Self-care may be today’s buzzword but there is nothing new in these rituals

Coco Khan
Photograph: Getty Images

Recently, my therapist asked me when I had last done something just for myself. “Easy,” I replied. “I went to the gym this morning.” She picked up her notepad and flicked through the pages before reading aloud. “I hate the gym, it is for pricks,” she recited, peering over her glasses (is there a module in therapist school dedicated to emotive peering?).

“Much of your time,” she mused “is filled with things you think you should do or feel duty-bound to: the gym, working late, going to a friend’s party because you assume they’ll be upset otherwise.”

Later, I Googled “things to do just for myself” (side note: this was in circumvention of her other directive which was less screen time, but it’s hard when what you mostly like to do on your own is lie in bed and Google things). The results were countless – suggestions precisely for someone of my age, on my budget, in my world – and of course there would be, because “self-care” is the buzzphrase on millennial lips, pitched as a silver bullet for modern life’s ills. I decided to spend the evening at a hammam.

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There’s something about lying on a tiled platform, practically naked and being scrubbed clean among Roman columns, that feels religious, as if I were being prepped as a libation, a human offering for the Gods. It works: I feel reborn.

On the way out, the hammam owner tells me that in her country “everyone goes to the hammam. It’s not luxury. It’s just life.” I am briefly shocked that a whole nation would take half a day a week to perform such a ritual, before I remember how many countries do just that, be it in saunas or hot springs. It might be a new word but truly, there is nothing new in self-care. And to think they say my generation has no respect for tradition.