In praise of a good bath

A good bath is a simple pleasure. And, in a stressed-out world, it’s often the simple things that count — the things that help us to relax. This is where a good bath comes in, and learning to enjoy it as an experience. It’s one of those ‘little luxuries’ we overlook in the West: one that many cultures give greater significance.

In medieval Europe, a bath could be a life-threatening activity with people dying of pneumonia. In today’s world, with central heating and hot bath water — thankfully — this is a thing of the past. But there’s a perception that baths are a functional necessity, for personal hygiene. They are this, of course, but they can be so much more. It doesn’t help that the tiny bathrooms in many new-builds feel like an afterthought.

Time is often a factor that precludes people from enjoying a decent bath — or should I say not enough of it. You can only have so much ‘task orientated productivity’ in your life before you begin to feel like a factory chicken. There’s a lot of benefit in reflection, stepping back and taking stock. And having a good bath is a genuine part of that.

In Japan they take bath-time seriously. Traditionally, cultured Japanese people wash themselves before going into a bath. Once in the bath they sit in it and let themselves soak. I think that’s a remarkably civilised way to do it. There are several cultures around the world that traditionally go in for public baths, such as the Turkish bath. The Ancient Romans also favoured the public bath. And in Scandinavia they have the sauna.

A hot bath helps us to relax and contemplate our thoughts — to think of ‘nothing’. The bathroom is a private space where we can lock everyone out. There’s something elemental about being in a properly filled hot bath; it’s probably a stretch to call it embryonic, but there’s something undeniably calming about it.