To complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Thai Foot Reflexology,” by Heath Reed, in the September 2012 issue. Article summary: Thai Foot Reflexology is a therapy focused primarily on the feet, ankles and lower legs. The therapist incorporates different liniments and oils as she uses her hands, knuckles, thumbs and a specially designed bamboo stick on these areas.

by Chuck Duff

Thai massage, or I (“the ancient way of hands-on healing”) is a form of bodywork native to Thailand and a branch of traditional Thai medicine. Thai bodywork includes a diverse set of techniques involving compression of the body combined with stretching. While the art is physical, its theoretical focus is energetic, intended to stimulate the flow of I, or air, a concept similar to prana in the yogic systems, through energy channels, or I.

The history of Thai bodywork is sparsely documented and merged with Buddhist legend and tradition. The founder of I is held to be the Father Doctor J?vaka Komarabh?cca, who by tradition lived 2,500 years ago and was a physician to the Buddha. There are certainly many diverse influences that have been integrated into the art from India, China, Southeast Asia and via the various hill-tribe subcultures that over time have migrated across national boundaries.

There are many regional variations and styles, and little agreement as to techniques or sequencing apart from the system developed at the Old Medicine Hospital in Chiang Mai, which teaches practitioners a three- to four-hour sequence sometimes called the northern style. Therapists can employ hands, feet, knees, arms and legs to provide pressure and stretch in a virtually infinite number of ways. Many teachers have trained in the lineage of the Old Medicine Hospital and have propagated that style throughout the world.

While frequently offered as a modality for relaxation in modern spas, Thai bodywork originated as an indigenous medical approach to alleviate pain and disease. The techniques can be used as a sophisticated system to restore balance to the body’s fabric of muscles and fascia. Clients often report feeling relaxed during and energized after a Thai session, with a sense of liberated energy.

Chuck Duff founded Thai Bodywork School of Thai Massage (, in Evanston, Illinois, in 2001. He and Jennifer Wright teach an in-depth, therapeutically oriented 350-plus hour curriculum that includes clinical Thai bodywork, which Duff first developed and taught in 2005.