Autonomous Sensory Meridian Responses and Meditation
Do you experience a pleasant tingling sensation (called ASMR) when someone whispers in your ear or gently massages your scalp? Does it send delicious shivers down your spine and help you relax?
In recent years those relaxing tingles have become a “thing.” In 2010 they even got a name: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR. They feel as if you are melting from the top down – in a good way – and are neurological in nature. People describe brain tingles in various ways; those who seek them out appreciate how ASMR helps them de-stress and sleep.
And how do they seek them out? If they don’t have someone on hand who can gently massage their scalps and whisper sweet nothings whenever needed, many turn to YouTube, where the uninitiated discover that “ASMR” is a search term that yields astonishing results. Some of the supposedly relaxing sounds that can trigger the tingle include paper being shredded, whisperings in foreign languages, the sound of fingers running through a hairbrush… etc. Some of the more popular YouTube ASMR channels have over a million subscribers.
Is there any science behind ASMR meditation?
According to an article published on Smithsonian.com in 2017 [called How Researchers Are Beginning to Gently Probe the Science Behind ASMR explains that after the “tinglehead” movement became more mainstream it caught the attention of neuroscientists. The article cites a study carried out in Wales which found that people who are apt to go into ASMR report feeling less apt to fall into depression, better able to cope with stress, and find it easier to fall asleep after viewing or listening to a session.
Dr. Craig Richard from Shenandoah University in West Virginia is at the helm of the website ASMR University, which is as comprehensive as they come. Dr. Richard suggests that the sounds and sensations that trigger a tingle may evoke being cared for as an infant by a loving parent or caregiver. There are also books devoted to investigating and promoting ASMR as a therapeutic, feel-good method of relaxation.
Want to see for yourself? Check out this video posted on the British newspaper The Guardian’s website.
But does ASMR actually have anything to do with mindfulness?
Well, yes and no. The yes is because people may experience similar tingling sensations or energy flow during meditation. Also, mindfulness is known to have similar effects in that it promotes well-being, decreases stress, has been shown to help people overcome insomnia, and so on.
But the no is more convincing. The true goal of mindfulness is not temporary well-being or pleasure, although these are common benefits of the practice. Mindfulness isn’t about relaxation, it’s about awareness. When we meditate mindfully, we are not zoning out. We are learning to fully appreciate the richness of the present and training in remaining aware of what we are experiencing in the here and now. We learn to recognize thoughts, emotions and sensations as they arise and allow them to pass by. One of the best-known methods for this is spending time quietly seated in meditation as we pay attention to the ebb and flow of the breath.
Dr. Trungram Gyalwa, a Tibetan meditation master and Harvard-trained scholar, explains that by developing awareness, meditation helps us discover a natural joy that overcomes fear, grief, anger and other negative emotions. Meditation also reinforces compassion and helps us gain a deeper, more positive perspective on life. Clearly, meditation has much more to offer than the fleeting sensation of tingling in the head and body. People who regularly practice meditation report experiencing joy, peace, happiness and calm that endure well beyond their practice sessions. They also begin to understand how their mind works and how best to work with their mind.