ASMR: The mysterious YouTube practice nobody truly understands.

It starts slowly. With quiet music, a soft whisper and low lighting. A gentle reassurance and countless words of comfort follow. The person talking is looking right at you, without judgement. At that same even pace, the video continues for anywhere between 10 minutes to over an hour as hundreds of thousands of people all around the world join you to tune in and listen to ASMR – a practice that in 2019 is now more under the microscope and misunderstood than ever before.

What is ASMR? Mia, Holly and Jessie discuss on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues after video.

What is ASMR?

For those who haven’t heard of it, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR as it’s more commonly known, refers to the tingling sensation people experience in their scalp and throughout their body when a deep level of relaxation, calm and sometimes euphoria, is reached. And while it’s still not fully understood how, the most common way to experience or induce ASMR is through whispering.

Both the term and practice are both relatively new, having only been formalised in 2010 by New Yorker Jennifer Allen. But now, thanks to Youtube, it’s a sensation millions of people are now tuning in to reach via skilled ASMR artists. One of which is Lauren Ostrowski-Fenton, a Victorian-based artist in her 50s whose videos have had over half a million views, listening to her every word.

what is asmr
For many, ASMR offers a similar level of relaxation and calm to meditating. Source: iStock.

What is the purpose of ASMR?

Known as The Whispering Mother, Ostrowski-Fenton tells Mamamia, "ASMR is a projection of what people need in their life and the way that they see the world... It projects back to the viewer what the viewer is looking for."

She explains, "It runs on empathy, and when you watch and listen, it gives you a sensation that you are actually there. It's like virtual reality."

In particular, Ostrowski-Fenton says, ASMR is hugely popular with young people, specifically those aged between 25 to 35.

"They're generally looking for love, they're looking for attention, they're looking for care," she explained. "They're people who don't know what to do with their career or what to study at university, they're having relationship problems or might be struggling with their sexuality. Sometimes their parents are going through a divorce."

ASMR, she says, makes these people feel as if someone's heard them.

what is asmr
Lauren Ostrowski-Fenton aka The Whispering Mother. Source: Facebook.

Does it really work though?

Without being too sceptical, it's easy to understand why some people may find it hard to believe that a YouTube video of someone gently whispering is actually helping people take control of their life all that much.

But according to Nelly*, a woman who has been watching ASMR videos for six years, it really does do all that and more.

"To someone who doesn't experience the response, ASMR is weird and creepy. To those who do, ASMR is the touchstone of comfort and elixir of euphoria," Nelly tells Mamamia. "It is an addictive feeling, but unlike other addiction, it is not harmful."

(*Name has been changed.)

Is ASMR a form of pornography?

This is a somewhat tricky question. For many of the millions of subscribers and artists, the answer is a firm no. But in recent years a number of former pornstars have launched ASMR careers and have quickly become international superstars for their work.

What those few select artists do, though, Ostrowski-Fenton - who has worked in meditation, life coaching and fitness industries prior to this - says, is give an unrealistic portrayal of what ASMR is and offers to people. "Like many other things in today's world, ASMR has been brutalised by pornography," she says.

The trick of ASMR, Ostrowski-Fenton says, is to "give people what they need rather than what they think they want." Meaning, just because we might want a quick fix of sex or porn, deep down it's probably not actually what we need.

Listen: The Well discusses the secrets of happy people. Post continues... 

How is ASMR viewed by the medical community? 

Again, this is a tricky question. Broadly speaking, the medical community in Australia at least, appears to have reservations about the science behind ASMR, as well as the concern that people with mental health issues like anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder are using the video as a substitute for qualified psychology.


For Ostrowski-Fenton, who holds a Masters degree in counselling, ASMR is "like a massage."

"A massage may help with rehab following a back injury, but you still see the physio. So if someone has PTSD or another serious health issue, they must see a psychologist," she says.

Another way of looking at it is like a dinner of meat and three veg. For someone experiencing a mental health condition, psychology and/or medication may be the meat, but daily tools like meditation, ASMR, exercise and sleep can all be used as the vegetables that also help keep a person going.

"ASMR acts as a bridge," she says. "It doesn't negate psychology."

what is asmr
Lauren Ostrowski-Fenton aka The Whispering Mother. Source: Facebook.

Would you like it?

Interestingly, not everyone experiences the head-tingling experience that ASMR induces. So if you're one of those who doesn't, ASMR isn't likely to offer you the experience it offers some, but that doesn't mean it won't soothe or relax you nonetheless. And the only way to find out is to try.

Listen to one of Lauren's ASMR tapes below. 

Have you tried or would you ever try ASMR? Let us know in the comments section below.