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What is Thai Yoga?

Thai Yoga (Reusi Dat Ton) consists of breathing exercises, self-massage, acupressure, dynamic exercises, poses and meditation.

Thai Yoga (Reusi Dat Ton or Reusi Datton) is a lesser-known aspect of traditional Thai healing and culture. Ruesi comes from the Indian word Rishi and means ascetic or hermit. The term Dat means stretching, and Ton means self. English names for Reusi Dat Ton are Thai Hermit Self-Stretching Exercises or Thai Yoga.

Thai Yoga consists of breathing exercises, self-massage, acupressure, dynamic exercises, poses, mantras, visualization and meditation. Many believe Traditional Thai massage evolved from these ancient Ruesi self-care practices, where Thai massage is the application of various yogic and stretching techniques.

Thai Yoga, like Traditional Thai Massage, is based on the Thai concept of the Sen that distributes Lom Pran (energy) through the body. Regular practice of Thai Yoga can stimulate and balance the free flow of vital energy in oneself, ensuring a healthier body and mind.

Thai Yoga has many additional benefits: 

  • It stimulates, improves and regulates the blood circulation system.
  • It supports the lymphatic system and detoxification.
  • It stimulates the immune system and balances energy levels.
  • It decreases physical and mental stress and tension.
  • It improves flexibility and equilibrium.
  • It improves muscle strength and toning.
  • It improves mobility and range of motion.
  • It induces postural corrections.

A Thai Yoga session can be done virtually everywhere, with or without a yoga mat, and typically takes about 30 to 45 minutes. It can consist of basic stretches, suitable for almost anyone, or very advanced exercises that could take years to perform correctly.

History

There are many depictions of Thai Yoga techniques in historic artwork and temples at various locations in Thailand. The most famous are the statues in the garden of the Wat Pho temple in Bangkok, where one can find sculptures of Ruesis showing a variety of eighty Thai Yoga poses.

It seems plausible that Thai Yoga shares a common source with Tibetan and Indian Yoga; the spread of Buddhism across Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, many ancient texts on Thai Yoga that may have existed were lost when the invading Burmese armies destroyed the old Thai capital of Ayutthaya in 1767. 

The oldest source text on Thai Yoga is an 1838 folding book manuscript commissioned by Rama III entitled The Book of Eighty Rishis Performing Posture Exercises to Cure Various Ailments. This text, popularly known as the Samut Thai Kao, features line drawings of the 80 Wat Pho Reusi Dat Ton statues and their accompanying poems. The original text is in the National Library in Bangkok, but other editions are in museums and private collections.

The paper used for the Samut Thai Kao was Samut Khoi, a thick black paper made of the Khoi tree (Siamese rough bush). Papermakers first blackened the paper with soot or lacquer. They then glued the black paper into a long sheet and folded it in a concertina fashion, with the front and back lacquered to form protective covers or attached to decorative wood covers. 

Another publication that includes a section on Thai Yoga is the 1958 Wat Pho publication called The Book of Medicine. This document contains verses based on the poems at Wat Pho, but the techniques in the illustrations are not the Wat Pho techniques.

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