Writer Hannah-Rose Yee described her grandmother’s gua sha ritual in Stylist magazine: “To this day, she takes her gua sha and methodically runs it over her face in smooth, elegant motions every evening. I was obsessed with this ritual as a child. I would sit at the foot of her bed and watch her, rapt, as she smiled at me in the mirror’s reflection. She once gave me the gua sha to hold, and I remember how cold and heavy it felt in my hands. When I got older, she showed me how to do it myself. Today, I do a gua sha ritual of my own once a week with a rose quartz roller. I hope one day that my grandmother will pass on her jade gua sha tool to me.”
But perhaps few things encourage users to slow down and reconsider more thoroughly than the application of heat, used by many cultures across the ages, including the Aztecs. For at least 700 years before Spanish colonisers landed in ancient Mesoamerica, temazcals were volcanic sweat lodges in which tired Aztecs bathed, not in water but in steam. Temazcal comes from the word temāzcalli, or “house of heat” in the Nahuatl language, and most temazcals resembled domed structures, made from volcanic rock, and were symbolic of mother nature’s womb, suggesting ideas of rebirth.
Modern science has shown that the Aztecs were right. Steam can help clear blocked respiratory systems and soothe some other ailments. Ancient Mayans often carried out temazcal ceremonies for warriors returning from battle, which combined Mesoamerican chants, meditation and heated rocks doused with herb-infused water to create an aromatic steam. Today, saunas continue to reap similar benefits.
Irani has high hopes for the return of ancient rituals. “Disrupting the very elements we are made of has caused many of the issues we see in the world today. But if we bring about balance to the elements – to ourselves first and to the environment around us – we will see a positive change in the way we live.”
BBC Culture has been nominated for best writing in the 2022 Webby Awards. If you enjoy reading our stories, please take a moment to vote for us.
And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.