Thai What?

Thai Yoga Therapy.
Thai Bodywork.
Thai Massage.
Passive Yoga.
Lazy Man’s Yoga…

Different names for an ancient therapeutic system that’s been used to maintain and bring health into balance for centuries across cultures. It’s not quite yoga and it’s not quite massage, it’s really a bit of both and then some. It’s a bodywork methodology that has astounding healing and rejuvenating benefits.

Origin & styles
The work of the Buddha’s personal physician and friend, Jivaka Komalaboat (also known as Shivago), is generally the origin to which practitioners trace the lineage. The ancient practices of Indian Ayurvedic Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Traditional Thai Medicine are at the roots of the practice dating back over 2500 years. The Vietnam War era damaged the reputation of the practice as it became associated with prostitution. In the 1980’s the Thai government began an effort to revive traditional Thai massage, meeting the growing economic potential of tourist industry. With a large supply of practitioners and training programs, virtually unregulated, comes a wide range of true knowledge and skill. It is very easy to get a really bad, even damaging, Thai Massage in Thailand. The torch-bearers, those with the passion and dedication to the ancient wisdom and practical modern application, do exist both in Thailand (such as at the Old Medicine Hospital in Chiang Mai) and domestically (such as at Thai Bodywork School of Thai Massage in Evanston, IL) among others.

There are many variations of style in Thai bodywork including the “Northern Style” (a sequence established at the Northern Medicine Hospital in Chiang Mai), the “Royal Method” (using only the hands), and the “Commoner Style” (the traditional way for a practitioner to work using hands, feet, knees, legs, elbows– basically any efficient means to apply pressure effectively.) There are countless stylistic variations stemming from these three general styles and indeed thousands of positions and techniques in the whole of Thai bodywork.

What’s it like?
It’s positive and energizing, relaxing and rejuvenating. The client is passive and completely supported. Both the client and the therapist wear comfortable clothing that allow for movement and full range of motion for all the joints. The session is typically done on a shiatsu-type mat on the floor, often with supportive elements like bolsters or small pillows. Sessions can also be done on a massage table.

The term “Lazy Man’s Yoga” is apt in that the therapist supports the client in stretches akin to yoga postures. The therapist also works along energy lines using various compression techniques. (My teachers, Chuck Duff and Jennifer Wright, have incorporated a thorough knowledge base of Trigger Point Therapy into their curriculum as well and so this skill set is becoming an important element in my practice.) The therapeutic stretching and compression techniques culminate into an overall body-mind blissed out experience lasting well beyond the actual session.

A demonstration at Thai Bodywork School

The benefits

  • Stress & pain relief
  • Resistance to injury
  • Improved range of motion
  • Release of lactic acid and other toxins from areas of accumulation
  • Toning of internal organs
  • More energy and reduced stagnation
  • Deep relaxation

My Thai Bodywork Offering
For the rich history of it, the art and science of it, the myriad benefits it imparts, and the fact that one of the best schools in the world is just next door, I embarked on a Thai bodywork education toward certification and license. It started from curiosity and respect of this ages old healing art, and its connection with yoga. At some point along the way, through working on people, it began to feel like a calling. As I complete my first year as a Thai bodyworker, after hundreds of hours of education and practice, I offer my certified work to the public. More information about my offering of Thai bodywork can be found here.

(Informational source: Thai Bodywork Fundamentals, copyright 2007, Thai Bodywork, Inc.)


Claire Stillman is a Thai Bodywork Therapist at INVIVO Wellness. She approaches Thai Yoga Bodywork from a therapeutic, clinical angle rooted in classical Thai massage. Thai massage sessions with Claire bring calm and ease to physical and emotional layers. Her bodywork is informed by yoga to form a healing and regenerative practice where clients become happily amazed at how good they can quickly feel. You can read more about Claire on her blog, Well Living.