Perfect Balance: NYC's Ayurvedic Spas

Jeremy Lehrer

The City offers an unparalleled array of entertainment, culture and art, as well as culinary and spiritual explorations. And because residents and visitors find themselves driven to participate in so many of these offerings, they might find that in their overbooked, multitasking days they are not taking proper care of themselves. On top of this, urban denizens are continually exposed to numerous stresses that can throw their bodies out of balance.

Bringing the body, mind and spirit into balance—and keeping it in harmony—is precisely the goal of ayurveda, a system of healing and well-being that was developed in India thousands of years ago. Ayurveda (pronounced "eye-yur-vay-da") offers remedies for a variety of ailments both major and minor, physical and metaphysical, ranging from asthma to skin flare-ups, digestive issues, back pain, sleeplessness, depression and problems keeping the mind focused.

Ayurveda may be an ancient science, but, like yoga, it is very much alive today in New York City. Throughout the City, a number of centers offer spa therapies and lifestyle consultations that can allow patients to restore balance, develop a healthier lifestyle and soak up the exquisite pleasures of ayurvedic treatments, including massages, facials, yoga and cleansing regimens—all of them designed for your particular constitution.

The ayurvedic approach hinges on the philosophy that everyone is made up of three constitutional types, called doshas, which are themselves composed of different combinations of the "five great elements" of earth, water, fire, air and space. Each dosha functions in the body as a force that performs some biological, metabolic or existential function. The specific blend of the doshas—some people have one that is dominant, while others have more of a combination of leading doshas—determines our character traits and tendencies for imbalance.

The first step in coming into balance is to get an initial assessment of your dosha—something that Pratima Raichur, who heads Pratima Ayurvedic Skincare Spa and Clinic, located in SoHo, has been doing in New York for almost 40 years. Raichur is one of the City's most revered and long-standing ayurvedic practitioners and has garnered extensive plaudits for her ability to assuage even the most daunting of imbalances, whether related to the skin or numerous health conditions and life phases: prenatal, postnatal and menopause care, as well as other issues related to aging.

After her assessment, Raichur's ayurvedic prescription may include facials, treatments for back pain, warm-oil massage, instruction on meditation, culinary recommendations, even a 10-day intensive cleansing program. Raichur herself makes the organic oils, creams and cleansers available at the spa, where the treatments include a two-hour "Samadhi Experience," which begins with an hour-long "four hand" warm-oil massage (done by two therapists), continues with a simultaneous scalp massage and foot reflexology treatment, and is then followed by a half-hour shirodhara—a 30-minute process in which after a frontal abhyanga massage, a stream of warm herbal oil is poured continuously onto your forehead.

Further uptown, spiritual teacher, leader, medical doctor and author Deepak Chopra has established an ayurvedic oasis for well-being at The Chopra Center & Spa at Dream, located at the Dream New York hotel. As at Chopra's California-based headquarters, the spa allows visitors to learn about and integrate the wisdom of ancient India into contemporary life. The in-house ayurvedic specialists here, Thara Kodandaramachandra and Vishwanath Guddadar, trained as ayurvedic doctors in India and have a wealth of experience. In their one-on-one consultations, they will educate you about ayurveda, assess your dosha and determine what eating regimens, herbs and other practices are best for bringing your body, mind and spirit into harmony. Specials at the Chopra Center include shiroabhyanga, a therapeutic massage focusing on the head, neck and shoulders; the "Gandharva Harmonizing" facial, a therapy accompanied by the pacifying sounds of crystal singing bowls; and "The Udi," a steam and mud detoxification that can be done alone or with a partner.

Elsewhere in Midtown, Ayurveda's Beauty Care offers treatments such as facials, peels, scalp rejuvenation and massage, as well as specialized options like the "Chakra Energizing Healing," designed to bring the body's subtle energy centers into balance. The space, with a subdued sound track of Indian ragas and calming hues of yellow, has three treatment rooms, two consultation rooms and a studio area for classes in ayurveda, yoga and holistic beauty care. The clinic's "Busy Bee Body Work" is a half-hour ayurvedic treatment created for those on the go, while the "Bride-and-Bridegroom Package" promises to "create the perfect synergy of inner beauty and outer radiance." The ayurvedic doctor, Naina Marballi, has been with partner Amita Banerjee, an ayurvedic nutritionist and therapist, for 21 years and at this location since 2001. The duo teach a 150-hour course in ayurveda at the New York Open Center; graduates can become certified holistic health counselors, receiving full national certification by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.

FineLiving New York Ayurveda is tucked away in an art deco office building on West 14th Street, where a diminutive waiting area is presided over by figures of Lakshmi, Buddha, Ganesha and Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge and creativity. In its three treatment rooms, the center offers herbal facials, foot massage, shirodhara and body scrubs in addition to sinus-clearing treatments and karna purana, a massage designed to relieve jaw and neck tension, earaches and headaches. New offerings include a treatment that combines abhyanga hot-oil massage with Thai massage. Consultations are done by Krupali Desai, who has been practicing as an ayurvedic physician for 12 years.

Brooklyn has a handful of ayurvedic offerings, with one of them adding some healing elements to a section of Williamsburg with a smattering of restaurants and bars. The Namaste Yoga and Tranquility Center, a cozy hybrid of yoga studio and spa, offers several ayurvedic treatments and consultations. While the practitioners here are not ayurvedic doctors, they have trained in the philosophy and in other holistic approaches to health. As part of the studio's "OM Package," Namaste practitioners will assesses your dosha and give you a recommendation for a lifestyle, yoga and culinary regimen that will be best for keeping your particular constitution in balance. Namaste's marma point therapy—included in the "OM Package" or available separately—is an ayurvedic technique that releases tension by focusing on specific energy points in the body.

Banerjee notes that with ayurveda, "The key thing is to get to know and understand yourself. Once you know what your mind, body and soul need, you don't need any more than that." Raichur suggests that while the spa treatments can be quite potent, a lasting balance only arises through continual cultivation—a sentiment echoed by Banerjee and other ayurvedic practitioners in the City. "To me, it's a lifestyle—it's not just going for a massage," Raichur says, noting that she will give clients a regimen for diet, exercise, herbal preparations, meditation and morning rituals. "Changing the attitude toward life is the main thing."