Beginning the Traditional Thai Sequence

I am offering the occasional excerpt from the manual.  Here I talk about the Thai tradition of beginning at the feet and ending at the head.  For those who have other ideas or thoughts about this, feel free to chime in and add to the discussion.  Pichest2

Beginning at the Feet, Ending at the Head

Traditionally, Thai massage practice begins in Supine at the feet and works up toward the head.  Whenever we go to a new position, we go back down to the feet and work our way back up the body.  The only exception to this is Seated position.

There is no way to be sure of why this tradition began, and in a way, it doesn’t matter.  Certainly, early recipients of this sort of massage were farmers working in the rice fields or with livestock.  Since they were standing or walking most of the day, it makes sense that the treatment would start at the legs.

Another way to look at it is “energetically”.  Whether we are standing or sitting, our feet are the lowest part of our body and gravity is constantly acting on us.  Beginning a Thai bodywork session at the feet helps to reverse that flow and gives the body a chance to relax more deeply.  Imagine the body as if it is a tube of energetic toothpaste and we are pushing energy up and out the head and hands.

Finally, the feet and the head have different connotations in Thailand.  The feet are considered the dirtiest and lowest part of the body while the head is considered the most sacred part of the body.   It is very rude to touch someone’s head without permission (except in a massage or in the case of young children).  On the other hand, or foot as it were, most massage’s in Thailand begin with the therapist washing the Client’s feet in warm scented water.  In this way, it also makes sense to begin with the mundane and end with the sacred.

Beginning in Supine

One of the important aspects of beginning in Supine position is that you and your Client are facing each other.  This gives a sense of cooperation and partnership.  It speaks to the feeling that you will be working together toward a commonly understood goal.  It confers a respect for the therapist in a similar way that beginning in prone confers a power imbalance and a sense that the Client is there to be “fixed” by the therapist.

Another aspect of beginning in Supine is that it is the same as Savasana position.  If the Client has experience with Savasana, then this position will automatically prompt them to connect with that remembered feeling.  Whether they have had experience with it or not, you have the opportunity to lead the person through a short Savasana in order to bring them into a consciously relaxed state and prepare them to let go throughout the treatment.

Exceptions to Tradition

Kam Thye Chow who founded the Lotus Palm School in Canada, begins his basic sequence in seated position with the idea that since modern times are so upper body dominant (driving, computers etc), he wants to relax the upper body first.  Pichest will sometimes look at someone lying on the mat and see how uncomfortable they are in their upper body and neck and say, “relax shoulders first, then go back to legs”.

If someone is uncomfortable lying on their back due to low back stress or pain, beginning in Side-lying can be a legitimate choice.

Although tradition suggests that Thai massage begins at the feet in Supine, how you begin the treatment is up to you.  Remember that Thai massage is really just two bodies working together with healing intention.  Trust that no matter how you begin the treatment, if you invoke healing intention and act wisely, you can’t go wrong.



  1. Emily

    I recently experienced a treatment here in Portland with one of their artisan therapists, it was a trip to start seated and have her work my neck first, I have to say it quickly became uncomfortable for my lower back to be seated with my neck extended – pulling on the erectors all the way down my spine (which were super tight to begin with). Foot/hand work were last with a very precursory work on the sen lines in leg and arm at the end. It left me feeling very blocked in areas like the shoulders and hips – where I normally do not feel blocked after a thai treatment (the whole point in going). It was like squeezing toothpaste out from the bottom without first taking off the cap. I had expected a much different feeling after 2 hours. My friend was lucky and his therapists used compresses – I had thai envy at that!

    • Paul Fowler
      Paul Fowler09-10-2013

      Hey Emily,

      My sense is that there are many ways to approach the work, but it all depends on the skill of the therapist and whether or not they are sensitive to the needs of the body and spirit they are working on. I know there are many skilled Thai therapists in Portland. Good luck in your search!! Oh, and thanks for sharing!

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