The City as Spa

Surviving New York in summer—and fall, winter, and spring— without blowing your budget

2 Take a class. While you're picking your gym, carefully peruse the list of classes. Can you adjust your schedule to make it to yoga three times a week? Or guarantee that you'll show up every Saturday for that swimming lesson? If you can, great. You'll amortize the cost of your membership in just a few months. If not, consider a "class card" arrangement—10 classes for $200—at a fabulous studio like Brooke Siler's elegantly rustic RE:AB PILATES facility at 33 Bleecker Street (212-420-9111, Siler, a second-generation athlete who's over six feet tall, has written a bestselling book called The Pilates Body and developed an interactive Pilates Body Kit (St. Martin's Press, $22.95) containing two CDs, 70 flash cards, and a 64-page workbook so you can follow up at home. But the real deal is a class with her, where you'll learn how to control your "power center"—the elusive gut muscles that are crucial to good posture, back strength, and general physical functioning. Her staff offers circuit training combining cardio machines with mat work, an efficient process that gets you in and out in barely an hour. But you may find you don't want to leave: The locker rooms offer plush towels, showers, and the amenities of upscale clubs.

Aruba on the Hudson: The pool at Manhattan Plaza
photo: Shiho Fukada
Aruba on the Hudson: The pool at Manhattan Plaza

3 Take a bus. If you drive to an expensive spa, they impound your car at the high-security gate, returning it, carefully washed, when you're ready to depart. Few New Yorkers own cars, but the subway is our high-stress equivalent.

Here's how you know you've extricated yourself from the city's killer pace: You make time in your daily routine to ride the bus instead of the subway. MTA buses are big and bright and clean and usually pretty friendly. Use the time it takes to get across town to bask in the sunshine while reveling in the powerful air-conditioning (bring a sweater). Meditate, read, stare at the perpetually changing streetscape, or, as Purnick suggests, strike up an unexpected conversation. It's calming—and much cheaper than taking cabs.

4 Pamper yourself. You needn't pay spa rates to duplicate the wonderful brainlessness that overtakes you when you submit to a massage, a facial, a manicure, and a pedicure—all at the same time. At SIMPLY SPA (104 West 14th Street, 212-647-8919), the skilled therapists and cosmetologists multitask so you don't have to. Check in, take off your clothes, don the slippers and the thick terry robes they provide, and head into a peaceful treatment room, where a cross-trained massage therapist-facialist first works on your back, then turns you over to steam and cream your face.

If you've ever had a massage you've probably longed to just lie there afterward, but there's never time, always another client. At Simply Spa, you get to rest and luxuriate: One person tends to your face while another grooms your fingers and toes. As sybaritic experiences go, this one can't be beat. (It's actually better than having sex with two people at once.) The price compares favorably with purchasing each of these treatments separately ($150 for four services in 90 minutes), and you only have to keep one appointment. Call a week in advance; try to do it once a month.

5 Soak your feet. The Russian women who run SALON ZOIA (448 East 13th Street, 212-614-1898) know that deep relaxation begins with the feet. They've turned their corner shop into a local hang. Their East Village neighborhood may be gentrifying, but the clientele and staff remain diverse and friendly. Owner Zoia Stofman reaches out to both celebrities and the underprivileged, providing free styling to low-income women seeking employment. An hour in thrall to her gifted operators will leave your hands and feet soft (after a dip in hot wax) and impeccably groomed; the bright, minimalist space is also equipped for hair magic and full-body massage.

6 Take a walk. Residential spa regimes begin with hikes before breakfast, continue with various fitness classes and treatments throughout the day, and conclude with a walk after dinner. Adapt this routine to yours. Walk to work—or if that's impossible, walk a mile at one end of your commute. Walk at lunchtime. Walk home or to your dinner date, and walk again after you eat. Manhattan is a walker's paradise—remember, we're on an island with newly rehabilitated waterfront parks. All you need are comfy shoes and time—the time you've saved by skipping the week out of town and spreading its largesse through your daily life.

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