Does the crunch of a chip make you happy? Does the sound of gentle whispering lull you to sleep? Does the ticking of a clock erase all the built-up tension in your shoulders? If so, it turns out you’re not the only one.
If you like to follow the latest mindfulness trends, you’ll have come across the topic of ASMR. ASMR is an acronym for “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response,” and it describes the tingling, relaxing sensation produced by the scalp and neck when hearing certain sounds.
As the global population reports increasingly high levels of stress and anxiety, many people are reaching out for guidance around ways to cope. Meditation has long been a part of relaxation practices from around the world. Now, ASMR is quickly gaining traction as an accessible and equally effective alternative.
But what happens when the two are combined?
There are many overlaps in the way ASMR and meditation affect the brain and parasympathetic nervous system. This indicates a potential for hybridism that could prove highly beneficial to our collective stress-addled brains.
Let’s find out more.
ASMR typically comes in the form of a video or audio clip containing sounds, scenes and scenarios that activate parts of the brain pertaining to pleasure, relaxation, satisfaction and reward. Although ASMR has no inherent connection to sexuality, the combination of these profound sensations has prompted people to dub the experience as a “brain orgasm.”
Consuming ASMR content has become popular online, with entire YouTube channels and social media accounts dedicated to producing the scalp-tingling content.
By engaging the prefrontal cortex, ASMR can elicit feelings of emotional bonding and satisfaction, prompting us to seek it out repeatedly. It’s believed that some people are more susceptible than others to the effects of ASMR, and that it may overlap with the impressions of synesthesia.
There are five types of ASMR triggers:
- Sounds: Blowing, scratching, whispering, crinkling dry leaves and the clacking sound of fingers on a keyboard are just some of the kinetic sounds associated with ASMR.
- Visuals: Gentle hand movements, mixing thick paint and the precise slicing of soft objects are all linked to triggering a reward response in the brain.
- Tactile: Not all ASMR experiences need to be via digital content. Certain physical sensations such as humming through the nose, tickling and blowing on the skin can produce the same scalp-tingling result.
- Eating: Although it’s certainly more niche, listening to the slurping, chewing sounds of someone eating food is appealing to some people within the ASMR community.
- Role-play: Watching a video of someone holding prolonged eye contact and using special attention can trigger ASMR in the viewer’s brains, as these videos can ignite a sense of emotional bonding.
According to studies, ASMR can potentially help to alleviate insomnia, anxiety and high stress. It is for this reason that researchers are now making the link between ASMR and meditation, as they both use mindfulness and focus to elicit feelings of comfort, relaxation, satisfaction and tension relief.
How are ASMR and meditation connected?
First, it’s important to note that ASMR and meditation are not the same. Rather than producing identical results, the two methods of relaxation complement one another in a powerful and effective manner.
ASMR is a form of mindfulness that prompts the brain to focus only on distinct sounds, visuals and sensations that produce calming chemicals in the body and mind. Meditation, on the other hand, aims to bring us out of our heads and simply exist in a state of relaxed awareness and contentment.
Comparisons are drawn between ASMR and meditation because, on a neurological level, they activate similar chemicals, hormones and parts of the brain responsible for helping us feel relaxed, comfortable and emotionally nourished.
Interestingly enough, the sensations triggered by ASMR are thought to trace back to the way primates express emotional bonding and intimacy with one another. When an individual was in distress, others would show care through gentle physical touch and soft vocal sounds.
These loving interactions cause our brains to flood with powerful hormones and chemicals. They make us feel calm, safe and connected.
Hormones and chemicals such as these are not necessarily the aim of a meditation session, but exposing ourselves to them can be an effective tool for unwinding before entering a state of mindfulness. It can lay the foundation for an even more effective and fulfilling meditation session than if you were to jump straight in.
To achieve the best results from your mindfulness practice, you can watch or listen to ASMR content prior to meditation or when winding down into a meditative state. Setting the tone with ASMR can significantly boost your chances of hitting that elusive relaxation peak.
Potential benefits of ASMR mindfulness and meditation
Although widespread data on the effects of ASMR in conjunction with meditation is limited, there are some promising parallels to look at. From a neurological perspective, listening to or watching ASMR can trigger the release of hormones such as dopamine, oxytocin and melatonin.
These three hormones are responsible for alleviating pain, making us feel loved and helping us to sleep. Some studies suggest ASMR can also increase our ability to empathize and bond with others, making it a particularly useful tool for people who struggle with high stress, depression or anxiety.
We already know that meditation causes heart rates to slow down, promoting physical relaxation and tension relief. Several studies show ASMR produces a similar effect on the body. Overall, these two practices have the potential to make us feel calmer, safer and more connected to those around us.
How can you use ASMR and meditation together?
The best way to use ASMR in tandem with meditation is not to practice them simultaneously. In the same way that you use calming breathing techniques before you meditate, you can use ASMR as the foundation for your meditation session.
Including ASMR as a warm-up in your mindfulness routine can allow you to extract deeper meaning from the session. Plus, you’ll engage the parts of your brain necessary to achieve a completely neutral state of awareness.
There’s a wide variety of options available online via platforms like YouTube and Instagram that exclusively produce high-quality ASMR content. If you are unfamiliar with the different ASMR types, you might want to give several a try before including them in your meditation practice.
When you find the one that works for you, you’ll enjoy an even deeper meditation that leaves you feeling ready to tackle whatever life brings next.
Photo by @seleznev.photos/Twenty20