In the dark, a man whispers something in my ear about my root chakra. I’m perched on a block on a yoga mat in a gym in east London, wearing a glowing set of headphones. My eyes are closed: I can’t see the others around me, or hear the David Guetta soundtrack or the slamming of weights downstairs. Just the voice. Lie down, it says. I’m not getting the goosebumps I had hoped for, though. It’s not him, it’s me, I think. Relax, the voice says.
ASMR, or aspirated sexy microphone rubbing, is très popular on the internet, but today I’m getting a live version. If you are unfamiliar with ASMR – which actually stands for autonomous sensory meridian response – take a dive into the countless online videos of supreme weirdness. Its breathy practitioners, mostly women, chew ice or stroke towels or click tweezers, with the intention of giving their audience, listening through earphones, “the tingles”. I don’t understand it, but I find it utterly fascinating.
People have always found natural sounds soothing, yet exploiting the latent sensuality of modern, unlikely objects is a subversive, even artistic, provocation. All of which means big companies want in. There is even an (unofficial) ASMR KFC advert in which Colonel Sanders talks about his pocket squares for two and a half unsettling minutes. Now ASMR has been packaged into a marketable wellness system. Mmm. *Whispers into mic* Capitalism. *Runs nail along raised lettering of a debit card*
The marketing for Braingasm, a new class from Gymbox (from £73 a month; £20 a day for non-members), is hardly subtle. Braingasm sounds like an ITV2 gameshow that thinks it’s Mastermind, but is really Catchphrase with glitter cannons. “Feel your brain get blown,” the website blurts. “Happy endings guaranteed.” I’m hoping they don’t deliver on that promise.
Our class is led by Paul Selvey, an experienced yoga teacher. He explains sensitively that the class isn’t just a wellness word salad with zeitgeist sprinkles. The tingly, deeply relaxing sensation of ASMR perfectly complements a yoga nidra relaxation practice. Selvey usually teaches a combination of vinyasa flow, yin and sattva kriya. Braingasm offers a style that speaks more directly to where I am spiritually and emotionally. That is, one where you lie on the floor and everyone leaves you the hell alone for an hour. Bliss.
We connect to our breath. We vocalise in Sanskrit, while looking in different directions with our eyes closed. All the while, Selvey whispers instructions. Yoga nidra uses spoken guidance to access deep “interiority”, and these soothing susurrations are an effective delivery system.
Like any ASMR, the intimacy may be … a bit much. I can hear the saliva clicks and trickles in the teacher’s mouth, breath catching on palatal ridges. “Try not to fall asleep,” Selvey advises, but being a natural rebel/deeply exhausted, I start to drift. I’m not fully out – rather, floating in a rich semi-consciousness. I’m dimly aware of Selvey’s voice, telling us a George Harrison-esque story. Some weeks, this may be cosmic in nature, or geographic, but this week he is taking us on a journey through inner space. I feel as if I’m in a lucid dream, vaguely aware of stopping off at my heart, navel and assorted other chakras. It’s like being drunk on a night bus and waking up in nirvana. I don’t get the famous tingles, but not everyone does.
It’s tricky to be definitive about ASMR’s legitimacy: there is insufficient research, and it’s mostly a self-reported phenomenon. Nonetheless, I like it. It’s an introverted practice in an extroverted world. It rewards those who pay attention to little things, who find their bliss in Blakeian miniature. Stillness, sensitivity and listening are good for the nervous system and the soul. The class’s saucy postcard pitch may be over-promising, but I had a great time regardless. Whisper it, but I may have reached the point where a nap is more desirable than a braingasm. Good lord: now there is something to meditate on.
Paraphilia by another name would sound as sweet
Are the videos meant to be sexytimes? These breathy people, un-crinkling Tunnock’s wrappers and running lint-rollers up the cat – should I be pants-free when I listen? ASM-asking for a friend.
Wellness or hellness?
ASM-aybe. But the nap was truly divine. 3/5