Last updated February 8, 2022
Meditation has been part of the wellness practice of many cultures for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In fact, some archeologists date meditation all the way back to 5000 BCE, when it was part of spiritual practices in Ancient Egypt and China. It is a central part of many ancient religions, such as Judaism, Hinduism, and, of course, Buddhism.
In contrast, ASMR is a newcomer on the scene.
The term ASMR—which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response—was coined as recently as 2010. And while the name is quite a mouthful, the sensation it describes is a familiar one. If you have ever felt a pleasant and relaxing tingling sensation on your scalp after hearing certain sounds, you’ve experienced ASMR.
What is ASMR?
While you may think of ASMR as a trend or YouTube phenomenon, it’s beginning to garner more attention in the scientific and wellness communities.
A major proponent of ASMR is Dr. Craig Richard, author of the book Brain Tingles: The Secret to Triggering Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response for Improved Sleep, Stress Relief, and Head-to-Toe Euphoria. In this book, he attempts to explain why ASMR evolved in humans.
One possibility is that it is a genetic response designed to help us feel relaxed, mitigate stress hormones and promote overall health.
More research is needed, but it’s likely connected to the way primates from monkeys to chimpanzees to humans soothe their offspring. When soothing her baby, a mother hushes her tone and provides gentle touch. This communicates a sense of safety and nurturing.
Even later in life, primates groom each other and communicate with soft sounds. Not only does this remove external parasites, but it promotes social bonding and releases calming endorphins.
Many people, on first hearing ASMR, described remembering the tingles they got as children when their sister played with their hair or when their mother whispered to them at night.
Perhaps the reason we love ASMR so much is that it takes us back to that place of nurturing associated with being cared for by our families when we were young.
Is ASMR a form of meditation?
Lots of people seek out ASMR videos because they find them relaxing. Whether you get tingly listening to crunchy food, rustling leaves or soft whispers, the feeling can instantly relax your muscles and create a sense of calm.
But it’s not clear whether ASMR itself is a form of meditation. Some research classifies it as such because it provides many of the same benefits that meditation does. It can lower your heart rate and help combat anxiety, depression and insomnia. Beyond helping you relax, ASMR has real benefits for well-being.
In addition, others point to the fact that ASMR is more than just a feeling. Like meditation, it’s about paying attention to minute sensory experiences to tune out a restless mind. Many forms of meditation encourage you to focus on the sound of your breath or the wind in the trees and let go of the thinking mind.
Others do not consider ASMR meditation as such, as it refers to a bodily response rather than a practice. As opposed to ASMR, meditation and mindfulness are not just about relaxation. Rather, it’s an approach to life.
It’s about developing awareness of the things around you and being able to focus on the things that matter while letting go of the things that do not serve you. However, ASMR could be a tool to help you in your mindfulness journey.
ASMR as part of a meditation practice
While you may not consider ASMR as a form of meditation, it can certainly work in tandem with meditation as part of a daily routine to improve your well-being. The benefits of meditation are well known, but it is not something that comes naturally to everyone.
If you have ever felt frustrated at your inability to calm down your monkey mind, know that you are not alone.
Of course, mindfulness is a muscle, and it gets stronger the more you work it.
The more you make meditation part of your daily routine, the easier it will become to slip into that meditative state. But if you are struggling, ASMR may be one way to nudge your brain towards letting go of inner thoughts and focusing on sensory stimuli.
You might begin your meditation practice with an ASMR video in order to kick-start body and mind relaxation. Once your breath has slowed and your mind feels less frantic, you can put the video away, focus on the sound of your breath and enter your meditation.
For some people, meditation itself can trigger an ASMR response. For them, all it takes is the sound of their own breath to get that tingly sensation.
Others require something more tangible, like a video of a pampering treatment or someone breathing and whispering close to the microphone.
Should you incorporate ASMR into your meditation routine?
If you already practice meditation regularly and find that it brings you all the peace and relaxation you need, perhaps there is no need for ASMR in your routine. But if you’re interested, by all means, try it out and see if it compliments your practice.
If you are new to meditation, ASMR may be just what you need to kickstart your practice. Learning to let go of wandering thoughts is challenging and can take time. ASMR can step in and help to relax your body and focus your mind on sensory stimuli. In addition, the health benefits that we described above are becoming increasingly clear.
Of course, ASMR is not a replacement for meditation practice. It’s still important to incorporate breathwork and cultivate mindfulness.
This is why it is best to consider ASMR and meditation as working in tandem.
Its physical and emotional benefits are undeniable. But it is better thought of as one of the tools in your meditation toolbox rather than the center of your wellness routine.
ASMR is not for everyone
We should add as a caveat that the ASMR response does not reveal itself easily to everyone. Some people never experience it, some experience it occasionally, and others find that only very specific triggers work.
ASMR works for some people, and not for others. It’s certainly not necessary to develop a healing and relaxing meditation routine.
But if you find particular stimuli, create an ASMR response, by all means, incorporate it into your meditation practice.
You may find that your meditation sessions are deeper because of it and that your sleep and emotional well-being improve, too.
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