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whispering

Several years ago, I knew a woman who had a way of using her hands that would lull me into a trance whenever I watched her use them to wrap a gift, fold a piece of paper, wipe something, hold her knife and fork… anything.  Her long fingers and beautifully manicured nails and the way she held them would send tingles all over my scalp. I loved it when we played Cribbage.  The way she held her cards and moved the pegs across the board… bliss.

Watching the television artist Bob Ross would do it for me too. His soft voice as he described what he was painting, which brushes he used, and how he mixed the paint was instantly and enduringly tingle producing.

Even now, watching QVC or some other shopping network mesmerizes me when a lovely pair of hands are petting and caressing gemstone rings, earrings, and other fine jewelry pieces, or pointing out the detailing in a garment or handbag being offered for sale. It’s about the slow, deliberateness of the touch. The absolute opposite of “harsh”.

Certain sounds will do that to me too. When I hear someone whispering, for example. Or the light tap of fingernails on a computer keyboard or a glass object.  Or sitting in the beauty parlor chair while my hairdresser gently fusses with my hair. Or watching someone apply their makeup, or paint their nails. Long fingers carefully wrapping a gift. Slow, deliberate movements that hypnotize…

I never knew there was a name for it, or that others experience it too.  Until last Saturday, that is, when I heard a program on NPR’s “This American Life” in which a woman was describing a sensation she got beginning in the 6th grade when her friend would visit and admire her things – specifically a seashell collection.  The woman said she looked forward to her friend picking up each shell and running her fingers over it, softly whispering — almost to herself — what she liked about each one. It gave this woman “tingles” that ran over her scalp and down the back of her neck to watch her friend touching the shells.

When I heard this, I found myself nodding in agreement. Oh yeah!  I’ve felt that pleasurable tingling in my head too!  I started laughing. The more I listened to this woman, the more enthused I became.  That tingly, trance-like feeling even has a name!  Damn!

It’s called ASMR — Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a physical sensation characterized by a pleasurable tingling that typically begins in the head and scalp, and often moves down the spine and through the limbs.

Most ASMR episodes begin by an external or internal trigger, and are so divided for classification. Type A episodes are elicited by the experiencer using no external stimuli, and are typically achieved by specific thought patterns unique to the individual. Type B episodes are triggered involuntarily by an external trigger, via one or more senses, and may also involve specific thought patterns associated with the triggering event. Both types of triggers vary between individuals, but many are common to a large portion of ASMR enjoyers.

Common external triggers:

  • Exposure to slow, accented, or unique speech patterns or whispering.
  • Viewing educational or instructive videos or lectures.
  • Someone doing something very slowly and carefully.
  • Watching someone write.
  • Experiencing a high empathetic or sympathetic reaction to an event
  • Watching someone draw a picture, paint, or build something, perhaps like a sculpture or even a card tower.
  • Watching another person complete a task, often in a diligent, attentive manner – examples would be filling out a form, writing a check, going through a purse or bag, inspecting an item closely, etc.
  • Close, personal attention from another person
  • Haircuts, or other touch from another on head or back. When someone strokes or plays with your hair softly.
  • People reading a newspaper over your shoulder.
  • People looking for something in their handbags.
  • People working at computers; perhaps the sound of keys being tapped or the click of a mouse.
  • Listening to someone chew gum.

While listening to the radio feature, I learned there are hundreds of videos posted on YouTube specifically designed to trigger the relaxed, almost hypnotic effect that washes over you when the ASMR kicks in. I visited some of them, and sure enough, I was so relaxed and in such a state of scalp tingle that I melted into my chair for about an hour. Best to listen to these with earbuds or headphone for the full effect.

Here’s one in which the presenter whispers you through some tea she is about to brew.  It will put you under.

There’s now an ASMR Facebook Group, the ASMR Twitter page, a YouTube channel, and the ASMR Research and Support site and forums, all linked in a network that shares, discovers, researches, and explains this phenomenon.

To listen to the episode, find it here.  It’s the last segment:

http://ThisAmericanLife.org/radio-archives/episode/491/tribes

Writes Natalie, an ASMR devotee,

“I soon found out that in this ASMR community, the Queen Bee is a young Russian woman living in America who goes by the name “GentleWhispering.” Her fans go wild for every new offering, commenting that her videos have “changed my life!!!” and declaring love and proposals of marriage, all thanks to the way she whispers close into the microphone and pretends to give you a scalp massage. I started watching her videos to help me sleep, and before long I was logging in nightly, watching her give tutorials on how to learn Russian, and showing off the newest offerings in diabetic shoes (she works in a medical supply store, and shoots most of her videos there, using the stock as props.).

“One of her most popular ASMR videos, with over 750,000 views, is 20 minutes of her pretending to apply makeup to a camera. Another is a full 20 minutes of her showing us how to fold towels in a decorative manner. I watch people folding towels to get me to sleep. It sounds mental, but within five minutes of watching any of her videos, I’ll be asleep. No matter how awake I am.”

UPDATE: So I logged on to GentleWhispering last night and I fell asleep watching her show how to fold towels in a decorative way.  LOL… I know you’re thinking I’m crazy.  But honestly? I had one of my best night’s sleep — deep and refreshing.  Her quiet voice as she handled the bath, hand, and washcloth towels put me into that tingling and relaxed state of near Nirvana.  Here’s the video if you want to see what I mean. But I warn you, don’t do this at work.  Oh… and you might get hooked on those tingles too.