ASMR: Relaxation for the slightly strange

My journey from the (feeling) ridiculous to the sublime.

Photo by Anita Austvika on Unsplash

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) to those who like big words; brain tingles to everyone else. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re in the majority. If you’ve ever experienced it, you’re very much in the minority.

So far, at least.

A few years ago, someone on Twitter posted a YouTube link to one of the most curious things I’d seen in a long time. It was an ASMR (I mean, for starters, what on earth was that?) video of a soft spoken Turkish bath experience. Yes, you read that right.

An almost whispered, performed conversation lasting over 40 minutes where the ASMRtist, WhisperCrystal, talked me through what was happening to me in this alternative reality and occasionally agreed with my silent responses.

That’s unusual, right? It’s not even talking to yourself…it’s someone else having a one sided conversation on your behalf and over which you have absolutely no control. How can that be normal? What self-respecting person would sit through the best part of an hour of that?

I watched it all the way through. And again the following evening.

The next thing I watched was another video by WhisperCrystal. This one was her talking/whispering over some old photos she had from her time living in London. Being English, I’m fond of London and have spent many a happy hour (and considerably more) there. Has any of it previously featured whispering? No.

And after that, came my boundless love for WhisperCrystal’s day trip to Kent Castle. Which I’ve never been to.

In other words, I became instantly hooked on something I barely understood. I went from whispered and soft spoken videos to tapping (tapping your nails on any nice sounding surface, mobile/cell phones being a popular choice), visits to the hairdresser/beautician/dentist etc. (which comes under personal attention), detailed explanations and observing someone focussed on performing a task (such as cooking). For a combination of many of the above, see Bob Ross and his painting instruction videos — to some, the very epicentre of the ASMR movement, albeit he didn’t mean to be.

Not all of these give me ‘brain tingles’, but all made me feel a hazy, disconnected state of relaxation.

In fact, to start with, I read the comments below the videos and didn’t really understand those who talked of tingles at all. They described a sensation that went from the scalp to the upper back and through the spine with such delight and I was a bit jealous.

And then the penny dropped. I HAD already experienced ASMR tingles before, many years ago. I just hadn’t had a name for it.

When I was about 13, I was asked to be the life-model for my art class at school. I sat in front of everyone, a little self-conscious but otherwise happy to have nothing to do, and there they were. Tingles. An inner smile but a slightly outer body experience. It’s to be totally in the moment, in a state of bliss and relaxation and yet simultaneously alert and thoroughly alive.

So, I’d already discovered my trigger for tingles: personal attention. Long before YouTube, long before ASMRtists were doing their thing, I had already experienced it in the real world. I simply needed a name for it. I can’t remember if I considered whether I was alone or whether others ever felt the same but I doubt I would have had the necessary vocabulary to discuss it with anyone.

A whole online community exists now, everyone is catered for and every idea is discussed and shared. Which is truly a good thing. After discovering my first ASMR videos, I tentatively asked some friends and family about it and said I had been watching them to fall asleep. I can’t say the looks on their faces is something I’d like to revisit in a hurry.

Not everyone gets the same feelings. Different sensations happen from different triggers. Personally, I can watch some ASMR videos and enjoy them and just feel comforted and calm. They’re similar to listening to nice music. Others I watch time and time again and get the ‘full works’ from them.

So, to all ‘brain tinglers’ out there, you are not alone! We barely make sense to ourselves, let alone to others but where is the harm in something that brings so much enjoyment? It’s a growing community so one day soon maybe we’ll get to consider ourselves ahead of the curve.

But then again, I might just miss being a little strange.