Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. You may know it as ASMR and think of it as a new phenomena — which to the extent of how it is now being presented and experienced it is — but it is a literal biological response. ASMR is that rather euphoric sensation of tingling from the top of your head down to the base of your spine that some sounds and images evoke. Thanks to such things as YouTube, it is readily available to more people looking to relieve stress and insomnia.
The experience of ASMR is presented in a couple of ways:
- Meditative Sense Memory
- Sitting in meditation and remembering either a sound, sight or touch that brings that feeling of bliss.
- Hearing and Seeing
- Watching and/or listening to visual and audible cues that evoke the relaxing, calming tingling.
A variety of videos are available in which mainly women speak in soft often whispering voices, soothing, calming, reassuring. Yeah, I know all about the “braingasms” and thoughts about how “sexualized” these experiences are, but that’s not the point — only 2% of practitioners asked claimed to use ASMR for sexual release. Many of the things they say are affirmational — “You are beautiful” — and everything they present is meant to create a positive, caring and nurturing experience. Sounds of fingers against fabric, tapping, rain falling and more are incorporated. And per the ASMR University, the fans/practitioners of this sensation journey are as diverse as such celebrities as Margot Robbie, Jake Gyllenhaal, Wiz Khalifa and Awkwafina, just to name a few.
ASMR is not for everyone. If you don’t have the same reaction to either sense memory or sensory input, it’s virtually impossible for you to grasp what it is about this unique biological response that makes it so effective for some. Honestly? I’m one of those people who doesn’t respond to ASMR. I’ve watched — okay, attempted to watch — many videos and that tingle doesn’t happen for me. But it has made a huge difference for one of the most important people in my life: my 24 year-old son, Nicholas.
Now, I don’t normally get too personal here, but Nicholas’ experience with ASMR has made me look at this in a way that’s deeper than the simple desire to bring you information that could make your sleep/wake/dream life that much better.
Nicholas is a musician/filmmaker/student. He is also high functioning autistic. Calming sounds and certain visual cues are the main things that help him in life when he is overwhelmed. He discovered ASMR a little before his 21st birthday and I asked if he could share with all of you what it is to experience its benefits.
Before we go on, I’ve researched ASMR for those with autism — the calming effects on the sensory overwhelm that can happen to those living with it — as well as the detriments. There is not enough definitive research to make a case for it in either direction. However, there are tons of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) testimonials for it, videos on YouTube geared specifically to those with autism, and knowing the way certain types of visuals and soothing sounds cut through the chaos to help my child get through stress and fear, I can’t help but wonder if his POV on ASMR comes from a uniquely open to the experience place.
Regardless, here is my son, Nicholas, on ASMR.
SCE: What does ASMR do for you?
NICHOLAS: When I’m sometimes feeling stressed or on edge or I feel like I have too much energy, it calms me down and soothes me in a way that makes me feel like I have weight off of me. Somehow it feels like hypnosis.
SCE: Why hypnosis?
NICHOLAS: When someone does hypnosis, they will hypnotize you — and I’m not a pro and I’ve never been hypnotized — but when someone hypnotizes you with a watch or something, they give you a calm and soothing voice just to get you to listen and follow their instructions to get the experience you need. That’s why I say it’s like hypnosis.
SCE: Why ASMR and not something else?
NICHOLAS: Because when I try doing meditations or having Zen music, for some reason it doesn’t work for me. It just sounds like regular music and I don’t sleep when I listen to music. (Music energizes Nicholas to the point that he’ll need to go for long runs with his headphones on or be up singing and dancing along to songs until all hours, FYI.) It’s just that when it’s a person’s voice with no music or the sounds of nature with the voice of a person, soothing and calming, sometimes with whispers, it just feels natural. It feels relaxing.
SCE: When did you start?
NICHOLAS: Well, in film school I was feeling a little pressure and needed to find something to give me a soothing voice to be in my headphones while I worked. So I just typed in “soothing voices” and I saw there were these things called ASMR on YouTube, and I thought, “What is that?” I didn’t even know what ASMR stood for. Even to this day if you were to tell me what it stood for, I wouldn’t remember it. So I clicked on one of the ASMR videos and there was this one with a guy and he was really good. The tingles went down from my head to my spine and the feeling at the same time was both relaxing and euphoric, and I started to enjoy the feeling. But then there was Gentle Whispering ASMR and her voice was so calm. At the same time, she would give you directions about what to do and it would give you the tingles to help you calm down. She would tell you to look into her eyes and she would put her hands to her temples and tell you to do it. She would do it in the same motion and it would feel like you were feeling her fingers on your temples, soothing side by side. Somehow it would feel so real but it’s not.
SCE: Do you have a favorite ASMR person?
NICHOLAS: Not really. But I have recommendations. There is Gentle Whispering ASMR. ASMR PPomo. Glow ASMR. Dana ASMR. And Soy ASMR. It calms me down and it also helps me sleep. Sometimes they do role plays and when they do role plays, it can sometimes work and sometimes not. But they have many different videos of role play that would suit your need for comfort, relaxation, and sleep.
SCE: What do you mean by “role playing?”
NICHOLAS: They play characters and still do ASMR, but it’s the POV of you interacting with the character that they’re playing.
SCE: What does the role playing do for you?
NICHOLAS: It makes you feel like… well, to me it’s just another ASMR but it makes you feel like you’re a part of a story or something. ASMR is like VR (virtual reality) but without the visors. All you need are just headphones, YouTube, and just be in the moment.
SCE: How often do you do it?
NICHOLAS: Pretty often. ASMR is not for everyone but if you have times of stress, times of pressure, times of insomnia, anxiety, and all the other things like Zen meditation don’t work for you, then check out ASMR and see if it’s the right thing for you. If not, then just talk to someone you can trust to help you with your issues. And I mean someone you really trust.
SCE: How do you listen to ASMR? Basically, what’s your routine?
NICHOLAS: I make sure I’m in a comfortable place whether on a couch, in a chair, in bed — anywhere that’s a comfortable environment for me, even the seat of the bus and I just need to relax. ASMR is both sound and vision driven but if you’re in a public place and you need to relax for a moment, then ASMR will give you the sound. But if you’re in a private place, say your cubicle, your bedroom, your living room, visual and sound ASMR will give it to you. You just need to find a comfortable place or better yet just find a way to get yourself to a comfortable place to listen to ASMR. Sometimes if you’re not in a comfortable place and you need something to listen to, just put on ASMR and listen to stuff because listening can help you while you’re working. That’s what I do.
SCE: When you’re getting upset, does it help?
NICHOLAS: Yes, it does, because if you’re the kind of person who needs someone to hold you or hug you to give you soothing words while you release your emotions, ASMR will give it to you. And I’m that kind of person. As I said, it’s not for everyone, but sometimes ASMR will give you that feeling just to let you know you are not alone.
SCE: What would you say ASMR does for you?
NICHOLAS: It’s the same feeling as if you’re being softly rubbed or caressed by a caring person. It is just a feeling of security.
Nicholas’ sensory perception
When Nicholas was young, rubbing his back, whispering in his ear, and taking him outside to watch nature calmed him and helped him sleep. ASMR continues that for him as an adult. As mentioned, it’s not for everyone — after all, I don’t experience it — or just for those with ASD. But it makes my son’s bad days livable and his nights restful. So, to me?
That’s all that matters.