It is now commonplace in the January of a new year to be regaled with advice about striving to become “a new you” with health programmes, diet and exercise. We’re urged to “train like an A-lister” (get fit like a celebrity), “learn kick-boxing/running/walking/yoga/cycling for health”, “join the gym”, “commit to a dry January” (no alcohol for the month), “make better diet choices”, and “eat more spinach, asparagus and bircher muesli”, with an endless supply of healthy new recipes.

This annual ritual seems to bear witness to the materialistic aspect of our contemporary culture – and the quasi-pagan worship of the material body. There’s an underlying message that if you exercise enough, eat the right foods, don’t smoke and invest in “dry January”, you could live forever.

Among the “new you”, self-cleansing regimens that appear every January there is seldom a mention of improving the soul, or aspiring to a higher spiritual or even moral state.

And yet, interestingly, elements of the semi-spiritual are creeping into these values. Some spas – which have always been a source of de-toxification – are now beginning to offer, if not spiritual, at least psychic “retreats” aimed at reinvigorating the whole person.

You can, for example, now choose a yoga retreat in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia (a mere £1,995 per week), where you will live in a yurt for the good of your inner self.

You can, according to the self-help author Jane Alexander, also choose a “serenity retreat” at Lefkada in Greece, which will help put your life into perspective (a mere £479 a week). Or, if austerity appeals, you could take a retreat in Finland called “Radical Honesty” (£450), where you can experience a week of hardship at a cottage by a lake, and experience the anger therapy of expressing (and receiving) verbal abuse.

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