While many people have heard of Thai massage and perhaps even experienced its benefits, few are aware of its closely related discipline, Thai yoga. These two traditional healing systems share many things in common, but they are not the same. Depending on your needs, health condition and available time for exercise, one may be more suitable for you than the other.
What is Thai yoga?
Thai yoga is a graceful set of exercises known as Ruesri Dat Ton in the Thai language. There are over a hundred known Thai yoga postures that have been handed down since earlier times. A dozen and a half of these are taught to beginners.
When you look at Thai yoga postures, you will notice they seem a lot like Hindu yoga such as is widely known in the west. The exercises involve stretching, balancing and twisting in different ways. Breathing is key. You should never do the postures with rapid or shallow breathing.
You can practice Thai yoga in the morning as a substitute or alternative to other stretching routines. They are good for preparing the body for physically demanding activities such as weight lifting.
Thai yoga has many health benefits including:
- Stronger bones and muscles
- Pain relief
- Skeletal alignment
- Better lung capacity
- Elimination of toxins
- Weight loss
The origin of Thai yoga is unclear, but a local tradition ascribes this to a Buddhist physician who was a contemporary, friend and disciple of the Buddha himself. His name was Jivaka Komarabhacca. Over time its use spread from the monk communities to the common people.
Thai yoga and Thai massage compared
You may have heard people refer to Thai massage as “Thai yoga massage” but this is incorrect. Because some massage techniques emphasize stretching, it may appear that the therapist performs yoga on the client. Yet the difference is that in massage, the individual is a passive recipient of treatment. True yogic practice is self-healing in nature, hence Thai yoga’s meaning in Thai, “ascetic auto-cure.”
Both Thai massage and Thai yoga practices are based in a belief in the existence of energy lines in the human body. These are known as the Sen Sib or ten energy lines. The complete cycle of Thai yoga postures open up these lines and allow the vital force or “prana” to travel through the whole body. Both massage and yoga try to restore the harmonious flow of energy in order to cure and prevent human diseases.
Learning Thai yoga
Thai yoga is easy to incorporate in an exercise schedule. If you have practiced another form of yoga before, you simply substitute this one. Make sure you alternate between yoga, cardiovascular and weight training to get a balanced workout. A personal trainer may help if you need it.
But the question is how you want to learn Thai yoga. Practicing Thai yoga takes effort and dedication, time and free space. And unfortunately, there are not many instructors or books available about the subject. The best place to study it is in traditional massage schools in Thailand. If that is not an option, check with the nearest massage school in your area to see if they offer classes on Ruesri Datton. You can also get books on Thai massage and yoga to learn more.