Reusi Dat Ton: The Thai Hermit’s Exercises at Wat Pho, Bangkok

This past two weeks I have traveled from Kyoto, Japan, where I currently work, to my hometown in Bangkok, Thailand to study massage at Wat Pho (Wat Phra Chetuphon) or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. During this period, I had learned not only massage protocols and techniques, but also came across the existence of Reusi Dat Ton (ฤาษีดัดตน in Thai or ルースィーダットン in Japanese), a little known aspect of traditional Thai holistic wellness culture.

“Reusi” in Thai is an ascetic Yogi or Hermit. “Dat” means to stretch or train. “Ton” means oneself. So “Reusi Dat Ton” means the Hermit’s or Yogi’s self-stretching exercises.

While none of my Thai friends and family members are interested in learning it, surprisingly, the exercise is popular among many visitors to Thailand, especially the Japanese tourists, and the massage students of Wat Pho. As a yoga practitioner, I see the resemblance between Hatha yoga and Reusi Dat Ton exercises. Reusi Dat Ton includes a system of self-massage, which is typically done prior to the exercises and one unique feature of Reusi Dat Ton is the absence of inversion poses. Both Hatha Yoga and Reusi Dat Ton practice Prayanama or breathing techniques and utilize own body weight and body parts manipulation for stretching to increase energy flow and blood circulation.

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In Indian Hatha Yoga one will generally maintain a pose for a few minutes, while Reusi Dat Ton is more dynamic. Generally, one will inhale while going into the pose, hold the pose for several breaths, and then exhale when coming out of the pose. Long mindful inhalation and exhalation, good energy flow and blood circulation, strong muscles and physical flexibility are thought to be the key to good health and overall wellness.

A typical Reusi Dat Ton program would begin with breathing exercises and self-massage, followed by dynamic exercises and poses (some of which involve self acupressure) and finish with meditation. The exercises and poses of Reusi Dat Ton range from simple stretches which almost anyone could do, to very advanced poses which could take many years to master.

Statues of Various Poses Demonstrated at Wat Pho, Bangkok

Reusi Dat Ton as Foundations of Traditional Thai Massage

It is believed that the foundation of Traditional Thai massage is Reusi Dat Ton which allows one to understand the postures, the energy flow channels, acupressure points, the winds and wind gates profoundly. So, in order to practice Thai massage effectively, long-term Thai massage students at Wat Pho Traditional and Medical School have to learn Reusi Dat Ton, to be able to experience it within oneself and then apply it to others for their healing benefits.

Today metal Reusi Dat Ton statues can be found at Wat Pho. Wat Pho is not only one of the most visited Buddhist temples in Bangkok but it is where history, medical science and educational institute combined. Officially named Wat Prachetuphon Vimon Mangkararam, Wat Pho was believed to be founded during the 16th century and was later served as The Royal Temple of King Rama I of Chakri Dynasty. It is, among Thais, also known as “the nation’s first public university”. More history on Wat Pho and Reusi Dat Ton can be found here.

Health Benefits of Practicing Reusi Dat Ton

Reusi Dat Ton is being used in various ways. Some practice Reusi Dat Ton poses and exercises as a way to improve and maintain overall health, with the aim of facilitating the normal healthy flow of bioenergy through the “Sen” or energy channels of the subtle body. Practitioners of Thai massage use Reusi Dat Ton in combination with traditional Thai Massage techniques as a system of therapy.

Some of the benefits of Reusi Dat Ton practice include improved physical balance, increased joint mobility and muscle coordination. Similar to yoga, many poses incorporate holding the weight of your own body for an extended period of time to build muscle strength. Regular practice could alleviate chronic muscular weaknesses and oxygen supplied to the cells slow down cell degeneration and promote longevity.

Movement and synchronizing breath with the movement helps improve blood circulation, respiration, absorption and digestion of nutrients and elimination, detoxification which result in stronger immunity, reduced stress and anxiety, greater relaxation and concentration. Because the exercise includes various bends and stretches, muscle pains, discomforts, aches and stiffness of virtually all body parts are usually relieved.

Reusi Dat Ton is best practiced early in the morning and outdoors. Regular mild sun exposure is the most natural way to get your daily dose of vitamin D, helps improve your mood and decreases the risk of depression.

In Bangkok, The Wat Po School of Traditional Medicine offers a formal Reusi Dat Ton certification course in which students learn 18 of the poses and exercises.

One can also attend a free class, held every morning from 8:00am – 8:30am. No equipment is required, as you will be practicing barefoot in front of the Traditional Thai Massage shop inside of Wat Pho. Instructor changes daily and is usually the massage therapist or teacher. Instruction is in Thai, but is very easy to follow even though you do not understand the language. No reservation is required.

Reusi Dat Ton free class is held daily from 8:00am – 8:30am in the area circled in blue.

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