ASMR: New-Age YouTube Therapy Delivers Tingles by The Millions

Soft hands gliding across your face, the smell of lavender, the sound of a waterfall gently whispering down a wall… ahhhhh, the pleasurable sensations of the spa are endless! But do any of your sensations ever feel like… The Tingles? Specifically, tingles starting at the top of your head, trickling down your spine, and perhaps rushing through your limbs, leaving you in a happy, meditative trance? Are you familiar with a strange, pleasurable feeling (a headgasm, if you will) that you look forward to during a scalp massage, haircut… or when your therapist gently folds a towel or speaks softly about the treatment you’re about to receive?

Some of you may be looking at me sideways – I don’t understand what you mean by The Tingles! Because you may, in fact, not have them. But if this DOES sound familiar, you aren’t weird. You may not be in the majority, but you also aren’t alone. There’s a tingly sensation making waves right now: It’s called ASMR, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. According to Wikipedia’s definition, ASMR is an alleged biological phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, olfactory, and/or cognitive stimuli. Although it’s up now, at one point ASMR naysayers had the Wikipedia page taken down due to lack of scientific evidence.

Widely unresearched and undocumented, ASMR was only identified as such in February 2010 after small communities began to form online. The ASMR subreddit has nearly 43K subscribers, and many tinglers have created dedicated ASMR Twitter and YouTube accounts, to keep it separate from their “real life.” The triggers of ASMR are vast and personal, from scalp massages and body massages to gentle whispering voices, nail tapping, gentle hair brushing, paper cutting, and delicately, deliberately doing a repetitive activity like folding clothes or playing with legos or lightly touching a glass bowl and a bottle of perfume. I’ve gotten ASMR from physical touch for my entire life and didn’t think I’d be into the videos, but this one put me into a pretty awesome trance the other night.

There are a lot of role play requests, resulting in “Hey sweetheart, you look beautiful today,” followed by a scalp massage, eye exam or ear cleaning. Thanks to the Internet, over the past three years ASMR has been brought into a very niche limelight, giving anyone seeking ASMR a place to get their mesmerising tingle fix. As Nicholas Tufnell, a writer who was the first to confess his ASMR addiction in a Huffington Post article, put it: “If someone walks in on you watching porn,” he says, “it’s easier to explain than if they walk in on you watching ASMR videos.

I first discovered the ASMR craze in my YouTube recommendations, via a woman who performs various scalp and back massages and tickles while narrating what she’s doing. It was around this time I tried searching for a spa that offers ASMR massage so that I could check it out myself. I soon learned this did not exist.

If you don’t have ASMR, you may enjoy the tickling, but an eight minute video of a woman tapping her nails may very well be the most boring thing you’ll ever see on the Internet. 71,000 views, is this a mistake!?

You’ll sit in utter confusion as you watch a young lady named Violet pretend to give a haircut and shave for 43 minutes, wondering who these half a million viewers are who had 43 minutes to spare.

And with over 2.3 million views and 12,000 likes on this 16-minute video above, you may be very surprised to learn that Maria “GentleWhispering” does not at any point take off any of her clothes.

Maria, a blonde woman who speaks softly in an Eastern European accent, is the reigning Queen of ASMR—according to video views and everyone I’ve spoken to about it. We Skyped the other day, and I learned a ton.

Maria, the Queen of ASMR

“I am an ASMRtist,” Maria told me in her famous tingle-inducing voice. “That is what we’re called – people who make ASMR videos for others to enjoy. It’s about being creative. We’re ASMRtists.” Maria started making videos in 2009, a time when she estimates there were maybe 1000 people around the world tuned into it. She guesses that now, after a slight media boost last Spring, there are about 100,000 people in the community worldwide, 85,000 of whom subscribe to her channel.  “A lot of people think it’s weird,” she told me. This is apparent in many forums: people are quick to poke fun, to the point where many ASMRtists do not allow comments. Through it all, the ASMR community sticks together, proud to be amongst the blessed ones who experience such therapeutic sensations.

Amal Dabit, ASMRtist

I spoke to another popular YouTube ASMRtist, Amal Dabit, who at first couldn’t believe the response to her soft-spoken ramblings online. She explained that she likes to use humor in her videos (the most recent one being a 36 minute nail polish change), because “People deal with a lot of stress and anxiety in their lives, and they watch my videos to escape. Humor is another way to help people do that.”

The other night, I interviewed a young woman named Jenny Jaffe, a comedy writer for MTV: “I fall asleep to ASMR videos every night,” she said. She was concerned her tingles were getting less intense because she watches so much. “I get a ton of ASMR when I go to spas. I go to spas for that reason. Even when I didn’t know what I was feeling, it was a place I knew I would get that feeling.” And it goes beyond the touch. “Different spa sounds are really nice. It’s all deliberate sounds in a quiet environment – which is a huge trigger.” Research or not: ASMR is therapy for people.

Hmmmmm. Therapy. That is what we do here at Spa Week: We seek out new ways to provide therapeutic experiences to the masses. Is an ASMR massage experience something spas should consider incorporating into their menus? Does the lack of scientific research and explanation outweigh the very real ways ASMR has been proven to soothe people’s bodies and minds, bringing them a sense of peace and happiness?

ASMR community and spas alike – I would love to hear your thoughts on all this. Please share in the comments below!

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