Thai Medicine History

The system of five elements are found in Vedas, especially Ayurveda, the pancha mahabhuta, or “five great elements”, of Hinduism are bhūmi (earth), ap or jala (water), tejas or agni (fire), marut, vayu or pavan (air or wind) and vyom or shunya (space or zero) or akash (aether or void).

The principles of Traditional Thai Medicine are rooted in an ancient view of health that views the human being as a composite of body, energy and spirit (mind/heart).

. An important ritual among practitioners of Traditional Thai Medicine is the wai khru, or paying homage to Shivago and the unbroken lineage of masters who have kept the tradition alive.

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Thai medicine adopts the Buddhist view that man is a composite of five parts or aggregates called panca khanda in Thai. These five aggregates are namely: matter, senses, cognition, will and consciousness. These five components are dependent on one another and together they form the illusory ego or “I.” There is no such thing as reincarnation in Buddhism.

The idea of an impermanent self or “no-self” is extremely difficult for people to understand, let alone accept. Nevertheless, it is a cornerstone of all true Buddhist practice and study.

Lom or energy is the purview of Thai massage and Thai yoga, whose movements are designed to harmonize the flow of vital force in the body. The physical body made up of the four elements can be healed and cared for through diet, exercise and herbs, as is done in Thai herbalism.

The theory of sen lines is extremely important to TTM, especially Thai massage. Sen lines are a network of channels in the body that carry vital force, called lom pran in Thai and prana in Sanskrit. There are said to be 72,000 sen lines, but only ten are important in practice. Some lines are in pairs, mirroring each other. Further, the sen have sensitive points that respond to massage and yoga. Vital energy or “wind” travels through the sen to feed the body. If a pathway is blocked, illness results. Massage and yoga manipulate the sen lines to restore them to health.

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Influences in History

Chinese and Thai culture made frequent contact throughout history, so it is not surprising to see the influence of ancient Chinese health care in Thailand. Chinese immigrants have always enjoyed a strong position in the Thai medical industry. A French author testifies in 1691 that the Siamese king had Chinese doctors at his service along with Thai, Burmese and western physicians.

Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion in Thailand. It is also the predominant faith of neighbors Sri Lanka, Myanmar/Burma, Laos and Vietnam. The word Theravada means “Teaching of the Elders” and it is believed to be the oldest surviving form of Buddhism. The Theravada school distinguishes itself by a conservative interpretation of Buddhist scriptures. Buddhism is a key unifying element in traditional Thai medicine with its many diverse practices and teachings.

Ayurveda and Yoga

Ayurvedic teaching centers on a doctrine of humors (doshas) and elements, which are identical to the classical Greek elements fire, earth, water and air. Disease is viewed as an imbalance of these factors in the human body. To be healthy again, one must restore harmony through proper diet, lifestyle and conduct.

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The written or royal tradition of Traditional Thai Medicine that began in the Bangkok era relies heavily upon Ayurveda to explain its theories and practices. It is not clear how strong was the ayurvedic influence before then, but from that time on it has become the dominant foreign influence on the system. As in Ayurveda, diagnosis and treatment in Thai herbalism is based in knowledge of the elements. Author C. Pierce Salguero observes in his book Traditional Thai Medicine that Thai herbal recipes use substances that are identical or similar to what is used in Ayurveda.

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Yoga began as a system of meditation and contemplation practiced by Indian ascetics. Its goal was – and is – to conquer the mind and realize divinity in oneself. Originally Yoga consisted of eight steps that progressively led inward, from physical posture and breathing to quieting the mind. Later, yogis developed an elaborate system of physical culture called hatha yoga. Much of what passes for yoga today in the west is derived from this system.

The influence of Yoga is also very clear in Thai yoga or ruesri dat ton, often translated as “ascetic stretching” or “hermit’s twist.”