Growing up on the coast in Brighton, England, NYC Thai massage practitioner Chloe Hooton was an outdoorsy kid, cycling and running. Her other passion was theater, and eventually the stage won out as her main focus. She moved to London to act, but when she found herself in a rut, she moved to NYC at age 25 to try out a different market—and metropolis. She had an opportunity to work for the British-based Soho House, hoping to use the solid base as a jumping off point for her creative career.
Once settled in the Big Apple, she started taking yoga, which was more accessible than it was over the pond. And, since mindfulness and body work were more available, as well, she started her own regular wellness practice. But soon, she felt a nagging similar to that in the UK: She needed a change. Even though Hooton still loved acting, she realized it was more the creativity and storytelling that drew her attention, rather than the industry that was disappointing her.
So, she began a search for her next home: a place to put her time, energy and passion. She knew serving others' visions was no longer fulfilling her, and she longed for a way to contribute something more real. A chance encounter opened her viewfinder to Thai massage, a modality that blends stretching, gentle pressure and energy work. Immediately, she was drawn to the specific, 360-degree practice, especially since the mind-body-soul connection helps recipients stay grounded in hectic cities like NYC.
Now, with an NYC private practice in full swing, clients are flocking to her for alignment, healing and release. SBS chatted with the thoughtful, warm Hooton to learn how Thai massage is different than what you might assume, and why it's so helpful in our busy lives.
Photo by: Matan Tzinamon
SBS: How did you find out about Thai massage? What struck you about it?
Chloe Hooton: When I was in NYC, eventually I had a similar frustration I had five years prior in London: I started feeling worn out, stuck and sick of working in hospitality. I was also falling out of love with the acting industry and looking for my next purpose. I wanted to find something that I connected with authentically and also where I could be of service.
I started getting my own healing sessions in massage and acupuncture. One day I received Thai massage from someone who just returned from Thailand. I found it to be so different from any other massages, and that was a game changer. It realigned me, mind and body. I felt present, stretched, in my body and calm. I felt like I had gone through a full day of meditation.
I asked her where she trained because I was blown away. That kind of alignment wowed me, and it also released a lot of emotions and blocked energy. She led me to Sunshine Network. They have schools all over now, but it started in Thailand. They created an immersive, intensive training where you can live in a village with a tiny hill tribe. Even though it was kind of random, it just kind of aligned. I was looking for an opportunity to find my calling, and this felt right. So in early 2017, I quit my job and went to Thailand.
SBS: What was that experience like? And how did you take that information forward into your work?
CH: I lived in a small village, getting up every day at five am for vipassana meditation, Tai Chi and Qigong sunrise practice. We had basic meals. We spent our days studying and practicing Thai massage, learning the acupressure points on the body. It's similar to a 200-hour yoga training. Soon I'll go back for more advanced study.
When I came back in the Spring, I started offering the work on a donation-basis. But with the feedback I've received it's grown into full-time work and my purpose!
SBS: At its essence, what is Thai massage?
CH: Unlike traditional massage, Thai massage is not just working on the muscles. It’s getting into stretches and yoga poses, as well as getting into the joints and pressure points, all while working with energy lines of the body. It's physical and metaphysical, and I've found it to be a complete healing package.
SBS: How would you describe a typical session?
CH: Typically I'll go to a client’s house if it's comfortable for them, because it's more relaxing. Much of Thai massage is about the environment. We'll set up a mat space and blanket space on the floor to make a comfy corner. Then I'll light some palo santo so everything is calming and relaxing. I ask that clients wear comfortable clothing, and there's no need to remove anything.
I'll start with a very short breathing exercise together to clear the mind. Then I work from the feet up into the head, following the energy lines of the body (known as the meridian lines). The work with the legs is great for New Yorkers especially since we walk so much, and that's not necessarily something you typically get a lot in Swedish massage. We often think we carry all tension in the upper back, but it's also really carried in the hip joints.
In Eastern philosophy, the idea is that everything is connected. So in Thai massage, we are working with a lot of acupressure spots on the feet and legs that run through energy lines and even through internal organs. By starting with the feet you can get to other areas of the body. Then, I do a very short organ massage. In the West, we're pretty squeamish, but I think that massage can be incredibly helpful, especially with digestive trouble. It eases us back to regularity with a gentle energetic connection.
Then I move on to the side body and stretches before we finish up with a head massage. A lot of the stretches are like a finalé. It's an opportunity for the recipient to fully surrender and perhaps go off into beta state.
Photo by: Matan Tzinamon
SBS: Why is this so important for those who live in busy cities like New York?
CH: As a city dweller, I've seen how much tension we hold, and I've seen how many distractions we use. Before I got into wellness, I would use crutches like coffee to try to keep myself going. That disconnects you from your body. So what this practice does is reconnect you with your body. You flush out tension while you ease back into a calm state. That allows us better rest, which then allows us more energy.
Typically in the West, we wait until something feels off or we're prescribed physical care as part of recovery. But massage has many preventative benefits, and it's used as part of health care in the East. Especially in big cities, we’re so short on time, and we don’t manage our time in the optimal way to give ourselves the chance to surrender or rest. We’re always looking for a more efficient way to achieve something. We’re trying to halve the amount of time something will take. But in Thai massage, you don’t rush. It will take 90 minutes, and you can't shortchange the practice. I've had clients ask to do 30 minutes, but I'll be quite honest and explain that you won’t feel the benefits. You need to give yourself time to surrender. What’s the point of doing something if it wont benefit you in the long run? So this practice forces us to surrender. The energy I felt living in Thailand is so drastically different than that of NYC. So if I can bring a piece of that back, then I'm serving a purpose. I’m really giving people the opportunity to regain that sense of peace and clarity.
SBS: What are your tips for people who want to try Thai massage but feel uncomfortable with the physical intimacy involved?
CH: I've had clients new to Thai massage, and sometimes they are energetically resistant at first. They want to predict the movement, and I can feel them become stiff. But to those people, I would say: keep going. The first time it might feel awkward, but the body remembers. And the next time, there will be healing and a benefit to receiving this service, even if it feels awkward. We have muscle memory, and our body is still receiving care and touch even if our minds are feeling uncomfortable. It's something to work through. And at the same time, be vocal. If something isn’t comfortable to be stretched or moved in a particular way, the practitioner can make adjustments.
Photo by: Matan Tzinamon
SBS: What should someone look for in a Thai massage practitioner?
CH: Look at their training. It's important they have knowledge of yoga and bodywork. I also think one of the biggest philosophies of Thai massage is loving kindness. So have a convo with the practitioner beforehand to get a sense of what they're doing. They're there to give you the healing experience you want. Some people are trained in the modality, but seem to almost be trying to impress you with how they can manipulate you. That doesn’t necessarily feel good. It’s more about the energy and how comfortable you feel working with them. It's important to feel a sense of safety and trust so one can feel comfortable to fully relax.
I learned that in Thailand, and I wanted to praise my experience there. I had that authentic time living out there and was able to cultivate my own energy.
Chloe's NYC Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: Little Choc Apothecary
Splurge Restaurant: Sushi Azabu
Fitness Studio: SLT
Yoga Studio: Sacred
Nightlife Spot: House of Yes
Fun Activity: Cycling around Prospect Park
Calming Activity: Baking
Athletic Shoes: Nike
Books: Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés and Eastern Body Western Mind by Anodea Judith
Online Presence: Restorative Thai Body Work on Facebook
Chloe's SBS Mantra: Be Brave resonates with me right now, as I’d like to become braver in 2019.
The best, zaniest part of being Chloe: I am part Cat!