What Is Thai Yoga?
Thai Yoga is one of the great treasures of Traditional Thai Medicine. While many people have heard of and experienced Thai Massage and its health benefits, the art of Thai yoga is still largely unknown outside of Thailand. Come explore the history, principles, benefits and practices of Ruesri Dat Ton - the Hermit's Self-Healing Art. If you find it interesting, please have a look at the Thai yoga and Thai massage bookstore for books and DVDs to learn more about traditional Thai medicine and other aspects of Thai culture.
For many centuries, the people of Thailand have practiced a set of physical exercises known collectively as Ruesri Dat Ton. Because of the slow, exotic movements of Ruesri Dat Ton, non-Thai people who see it performed liken its practice to that of Indian Yoga as popularized by Hindu teachers who came to the West. Some Western practitioners of Ruesri Dat Ton have therefore dubbed the art "Thai yoga." Others refer to Thai massage with this same term because Thai massage is like having another person do yoga on you.
Thai medicine received influences from other countries in the course of
its history. One can see the imprints of Indian Yoga philosophy,
Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine and Buddhism in its theories and
practices including Thai yoga. That does not mean that Ruesri Dat Ton is the same as Indian
yoga, and the two should not be confused. A short course on Thai
Yoga at Wat Po would be enough to show that Thai practitioners
differentiate between the two from the onset. However they do seem to impart many of the same benefits to the mind and body.
Ruesri Dat Ton or Thai yoga may be translated as ascetic self-stretching. Modern-day Wat Po instruction teaches the function of Ruesri Dat Ton as a healing system for the body and its energy, and differentiates between this and the aim of Indian Hatha yoga to prepare the yogi for meditation. Thai yoga, Thai massage and Indian yoga can confer many of the same benefits to the practitioner such as greater flexibility and removal of toxins.
Of course, Thai yoga can be and is employed in meditation with wonderful results, just as many people use Hatha yoga for purely physical (or mental and emotional) benefits. Legend says that Thai yoga was originally conceived as part of spiritual activity. It is interesting to note that the hermits liked to wear tigers' skins, perhaps as a sign of attainment - of the triumph of spirit over matter - or for powers associated with it.
Even today, Ruesri Dat Ton is ideal for occult practitioners, mystics and yogis. Mastery of posture, breathing, vital power, self-awareness and relaxation are critical to success in occult and mystical practices. Thai yoga helps in all cases.
Benefits of Thai Yoga
The movements and postures of Ruesri Dat Ton yield the same benefits as one would get from Nuad Bo Rarn or Thai massage. Like traditional Thai massage, Thai yoga focuses on the ten major sen lines. But unlike Thai massage, which requires the help of a Thai massage practitioner, the healing postures of Ruesri Dat Ton are performed alone.
Ruesri Dat Ton restores and strengthens the flow of vital force through the sen lines. By practicing Thai yoga, one safeguards the body and mind against many ailments.
Correct and regular practice of Thai yoga:
- Warms up the body prior to doing meditation or a sporting activity
- Gives the body a well-rounded workout
- Increases flexibility
- Improves blood circulation
- Improves breathing capacity
- Improves mood and keeps the mind clear
- Helps treat muscle pain
- Relaxes and cools down the body after exercise
As far as meditation goes, a system like Thai yoga is extremely helpful in gaining mastery over one's body, vital energy and mind. Regular yoga practice for meditation:
- Develops poise, calmness and balance
- Increases self-awareness
- Develops breath control
- Controls vital energy ("prana")
- Develops ability to relax the body
- Stills the mind
- Purifies and energizes the body
All these qualities are necessary to successful occult and mystical practices.
Tradition ascribes the founding of traditional Thai medicine and Thai yoga to a Buddhist physician known as Shivago Komarpaj, or Jivaka Kumara Phacca. Before he joined the Sangha or community of monks, Jiavaka was a rishi or hermit. Such hermits practiced intense ascetic and meditation practices in the remote valleys of the Himalaya. The demands of such extraordinary practices on the body and mind led the rishis to develop exercises that could strengthen the body, sustain it through long periods of training and allow it to resume its normal functions afterward. These exercises grew into a complete set of movements that are now known as yoga.
The therapeutic techniques of Jivaka Kumara Phacca arrived in Thailand circa 1238. After the communities had been pushed out of the Himalayas, they migrated first to Ceylon and then to Cambodia, where Buddhism was adopted by the ancient Khmer, founders of the Angkor empire. In 1238, the Thai conquered this region and eventually adopted much of Kkmer culture including its religion, Buddhism. Naturally they also became interested in Jivaka's heritage. It was then perhaps that the Thai people began to practice Ruesri Dat Ton.
During the Burmese conquest of Ayutthaya, the old capital of Thailand, in 1767, many of the medical texts that were a part of traditional Thai medicine were lost. Fortunately, King Rama III ordered the remaining ancient medical texts throughout Thailand be collected with the intent to restore and preserve the ancient knowledge of traditional Thai medicine and its disciplines – including Ruesri Dat Ton or Thai yoga, and Nuad Bo Rarn or Thai massage – as they were handed down through Jivaka Kumara Phacca.
Today, the teachings and practices of Jivaka Kumara Phacca are still alive today in Thailand, where Khun Shivago is known as ‘The Father of Traditional Thai Medicine.'
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