In the upcoming book Become Your Strength, the next edition in the Talking Stick Diaries series, we talk briefly about Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) and how watching a few videos online can help a person with healing mother issues and the acceptance of gentleness and love. There are folks out there who aren’t aware of what this phenomenon is, so let’s talk. Belief in ASMR as yet is not founded in scientific findings; it is based on reports of a common, shared experience that people who feel these things have shared. The body of anecdotal evidence for this experience is strong and seems to be growing thanks to the internet. In this intro to ASMR, you might want to take a look at these benefits, watch the videos and see if this helps you.
What is ASMR?
ASMR is often described as a tingling sensation starting in the scalp or the back of the neck that spreads out over the head and down the body. It’s possible that people throughout history have experienced this feeling, though it’s only really been talked about in the last few years. When I was first working with Native American healing techniques, several of the tribes I worked with described a similar feeling in relation to the Northern Lights, and shared their sadness over not being able to make their cultural pilgrimages to see the Northern Lights due to politics projected into their world by the federal government. Later, I had the privilege of learning of similar ASMR-like experiences connected to the Northern Lights from traditional people living Heathen lifestyles (think Norse and Northern Germanic peoples). An old Lakota man who took me under his wing showed me how he used a feather to mimic the sensation of being under the Northern Lights by running it over the body lightly. I felt an instant tingling sensation that was releasing, relaxing and harmonizing. I also experienced ASMR when I was being given therapeutic ultrasound as part of my physical therapy in recovering from a foot injury.
I found this last experience particularly interesting because of how it impacted me psychologically. I had been injured in an abusive situation by someone I loved, and was trying to recover but was possibly going to be left with permanent disability. I was struggling with a deep, dark depressive state with instances of rage and hatred as well as a sense of being cut off from the divine and being very alone, all of which are very contrary to my normal temperament. The ASMR-like experience was in the crown of my head, around in a circle around the top of my head and around where the soft spot had been when I was a baby. I felt a sense of opening, and experienced immediate mood changes. I personally believe that this was connected to stimulation of the crown chakra, which I believe had been somewhat closed as a way of pushing through and surviving the abuse I was facing. At the time, I needed the fire of anger to defend myself, and this was contrary to my personality because this energy center is usually so open.
In my office, I sometimes use ASMR triggers to help people relax, help them enter trance states, or to help their minds relax (in my profession, this is actually part of a healthy bedside manner). Some people report that depression and anxiety are eased or managed successfully this way, and I have found that to be at least somewhat true in the office.
I personally believe that ASMR and energy work are doing some similar things by stimulating the energy field that is radiated outward in the meridian system found in Traditional and Classical Chinese Medicine, both of which I use in my office. I also have had many clients who don’t experience ASMR from the common auditory and visual triggers found in videos online report the same experience when we use acupressure in the office. Other practitioners in more mainstream medicine are also using these same techniques to help calm and heal their patients, and this has even inspired one of the most prominent ASMR creators online.
Even if you don’t believe in energy therapies, the unified field or other holistic and metaphysical therapies, ASMR videos around the internet can still provide other benefits. For some, these provide a calming presence in the room that helps them get to sleep at night, and others find similar benefits from watching these videos to those associated with meditation. There is certainly a certain mindfulness to paying attention to the sound of turning pages, running water or the sound of a hair brush. There are other less obvious therapeutic benefits too. Let me show you some of my favorite videos on YouTube and explain what I mean.
ASMR for Healing Emotional Struggles
My first exposure to ASMR videos was with GentleWhispering, whom you’ve already been introduced to through the links above. Honestly, it seems like any article on the topic is incomplete without mentioning her station. My first reaction was repulsion. For some reason, watching a video of a woman folding towels and speaking gently triggered all of my defenses. I thought it was creepy, dis-settling, and upsetting. When I find something that bothers me, I poke it until it tells me its story; this is how I do my own healing work. Continuing on to a video about face mapping, I asked myself why I felt this way. There was absolutely nothing wrong with this video other than it being culturally surprising. So what was my problem? Was it that she was a woman? Was it how she looked? Was it that she was being gentle and kind to me?
That last question dinged a bell for me. I realized that I had a strong resistance to someone being gentle and kind to me, that I felt threatened by that, convinced that they wanted something from me or were someone who was untrustworthy. I realized also how hard and internally abusive I was towards myself because of this deep rejection of gentleness and feminine presence. Upon deeper inspection, I was able to uncover some intense pent-up emotional issues surrounding my mother, and through therapeutic methods that work for me, I was able to heal these. As a side effect of that healing, my relationship with my mother and other women improved, including my relationship with myself. I firmly believe that these videos can help people heal problems they have around the issue of the sacred feminine and issues caused by damaging relationships with women in their lives (though I won’t bore you with a long discussion here, check out the new book, Become Your Strength, for more info on that). I was also able to tap into hidden feelings of shame around feeling good, and allowing myself time to self-nurture, which these videos helped me with immensely.
Healing Past Life Trauma?
Now, for those of you who have been to my events on healing past lives, you know I have mixed feelings on whether or not past lives actually exist and certainly don’t believe that all regressions are legitimate, but I agree that the therapy can be immensely healing. You may also be aware that I have multiple ‘past life’ memories from certain lives, one of which ended on a battle field sometime during the 4th century BC in the Mediterranean area. I do not know if this is somehow related to the multiple healing experiences I had with this video; I clicked on the video because I enjoy anything remotely resembling classical Greek themes, but I still experienced healing from this video. It has to be one of the weirder ASMR videos out there. It not only requires the viewer to trust the ASMR experience, be able to step into a role play, and also have the imagination required to step into a make-believe post-battle scene led by the stranger in the video. Still, CuteBunny is my favorite ASMR channel specifically because of these Grecian role-playing videos.
Perhaps it was because I was already on a role with using these videos for personal healing, but I found this one deeply healing. You see, when she first starts the video, she says “The battle is over. The war is over.” The first time I played this video, something in that really triggered something in me. It felt like I had been waiting to hear that my entire life. I actually paused the video and allowed tears to fall for a while. It felt like something that had drove me for a long time was washing out of me with those tears. Afterwards, I found I was less combative in general, in my relationships, in my interactions with other professionals, and in my political involvement. I also seemed more able to relax in general and I noticed that my sleep improved. Had I been hanging onto an unfinished battle from a long time ago? It’s impossible to say, but I can share that these are changes I noticed in my life and that those close to me noticed and commented on.
There were two other notable instances of healing around this video and its predecessor for me. For one, I have struggled my entire life with issues surrounding being third gender (that is, my body is female but the rest of me, including my mental, emotional and internal processes align more with the male gender in our society; I also experience gender dysphoria). I grew up in a very fundamental Christian community, which taught me that God couldn’t love me because I couldn’t seem to change no matter how hard I tried. I’m an incredibly traditional and devout person (besides my holistic practice, I am also clergy). It took me a long time to heal this one issue of thinking God didn’t love me. When she used the phrase “The Gods are extremely happy” as applied to the person watching, it was one of those instances where I felt something release out of me (though there were not tears this time, the sense of release was the same).
Third, from these two videos, I personally experienced a healing around the way I view women in general and in separating feelings within myself. There’s some talk online about whether ASMR is a form of sexual stimulation. Russell Brand even did a video on “Is ASMR Just Female Porn?” that frankly is rather enlightening, not because of the news clips he uses, but what he says about his own experience. For me, once I was willing to accept that gentleness, I did experience arousal sexually. And again, I poked that- what on earth is causing that arousal? Frankly, the feeling of ASMR and sexual arousal are completely different, but at the moment I seemed to not be able to separate them. There was nothing ‘sexual’ on the video I was watching, and yet I felt this way. I’ll spare you the details, but this led to me taking a look at my cultural upbringing, my programming from outside and neurological sources, and my difficulty in separating sex from gentleness, sensuality and femininity. The two experiences and forces are not the same, though one experience may lead to another in our personal encounters. After doing this part of my healing, I found that I was better able to interact with women and was more able to distinguish between sensuality and sexuality. For me, this was very helpful.
ASMR for Mental Health and Healing Gender Roles
This leads up to some of the challenges we have in our society around the sacred feminine and all three genders coming to accept these aspects of themselves. In our society, it isn’t just women who suffer from the hyper-masculinity that America’s become known for. Men often experience social repercussions if they allow themselves to be gentle, emotional or anything else that is considered woman-like. It’s immensely damaging for young men who are shaped into hardened, emotionless sex machines. In my clinic, I see just as many men struggling to recover from this emotional abuse our culture dishes out to them as I see third gender people trying to accept themselves and women trying to re-learn their value in abuse recovery. Besides the gender role healing described in the above section, I find that this channel really helps heal this issue by allowing a male figure to accept these aspects of himself and virtually support the viewer to do the same (he also has clever stuff like his channel trailer video where he compares mental illness with the black death).
Really, the two stations I suggest most often are CuteBunny and EphemeralRift. EphemeralRift really targets the issue of isolation, depression and the sense of loneliness many people have in our society that can lead to suicidal issues, and he even makes a video to be your “Caring Friend” in the event that you’re struggling. For those of us who have survived depression or suicidal problems, we know that this can be an ongoing, lengthy process of healing, and these videos can be a helpful addition to the support a professional might also provide. EphemeralRift seems to really get that. Men like this are a real gift to our society with their willingness to be vulnerable and provide positive support for those in the community struggling with these problems.
This has been a pretty good overview at the use of ASMR videos as a tool for healing. It is my theory that these folks are doing something similar to what practitioners are doing in energy healing sessions when we get the client’s energy system opened up. In sessions, this openness allows us to bring things up in a person’s consciousness that can be healed. A skilled Reiki, shamanic or acupressure therapist knows how to manipulate the different layers of consciousness to create healing. Simply comparing experiences of mine, my clients, and what I’ve researched, I really think ASMR is doing similar things, in a more mainstream format for people in fundamental or traditional communities that seek that sterilization. I hope this article has shed some light for you, given you some things to play with as far as videos, and given you some things to think about.