There is a universal feeling that happens when someone lightly touches the skin on our back, plays with our hair, or whispers in our ear. We immediately feel calmer, more relaxed, and soothed in their presence.
This feeling, according to Craig Richard, PhD, is called the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), and it is one of the most powerful ways to bring about mindful relaxation — especially in an overly busy world.
In his new book, Brain Tingles: The Secret to Triggering Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response for Improved Sleep, Stress Relief, and Head-to-Toe Euphoria, Richard describes just what ASMR is, and how we can use it to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.
ASMR is similar to the goosebumps we often feel when listening to our favorite song, and like this phenomenon, ASMR has both physical and psychological components. It can be triggered by specific sounds — such as playing with beads, touch — often head and scalp stroking, observing something, or being in certain situations where we are immersed in a variety of triggers — such as getting a haircut.
Richard explains, “If we are experiencing gentle sounds, touches, and behaviors around us, our brains convert those signals into chemicals that make us feel relaxed and safe.”
Often, it is these experiences that boost oxytocin and help us feel close and bonded to those around us. For this reason, many moments that trigger ASMR are similar those that occur naturally between and mother and child.
“The oxytocin actually stimulates the parents to show more interest and focused care toward their children while also producing feelings of relaxation,” writes Richard.
While ASMR’s strongest appeal is simply that it helps us feel relaxed, many believe we have only just begun to understand its benefits in improving sleep, coping with depression and anxiety, decreasing stress, and improving overall well-being.
ASMR, Richard tells us, can be experienced alone — there are several ASMR videos online — or with a trusted partner. From there, numerous sounds such a folding or crinkling paper, scratching or tapping wood, or whispering voices can help trigger ASMR.
Richard writes, “Perhaps the most important element of triggering ASMR via your voice is speaking in a relaxing way.”
Some specific tips Richard gives for using the voice to trigger ASMR are to set the intention to relax, use deep breathing, and speak at a low volume and in a tone that is supportive, caring, and comforting.
Importantly, it is the sound of the voice and the ASMR words used, and not the meaning. Unintelligible or inaudible speaking where made up words are created to sound like actual words, or even speaking in a foreign language can be used to stimulate ASMR.
Richard writes, “Foreign languages, spoken or whispered in a relaxing way, are wonderful ASMR triggers. Foreign languages and unintelligible speaking allow the listener to focus solely on the relaxing nuances in your voice and mouth sounds, rather than being distracted by the meaning of the words.”
Touch is another strong ASMR trigger and one that conveys safety, relaxation, and care. “Holding or caressing an injured, scared, or stressed child is an instinctual response for bringing comfort,” writes Richard.
Touch also conveys social connectivity, joy, and affection, and decreases stress hormones. Here Richard offers some helpful ASMR touch triggers, such as scalp touching, simulating the feeling of rain on the head, and even the popular “egg on the head” game often played by children.
Many tools, such a hairbrushes, scalp massagers, paintbrushes, fuzzy fabrics, and feathers can also be used to stimulate ASMR touches, as well as ease the transition to direct touch and create a variety of different sensations.
Activities, such as watching someone open a treasured package, present and discuss a cherished item, or perform an activity with heightened interest can also trigger ASMR. Richard points to the popular TV show The Joy of Painting, where the host, Bob Ross’s soothing demeanor, kind disposition and deft painting skills mesmerized his viewers.
He writes, “Although his show preceded the awareness of ASMR, he is often referred to as the “Godfather of ASMR” because so many people have found his show soothing, relaxing, and tingle inducing.”
Being highly skilled at an activity, however, is not necessary to stimulate ASMR. It is the feeling of connection, cultivated through a warm and caring disposition, a gentle voice and soothing demeanor, and rhythmic sounds that lead to the deeply relaxing feeling characteristic of ASMR.
We would all like to feel more relaxed, and even more, to have that relaxation on demand. Offering a host of tools, tips, and easy-to-use exercises, Brain Tingles shows that not only is it possible to stimulate good feelings, but ASMR is a powerful technique available to anyone, at anytime.
Brain Tingles: The Secret To Triggering Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response for Improved Sleep, Stress Relief, and Head-to-Toe Euphoria
Adams Media, September 2018
Paperback, 240 Pages