ASMR and Religious Ritual

ASMR (Autonomic Sensory Meridian Response) is a recently coined term to describe a physiological response that various folks have reported to certain stimuli. There are common features in both the response and the trigger, such that people who have had these experiences were able to find one another online, form a community and name their experience. There is little to no scientific basis for ASMR (the term itself was coined to sound science-y, but originated as a self-designation among the community). There is nothing inherently implausible about most of the reports[1], though some in the community then claim ASMR as evidence of ESP, Indigo Child-ness and other implausible stuff. There is now quite a sizeable and vibrant community on Youtube (search ASMR) and reddit (r/asmr)

ASMR is characterised as a short-term spreading tingling sensation over the head and shoulders, accompanied by a wave of pleasure or relaxation. It has been described as a ‘brain-gasm’, for its spreading wave of strong pleasure, but is almost universally described as non-sexual. Common triggers include whispering, proximity, slow and deliberate movement, tapping and certain noises. The variety of triggers reported seems to be larger than the variety in symptoms.

I only started reading about ASMR a week or so ago. I am interested because I found descriptions of both experiences and triggers that I can strongly associate with.

My most reliable trigger situation is at an optometrist visit (not an uncommon trigger, it seems). It requires an optometrist (of either gender) with a very soft voice, or who whispers when working close. There are plenty of other situations where I have experienced ASMR, but I can recall having this response to optometrist visits well back into my childhood. So this video, for example, triggers me quite strongly.

My wife also gets ASMR, but with slightly different triggers. She reports a similar experience when visiting a hair salon, and when watching very deliberate and slow actions. So this video triggers her. I don’t get the big wave of pleasure at this, but I do find it deeply pleasurable: it just doesn’t tip over into the intense burst.

I’ve been wondering, as I read, whether this kind of response has partly motivated and shaped certain religious rituals. I have experienced one ‘laying on of hands and anointing with oil’, and I remember that triggering an ASMR response. A slow and deliberate communion preparation could easily trigger someone who responds like my wife. I’m reminded of Reiki (which is now most commonly associated with alternative medicine, but actually originated as a spiritual discipline). The magick rituals I’m aware of, with the way they establish the sacred space and cast the spell seem obvious triggers, as do certain fortune telling patterns.

I’m at the beginning of thinking about this, so there are no conclusions here. But there has been extensive sociological study of religious rituals as triggers for hypnotic, or trace-like mental states, and it seems to me logical to view them as potential triggers for ASMR too.

I’m also putting this out here to attract anyone searching for ASMR and religion to get in touch.

[1] I’m going to talk about having ASMR, or experiencing ASMR, with the assumption that ASMR is a ‘thing’ and that it is the same thing that different people are experiencing. These assumptions aren’t really warranted by the science, yet, but for the purpose of this article, it is simpler than overloading every mention with qualifications.



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12 responses to “ASMR and Religious Ritual

  1. Since “religion” is such a huge umbrella , I think the link would be tough.

    For instance, many folks get a special feeling with music — and if their church uses music, it can work for them. Some people love to see a Charismatic man yelling at a crowd, that feeling works for them. Some folks love to sit in crowsd, others dont’ …
    So religion can use any sensation we get ASMR or others to claim it to their doctrine.

    Are ASMR folks more prone to joining certain type of religious groups, or staying in religion and such would be interesting. But so would question about music lovers of certain sorts or those susceptible to authority in tall men standing on podiums etc. How about people who have flying-dreams, or kanashibari or deja vu or … Unique feeling can be explained as god or spirit if the religion doctrin of that person’s area allows.

    BTW, there is a acupuncture point (Tsubo) on the top of the head called HyakuE (100 meetings) that I have stimulated on many folks to get this response you mention. It is actually a useful pick-up technique. So if someone slimy like me could capitalize on it , certainly a minister could.

    People are always excited to explain anything they have as being special — from god, from love ….

    Just my thoughts this morning.

  2. Ian

    They’re great questions. I was brainstorming this with my wife and she suggested a whole bunch of similar research questions too. I’m thinking that I am probably not going to be the person who does it!

    She also pointed out that a lot of Japanese aesthetic is potentially triggering for her: small, deliberate, detailed, symbolic. She suggested it might be interesting to look at whether there was any higher incidence there, or perhaps lower (because of cultural saturation of triggers). Fascinating stuff. Good to hear about HyakuE, presumably you done whip out a needle when you were out on the pull… it works with pressure too?

  3. Yes, hyakue works with pressure — the method for those softer times. To find the point, fold the patient’s ears forward and draw an arc over the scalp connecting their apexes. It is on the center of that line (drawn from the intersection of tip of nose to spinal processes in neck). the spot is a little soft in most folks too – possibly at a fontanelle.
    Happy New Year

  4. I think the Japanese stuff works because of its resonance with your wife whereas with many Japanese it does not work at all. I did a post of bells that illustrates my point. [grass is greener …]

  5. Ian

    Thanks. That’s a great post too. I was thinking of just stimulus fatigue, but ‘grass is greener’ism a good point.

  6. New Rise

    i had the response once after witnessing a laying on of hands for the bishops at a Presbyterian meeting….but usuallly get it from seeing syncronized movements in dance or flag teams…..i usually feel embarassed after it happens, but never knew why…i think it is like feeling the ultimate feeling consciously and unconsciously and knowing that other humans contributed to it…it is like seeing God revealed through humans…

  7. Ian

    Thanks for this New Rise, I really appreciate the comment.

    I’ve heard other ASMR experiencers talk about embarrassment too. I most strongly got triggered at the optometrist. There was one ocassion I felt quite embarrassed (I was probably 20 or so) because the optometrist was a very attractive young woman, who I was immediately attracted to. The ASMR was unrelated to that (any optometrist can seem to trigger me), but I did feel myself flush in that case.

    Thanks for your experience of ASMR in theological terms. I think I ought to go looking for more like that. There’s probably something interesting there.

  8. Soo

    This is an extremely interesting topic for me. I just heard about this today but I’ve been getting the ASMR feeling my entire life from very similar triggers like going to the barber or doctors. I don’t believe in Reiki but my ex gf’s mom once did Reiki on me and I got a strong reaction. I’ve also read that some people think it’s connected with the idea of Indigo Children. Which personally, I’d be inclined to normally think is BS. But after reading about the description of an Indigo Child, it actually fits me exactly. This may be unrelated but I’ve never had wisdom teeth form and I’m in my 30’s. I’m also prone to falling asleep against my will when I was in school listening to long lectures. Just thought it might be related.

  9. Josh

    I find this an extremely fascinating topic and really wish for serious research to be done in both the field of ASMR as a whole and more specifically ASMR in religious rituals/experiences.

    Having been brought up as a Christian I saw many people around me who claimed to ‘experience God’ or ‘experience God’s presence’ or ‘be touched by God’. As my faith grew I sought this as well and definitely experienced what I learned through discussion to be the same or a very similar feeling to what others felt. (obviously I cannot wholly speak on the experiences of others, but as I said through discussion I think it was a similar experience and it is pretty difficult to describe).

    Anyway fast forward a few years, a degree course in science (especially certain courses I took on evolutionary biology) and a fantastic debating partner who was a theologian/philosopher; I realised that I no longer had a belief in any God existing and this was around the time I saw ASMR being talked about for the first time. I thought it sounded interesting and checked out one of the eye test stimulation videos on youtube and got the EXACT same feeling that I had experienced in my ‘experiences with God’.

    I started to think back at how and when I would get these feelings during prayer or service time and realise that most if not all of them would still be triggering to me even with my newfound absence of faith. They would be in the quiet times of soft spoken prayer, or the personal addressing from the speaker to the congregation or the light touch with or without oil, or atmospheric songs of worship… all things which as I say I believe stimulate the ASMR response.

    The reason I decided to again search this today was because I was watching a discussion about Sikhism and one of the guys described his religious experience in again the exact same way that people talk about ASMR and how I would describe my identical experiences of the two and it made me realise that maybe this is what everyone who follows any religion is experiencing when they ‘experience the divine’. Given that a lot of people base their faith in having been able to experience something tangible I think this is a topic about which some significant thought or research should be done.

    Even more interesting is Sabio Lantz above discussing the HyakuE which I had not come across before, but is the same point of touch that I have definitely seen and had used on me in religious meets as a touch from a man/woman of God, and again in Sikhism is regarded as a holy point on the body which provides that connection with the divine.

  10. Chris

    Thanks for putting this it there. I experience ASMR regularly when I attend a mass that I like. I can see how a video of a tea ceremony could trigger something similar. Watching it I feel like the sensation is about to trigger, but then some defense mechanism kicks in, mostly fear of detracting from my religious experience (to which I attribute a huge intrinsic value) if I were to put it on the same level of a tea ceremony (which has no meaning in my personal experience). I usually feel the tingling when I hear something I deeply and fully agree with and that I perceive as completely joyful and hopeful… Mostly the thought of God as pure light connected to us.

  11. Pingback: What is ASMR, and does it explain the appeal of religion? | Unhinged Group

  12. Pingback: How to get “head orgasms” from sounds – – by F. Kaskais

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