Rising interest in “slow” phenomena and mental escapism continues to bring a fresh breeze to the world of wellness, a booming economy worth an estimated USD 4.5 trillion in 2017. This rejuvenation has been fueled by an increase in the number of neuroscience research projects exploring this field of study and by Gen Z’s desire for tech-driven emotional and therapeutic experiences as well as entertainment.
Audio-visual triggers is good business
YouTube has played a key role in launching ASMR as a form of digital escapism. Over the past decade, this phenomenon has grown into a popular wellness trend that has inspired many Therapies 2.0. Many are fascinated by videos that stimulate ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), i.e. a “tingling” response to audio-visual triggers such as whispering or tapping motions, and the most popular ASMR artists obtain millions of views.
Obviously, these triggers are providing food for creativity because they have featured in a wave of marketing campaigns and edgy business projects. A case in point is Luxury Escapism’s Oddly Satisfying Spa, touted as a “multi-sensory environment designed to stimulate intellectual activity and promote relaxation through imaginative art and immersive technology”.
From advertising to virtual escapism, the new techniques are being used to produce innovative immersive experiences – both online and IRL – that offer emotional pleasures and soothe… while giving one the tingles!
Relieve stress, sleep better
What do scientists think? Is ASMR just a marketing gimmick or is it a new wellness ritual? Some say it’s a product of our imagination, others that it’s symptomatic of the solitude of Gen Zers, who get their fix of social stimulation by watching the self-representation of strangers. But neuroscience research has found clear indications that ASMR can, in some cases, relieve symptoms of stress and insomnia.
In 2018, a study by the University of Sheffield and Manchester Metropolitan University, found that “those who experience ASMR showed significantly greater reductions in their heart rates when watching ASMR videos compared to those who do not” with “significant increases in positive emotions including relaxation and feelings of social connection.”
These findings have prompted the media and brands to offer moments of well-being by sharing ASMR-inspired content. In the UK, LADbible (social media and entertainment company) has teamed up with Three (mobile network) to co-launch Relaxing Stuff, a multi-platform social channel specialized in “oddly satisfying” relaxation-oriented content, to boost access to wellness culture and demystify ASMR.
ASMR at the spa
But the market prospects for touch may be even brighter. It’s true that since videos don’t include touch, they don’t offer a complete multisensory experience. Spas are starting to capitalize on ASMR responses – feelings of relaxation, drowsiness and joy – and incorporate touch into the spa experience. According to Craig Richard, professor and founder of the website ASMR University, tactile stimulation is the most powerful trigger of all.
Some therapeutic experiences verge on performance art. For instance, Whisperlodge offers “a sensory journey through live ASMR” allowing one to “enjoy special individual and group treatments designed to relax the body and mind, expand awareness and heighten the senses.” Since 2016, it has given immersive performances in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles that are midway between theater and therapy, a good way to get away from it all and disconnect from contemporary digital-fueled anxiety.
VR meets ASMR
Similarly, Luxury Escapism’s Oddly Satisfying Spa is a multi-sensory environment that relies on ASMR triggers, imaginative art and immersive VR technology, not to mention interactive treatments and sound baths, to “stimulate intellectual activity and promote relaxation”… and get your senses tingling! The website cautions prospective users, saying “No Phones. Whisper Only.”
In London, the Gymbox fitness spaces have introduced “recovery classes” that combine yoga with ASMR techniques, underscoring the importance of mental as well as physical well-being. One meditation class is called “Braingasm”: one listens to headphone content that “triggers spine-tingling reactions in the most experimental guided meditation you’ve ever had”! Another class is called Digital Detox.
This creative ferment shows that connectivity is offering a new way to de-connect while expanding the scope of well-being and emotional pleasure. People used to associate high tech with frustration and fatigue, but that was then and this is now! Today, it’s being paired with more intuitive approaches to wellness.
Cover image credit: © Luxury Escapism