Reusi Dat Ton
Reusi Dat Ton - The Origin of Thai Bodywork
Reusi Dat Ton has been metaphorically referred to as ‘Thai Yoga’ based upon assumptions that the poses are derived directly from Hatha Yoga. This is unlikely, and historically inaccurate. Scholars speculate that many aspects of this Thai practice were in fact slowly integrated and absorbed into Thai culture from several directions including Burma, and perhaps from the vast Tibetan yogic tradition as it filtered out of the Himalayas. Aspects of Indian yoga may in fact be derived from the same influences which directly shaped Reusi Dat Ton, making the origins of Reusi Dat Ton far older than Hatha Yoga.
Reusi in Thai means hermit, or hermit-sage, a direct reference to the ascetic hermits (Sanskrit rishis) living and practicing in the Himalayas around 500BC. Their strict adherence to and practice of meditative disciplines demanded protracted periods of contemplation and detachment from the sensory world, therefore bodily functions and extraneous movements were restricted to an absolute minimum. Hindu scriptures and Buddhist oral tradition describe specific breathing techniques, yogic poses, and movements practiced by rishis to care for the body and enable such self-control over long periods of time in relative immobility. Thus the meaning of Reusi Dat Ton can be well appreciated: hermit self-stretching.
Reusi Dat Ton was once an intrinsic part of Thai medicine, with poses being prescribed according to specific symptoms or mental imbalances. It is also the foundation and basis of Nuad Borarn, Thai Bodywork, which has created a lasting legend throughout Thailand surrounding the 'Father Doctor'. Born in India as Jivaka Komarabaccha, the fabled Shivago Komarpaj or the ‘Father Doctor’ as he is known in Thailand, was himself a rishi and is said (according to Thai fable and tradition) to have incorporated aspects of the practice of Reusi Dat Ton into the body of knowledge he passed on within his monastic order. There is much confabulation surrounding Shivago, but suffice it to say he was born long before the influence of Ayurveda and Indian yoga made their way into Southeast Asia.
Thai bodywork, Thai medicine (yā thai), and Reusi Dat Ton were closely intertwined during the course of Thailand's history. Both were taught and passed on through oral tradition and direct lineage, from master and teacher to student. In more modern times, the destruction of the majority of Thai medical texts during the 1787 Burmese invasion left an irrevocable mark on Thailand's medical history and provenance. In the early 1800s King Rama III ordered all known remaining medical texts and writings to be collected and catalogued, among which were drawings depicting Reusi Dat Ton poses. The few remaining stone statues one can see today in the Wat Pho courtyard depicting Reusi Dat Ton poses were an effort to preserve a vestige of this introspective, yogic tradition.
Once primarily practiced by hermits, monks and ascetics, Reusi Dat Ton has with time gone through several permutations. Indeed, there are several forms of Reusi Dat Ton practiced in present-day Thailand, ranging from 18 simplified movements endorsed by the government to an intense, focused practice based upon 80 or so poses and their variations, to an energizing exercise using bamboo poles. The overall importance of breath and breathing techniques as well as mental focus and introspection, remain focal to this ancient practice.
Tok Sen is perhaps one of the oldest therapies and forms of treatment in the northern Lanna-Thai medicine tradition, and has endured for centuries in its original form in villages in the far northern edges of Thailand. A wooden mallet, often made from the heart of a Tamarind tree, is used to rhythmically tap a dowel which can have blunted, round ends or be shaped like a wide wedge. The practitioner uses various Thai therapies and bodywork in conjunction with Tok Sen, tapping lightly but firmly along areas of tension and pain, or quite deeply where muscle is dense or the local nerve is involved. The tapping results in a deep, resonating vibration which travels through the body, felt long after the treatment is over.
Tok Sen means 'clear the path(s)' or 'strike the paths' depending on the Thai who is translating. The first definition is more accurate, as it refers to clearing blockages or stagnation of Lom (wind) in the Sen channels. It is effective in treating neuropathies, joint disorders such as frozen shoulder, spastic muscles, and 'wind' element conditions such as grounding a worried, stressed mind or calming a restless, tense body.
Tok Sen, originally used by itself as a treatment method or as a therapeutic adjunct to Nuad Borarn, has fallen by the wayside in modern times, yet it is an intrinsic part of Lanna-Thai medicine and can still be found in its traditional form in northern Thai villages and near the Lao and Burmese borders.