FineLiving New York Ayurveda
Village Wellness Project
Asia Tui Na Wholeness: Tui na massage
This may be my new favorite cheap massage. The space is quiet and clean, and you're asked to fill out a form with your personal health history before anyone touches you. The proof, though, is on the table. My therapist in tui na (literally "push pull"), who seemed absolutely determined to release my tension, dug, pressed and slid her well-oiled hands, forearms and elbows over my crunching, snapping muscles, at one point straddling me for better leverage. 37 E 28th St between Madison and Park Aves, suite 800 (212-686-8082, asiatuinawholeness.com). 45mins, $45.
Best part: "Hot Chinese medicine!" she declared as she placed a soothing, warm sack between my shoulder blades, to loosen the area while she worked on my legs.—Daniel Gritzer
Broome Sky Health Center: Acupressure massage
There are only two small things that differentiate this hushed spot from its tonier uptown competitors: cramped quarters (easily forgotten once you're facedown on a bed with powerful fingers, palms and elbows prodding you into relaxed rapture) and a slightly uncomfortable headrest (BYO padding—a small towel should do the trick). Okay, three: An hour of expert kneading doesn't come this cheap north of Houston Street. 120 Elizabeth St between Broome and Grand Sts (212-226-6898). 60mins, $42.
Best part: The tasteful decor and warm lighting here defy the stereotype of churn-'em-out Chinatown joints.—Kate Lowenstein
Element Natural Healing Arts: 30-minute massage
After discussing my (lack of) back problems with the therapist (the type of massage depends on your needs), I sunk onto a heated bed for the basic Swedish. She kneaded my oiled back with constant pressure, silently working each quadrant, then moved on to a brief foot, neck and head rub. 518 Henry St at Union St, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn (718-855-4850, elementhealing.com). 30mins, $50.
Best part: Though I'd carried groceries for only three blocks the day before, she could tell my neck was sore—and she worked it till it was in better shape.—Rebecca Dalzell
My first impression of Ettia was its size: tiny. But my second impression is the one that stuck: I got personal attention and a darn good rubdown. Since we had only a half hour, the massage therapist asked what body part I wanted her to work on. I chose my back, since I sit at a desk for 12 hours a day. Once the massage started—a combo of Swedish and shiatsu—she kept checking to make sure the pressure was okay and if I was comfortable. I was. 239 W 72nd St between Broadway and West End Ave (800-795-7109, ettia.com). 30mins, $65.
Best part: Thankfully, the masseuse didn't chitchat, allowing me to get lost in the treatment.—Lucy Quintanilla
The free glass of wine that precedes this treatment provided relaxation for what turned out to be a high-intensity experience. The therapist called my middle back's propensity for pain "New York City--itis." Catchy. He was obviously skilled, hitting the right pressure points with oiled-up hands, but his handiwork left some slight bruising. 20 W 20th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves, suite 603 (212-633-0404, facetofacenyc.com). 30mins, $65.
Take note: This massage is not for the squeamish. My butt got kneaded for a solid ten minutes.—Nina Topiel
After determining my dosha (the ayurvedic classification of body and mind), a therapist smoothed my skin with almond and sesame oil, grinding her knuckles into the knot-ridged arches of my feet and using her fingertips to loosen my calves. I emerged softer of skin and muscle than I've been all winter. 154 W 14th St between Sixth and Seventh Aves, fourth floor (212-616-4127, newyorkayurveda.com). 30mins, $60.
Best part: No product contains preservatives or chemicals. You could eat everything they put on you (but we wouldn't recommend it).—KL
Fishion Herb Center: Acupressure massage
Clients are treated to a private room (with a door!) and a rubdown from an experienced acupressurist. Mine attacked tender trigger points from head to toe; by hour's end, each of my tense muscles had raised a white flag. "Is my power too much?" she asked while jamming a firm elbow between two ribs. "No, it's good," I just barely grunted in response. 107 Mott St between Canal and Hester Sts (212-966-8771, fishionherbcenter.com). 60mins, $41.
Best part: The table was so soft, I never felt the need to shift so much as an inch.—DG
Once I was bare and blanketed, a woman of few words tirelessly kneaded the gnarled muscles of my scoliotic lower back and butt. Chronic back pain and sciatica, be damned: I left a new woman. Immediately afterward, I felt as if my back had been opened up, and I could bend over without it sounding like creaky floorboards. The goodness—and the black-and-blue marks—lasted almost a week. 1095 Second Ave between 57th and 58th Sts (212-593-9904, gracefulservices.com). 45mins, $50.
Best part: The surprise spinal adjustment at the end was a welcome bonus.—Sharyn Jackson
Graceful Spa: 30-minute massage
My therapist set a timer and went to work de-kinking my neck, shoulders and back, using the heel of her hand—and all her weight—to rock my spine out of its stiffness. The bad news: The massage didn't seem well paced enough to ensure that all muscles and joints were given equal time. The good news: I felt loosened up and reenergized. 205 W 14th St at Seventh Ave, second floor (212-675-5145, gracefulspa.com). 30mins, $40.
Best part: Almost immediately after I'd folded my clothes, my therapist was ready to begin: no long wait time here.—Amanda Meffert
My massage therapist introduced himself with an apology ("Sorry, my hands are cold"), but otherwise let his knuckles, palm heels and elbows do the talking. His hands warmed up quickly, and so did my muscles. 226 W 4th St at Seventh Ave (212-929-0838, heymandayspa.com). 30mins, $40.
Best part: He zeroed in on a knot in my lower back that I hadn't previously been aware of, relentlessly maneuvering it till it gave way.—Matt Schneiderman