Get a rubdown, not a shakedown at these wallet-friendly spas.



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  • Element Healing

  • Body Central

  • FineLiving New York Ayurveda

  • GracefulServices

  • Village Wellness Project

Asia Tui Na Wholeness: Tui na massage

37 E 28th St between Madison and Park Aves, suite 800 (212-686-8082, 45mins, $45.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.
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

Body Central: NECK-onomic Recovery
39 W 14th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves, suite 505 (212-677-5633, 30mins, $40. For this neck-and-shoulder massage, chiropractor (and Body Central director) Jo Ann Weinrib rubbed me down with a homeopathic ointment made from plants and minerals, to soothe away muscle pain, and worked her fingers along my spine to loosen my muscles before focusing on each shoulder and upper arm. Then I flipped over, and as she held my head in her hands, she gently pressed away the tension I'd been carrying in my neck and scalp.
Take note: The artwork here was all made by Dr. Weinrib's husband, David Weinrib, the curator at Pratt Institute's Sculpture Park.—Dorkys Ramos

Broome Sky Health Center: Acupressure massage
120 Elizabeth St between Broome and Grand Sts (212-226-6898). 60mins, $42. 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.
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
518 Henry St at Union St, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn (718-855-4850, 30mins, $50. 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.
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

Ettia Holistic Day Spa: Ettia Signature Dual Decadence massage
239 W 72nd St between Broadway and West End Ave (800-795-7109, 30mins, $65. 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.
Best part: Thankfully, the masseuse didn't chitchat, allowing me to get lost in the treatment.—Lucy Quintanilla

Face to Face NYC: 30-minute targeted Swedish massage
20 W 20th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves, suite 603 (212-633-0404, 30mins, $65. 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.
Take note: This massage is not for the squeamish. My butt got kneaded for a solid ten minutes.—Nina Topiel

FineLiving New York Ayurveda: Lower-leg and foot massage
154 W 14th St between Sixth and Seventh Aves, fourth floor (212-616-4127, 30mins, $60. Back and head, face and neck massages also 30mins, $50 (through Mar 31). 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.
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
107 Mott St between Canal and Hester Sts (212-966-8771, 60mins, $41. 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.
Best part: The table was so soft, I never felt the need to shift so much as an inch.—DG

Graceful Services: Lower-back massage
1095 Second Ave between 57th and 58th Sts (212-593-9904, 45mins, $50. 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.
Best part: The surprise spinal adjustment at the end was a welcome bonus.—Sharyn Jackson



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