Why Magical Movement?

A Note from the author of Tibetan Yoga: Magical Movements of Body, Breath, and Mind

The following is a note from Alejandro Chaoul, author of Tibetan Yoga: Magical Movements of Body, Breath, and Mind.

Learning the magical movement or Trul Khor practices of the Aural Transmission of Zhang Zhung at Tritan Norbutse monastery, in Nepal, in 1993, changed my life forever. Since then, I continued practicing and had the wonderful support of my teachers, including Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak and Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche to guide me in my practice and academic understanding of the magical movement Tibetan texts and practices. Through them I also met Ponlob Thinley Nyima, the principal teacher at Menri Monastery in India, with whom I studied to refine my understanding of the Bön magical movement. While pursuing the research that has resulted in this book, I met with him three times at Menri and four times in the U.S. It was within our conversations that we decided on the translation of “magical movement” for Trul Khor (trul meaning “magic”, and khor “wheel” or “movement”).  Also, I was able to study with Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung, current abbot of Triten Norbutse Monastery in Nepal, who told me that the magic refers to “the unusual effects that these movements produce in the experience of the practitioner.” On my mat, I can sometimes connect to that magic, as I perform the movements in my daily practice. And that magic many times graciously spills over my rest of the day off the mat (and sometimes not so graciously).

"The magic refers to ‘the unusual effects that these movements produce in the experience of the practitioner’.
— Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung"

In using the term “magical” to describe this practice, I am aware that it might not agree with the usual understanding in English. Partly, as H.S. Versnel writes, “our notion of ‘magic’ is a modern-Western biased construct which does not fit representations of other cultures.” Therefore, I feel that a short explanation is needed here.

The English word “magic” has many definitions, which are fairly consistent across other European languages, all of which share the common Latin and Greek root. However, there may be no precise equivalent outside of European contexts. Although in the past, most scholars in religion and anthropology defined magic by contrasting it with religion, this tendency is fading as our understanding of religious traditions around the globe has broadened. That is to say, religions were once seen as complex systems of ritual and philosophy in which magic had no place. This was in a time when European Christian scholars contrasted (their) religion to superstition and mythology—and to magic. Scholars today use both magic and religion in more inclusive ways, and many practices previously categorized as magical can in fact be seen as sharing a basic rationality with other human endeavors, including religion and even science and technology. As the famous science fiction author Arthur C. Clark once said, magic is “just science that we don’t understand yet.”

"Practices previously categorized as magical can be seen as sharing a basic rationality with other human endeavors."

Within the context of religious studies, my university professor and now friend, Jeffrey Kripal, states that magic is generally understood as “a vague reliance on external forces that are never rationally defined but which can be manipulated by ritual activity.” It seems clear, he continued, that “in most societies, magic forms an integral part of the sphere of religious thought and behavior, that is, with the sacred, set apart from the everyday.” Furthermore, the New Dictionary of the History of Ideas defines magic as “the performance of acts or rites that are intended to influence a person or object,” adding that “magical acts or rites are usually performed with the assistance of mystical power.” This mystical power is related to an inner magic or inner transformation. We see some examples of this in the benefits of this magical movement practice, when the text mentions the ability to speed-walk, reverse one’s aging process, as well as the mastery over the external elements, and the feeling of a clear awareness of luminosity both inside and outside.

It is in this sense that I am using magic in “magical movement.” Therefore, this yogic practice can be understood as movements that guide the manipulation of the gross and subtle bodies or dimensions (including channels, winds, and drops—subtle aspects of the mind), which can lead to internal or even mystical experiences and transformation of the practitioner. These aspects of our organism are not attested to by Western science, and so their manipulation is, to some degree, a reliance on the supernatural. You will see in the book, however, that science can measure some of the effects of these practices, which are even published in Western scientific and medical journals. That is the inner magic: the power that the performance of these movements can have on the experience of the practitioner and his/her state of mind.

The use as healing or medicine could be seen as a byproduct of that transformation or as one of the “unusual effects” that Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung referred to in the earlier quote. This too can be considered magic. Magical movement can be a sufficiently advanced mind-body technology that is magical in all the ways described above. I invite you to read the book, and if it sparks your interest, learn the practices.

"That is the inner magic: the power that the performance of these movements can have."
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