to the experience than me (despite my best intentions) would have had better results. As well as being the sort of person who can fall asleep literally anywhere, I'd also been out drinking until pretty late the night before and had slept badly.
We wind up with a prayer for peace. Standing in a room full of strangers, holding hands, I'm struck by something amazing. There's a tangible sense of something in this room, bonding the people standing together. Not friendship, exactly, but community. Compassion.
As I leave, I hug each person in the room in turn, tightly and for a really long time. Only it doesn't feel like an abnormally long time to be holding someone in your arms. It just feels pretty nice, actually. If i've learnt anything from today, it's how to give better hugs.