In the drive to live more in the moment, mental health advocates and charities are always extolling the virtues of living mindfully and mindfulness practice. While this may sound a little kooky to some people, it has definite medical benefits and doesn’t require anything more than taking enjoyment from the small pleasures in life. Now, there is a new contender on the scene although it has been around for many years. It is not mindfulness, but it works in a similar way. It’s called ASMR or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.
What is ASMR?
Using specific and individual triggers, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) induces a series of physical responses in the recipient that can lead to a sense of well-being and calm. The ASMR process usually starts at the back of the head as a tingling sensation and moves down the lower spine, similar to when somebody (usually a stranger or a person with authority) gets within our personal space in a welcome way. It creates a pleasant sensation. It’s the sort of feeling we get from the physical effects of being touched by a hairdresser or a masseuse, or even a Doctor conducting a light physical exam even before they have even done anything of substance. In most cases, it requires roleplaying but people who use ASMR can sometimes get the same benefits from other sensory phenomena such as quiet and repetitive sounds such as rainfall, pulsing electronic noises or even chopping certain types of food.
Is it Like Mindfulness?
Yes and no. It’s like mindfulness in that it engages the senses to create a sense of psychological well-being. It is not like mindfulness in that it sets out to induce a physical sensation. Mindfulness also does not require roleplay whereas ASMR sometimes does. Clinical roleplaying is a popular form of ASMR. There are many ASMR videos on YouTube and you will find the practice has many enthusiastic adherents. Usually, a person plays the role of a medical professional carrying out an examination. The actions they perform will be to a microphone rather than a person so the sounds are exaggerated to the extent that the person watching the video will feel it is being done to them.
ASMR is about using a placebo to induce a sense of calm and specific physical reactions to sensory phenomena and doesn’t pretend otherwise. Mindfulness is about recognising and absorbing the environment, allowing it to absorb you as you are carried along in the moment. In this respect, they are very different although they may ultimately achieve similar goals – physical or mental calm or euphoria.
It’s important to note that ASMR is not the process of doing something (as mindfulness is) but the physical sensation that results from the action.
How Does it Benefit People?
While the effects vary and are subjective, those who do feel the benefits report several beneficial sensations.
- As already discussed, it creates a physical sensation – usually starting with a tingling – that starts in the head and works its way through the body
- Ultimately, it creates a sense of physical euphoria not dissimilar to those associated with sex, but not sexual in nature
- It leaves some adherents with an overall sense of calm usually associated with physical touch of an intimate partner, again not necessarily sexual, but the warm glow one experiences hugging a parent or a child
Sadly, no academic studies have been published on the benefits of ASMR but it has come to the attention of many noteworthy academics who have commented in their personal writing spaces such as blogs. The conclusion is that it requires some study but with urged caution that anecdotes, even a large number is not in itself considered data. However, the evidence is compelling to require rigorous study.