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Finding Refuge in NYC’s Urban Jungle

New York City
Written by Teresa Bergen

As tourists enter the maelstrom of New York’s streets, dodging sidewalk vendors hawking cell phone chargers and cheap handbags and breathing in fumes of everything from exhaust to $6 chicken-and-rice plates from food carts, panic can set in. It’s keep up the pace or be trampled.

Few folks would pick New York City for a wellness retreat. But whether you’re there for business or for the theater, museums, shopping and general big-city excitement, you might feel the need for some mind-clearing, body-rejuvenating, spirit-cleansing breaks. Fortunately, they’re not too hard to find.

Outdoor Life in NYC

Beyond Manhattan’s iconic Central Park, which includes ponds, a zoo and a massive grassy area, the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx offers 250 acres of relief from the concrete jungle. Depending on the season, you might encounter lilacs, roses, water lilies or orchids. In addition to peaceful wanders, the gardens offer a busy schedule of programming, including tours, lectures and kids’ activities. In 2019, they launched a residency program that brings an artist and a composer on site to further enrich the visitor experience.

Also in the Bronx, Wave Hill is a 28-acre public garden overlooking the Hudson River. Its family-friendly programming ranges from woodworking and making citrus soaps to nature talks about the tiny eels that live in the Hudson River Estuary.

Want to get a little exercise while never forgetting you’re in New York? The 1.45-mile High Line is Manhattan’s elevated linear park made from an old New York Central Railroad spur. Since it opened in 2009, tourists and locals wearing everything from jogging shorts to haute couture run, stroll or shop, and even get married on the High Line.

New York City Spas

If the weather is bleak or you want a quieter experience, try hiding out in one of New York’s spas. The Great Jones Spa is like an indoor Nordic spa, with a spacious, stone-walled sauna, a 10-person Jacuzzi, a cold plunge and a relaxation area. Visitors can combine their soak with a massage, or just come for the water circuit.

For a more traditional experience, the Russian & Turkish Baths have provided relaxation to New Yorkers since 1892. In addition to five saunas and steam rooms, a cold plunge pool and roof deck, the Russian Baths are known for their platza oak leaf treatment. This treatment — designed to open pores and eliminate dead skin — involves being beaten with a broom made from fresh oak leaves and dripping with olive oil soap.

High-tech spa aficionados will enjoy checking out one of NYC’s HigherDOSE infrared saunas, which heat your body with light rather than warming the air. You can combine your sauna with colored light therapy to increase collagen production, or try a cryo facial, wherein cold air is blown in your face to reduce inflammation and make your skin glow.

Spiritual Retreats

Cosmopolitan NYC caters to just about every spiritual path, from traditional Catholic mass to non-religious meditation groups. If you like churches, the enormous Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, opened in 1879, offers group tours, a self-guided tour app and seven masses a day. Harlem’s Gothic/Tudor Abyssinian Baptist Church — NYC’s first African-American church — welcomes tourists at its 11:30 worship service on Sundays if space permits.

If your spiritual path takes you East, visit the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art on Staten Island for meditation, tai chi and a wander through one of the country’s biggest collections of Himalayan artifacts. For a nondenominational meditation, The Path welcomes visitors for a weekly 20-minute guided meditation followed by a group chat in the Montauk Salt Cave.

Fit Hotels

Since convenience is a major factor in adhering to a fitness routine, set yourself up for success by booking a hotel with a good gym. In addition to free weights, cardio and strength machines, the 4,000-square-foot fitness center at Sheraton New York Times Square has a studio with 10 Peloton bikes. Guests have 24-hour access and can join frequent daily group rides. In Queens, the trendy Paper Factory Hotel offers boxing equipment. Le Parker Meridien in Midtown has a rooftop pool, while W New York hosts outdoor Barre to the Bar classes during summer, followed by cocktails.

If you’re on a budget and care more about fitness than glamour, consider staying at one of NYC’s YMCAs. The rooms are austere, but it’s like waking up in a giant gym. There’s no excuse to skip 6 a.m. boot camp when you can stumble downstairs in your pajamas.

If You Go

New York City is a short hop from Norfolk, Newport News or Richmond on most major airlines, or consider taking the bus or train. NYC & Company is a useful resource for more ideas while you’re in town.

About the author

Teresa Bergen

Teresa Bergen is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer and web content developer who specializes in health, fitness and travel. Her articles appear on/in MSN.com, Spirituality & Health, India Currents, Whole Life Times Magazine, Pique, Yogi Times, the South China Morning Post, travelandleisure.com and many other print and online publications. She’s the author of Vegetarian Asia Travel Guide and Meditations for Gym Yogis and writes a blog called Veg Travel and Fitness. She’s also the vegetarian/vegan editor of Real Food Traveler. In addition to writing, Teresa is a yoga teacher and ACE-certified personal trainer and health coach.

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