WATCH | ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, began as an internet phenomenon. Whisperlodge is bringing the sensation to real life. The experience is a "spa for the senses," designed specifically to trigger feelings associated with ASMR. (Videography by Tomson Tee for Whisperlodge)
What is ASMR?
"The term that the community uses [for ASMR] is that it's a pleasurable tingling sensation, but it's subjective," explained co-creator Melinda Lauw. "For me, it's a warm, fuzzy feeling that's in the back of my head."
ASMR is notoriously difficult to describe. Most report that the tingling begins on the scalp and moves down the neck and spine from there. The experience, characterized by feelings of euphoria and relaxation, is typically brought about by certain visual and auditory stimuli.
A bit different for everyone
The list of common triggers includes: listening to whispering, watching someone perform a mundane task, or receiving personal attention. The overall effectiveness of a particular trigger varies from person to person. Everyone who feels ASMR experiences it a little bit differently. But some people, like co-creator Andrew Hoepfner, don't experience it at all. However, he's still able to see benefits: "ASMR, even without the tingles, can still provide a really satisfying alternative to our fast-paced lives."
An internet phenomenon
ASMR's history begins in 2007 with a website called Steady Health. A user described the sensation that they felt "as a child while watching a puppet show" and "when a friend drew on the palm of my hand using markers." Another user replied that they also felt it, describing it as, "almost like a sort of head orgasm, but there is nothing sexual about it."
Interest in ASMR quickly began to build online. Websites devoted to the sensation popped up, as well as a Yahoo! group, a Facebook group, and a subreddit.
In 2009, a YouTube channel called "WhisperingLife" began to post videos of someone whispering. From there, content creators known as "ASMRtists" began to make videos designed especially to trigger ASMR. Searching "ASMR" on YouTube comes up with over 6.5 million results.
There also exists a category of "unintentional ASMR," media that triggers ASMR without intentionally meaning to do so. A common example of unintentional ASMR is videos of Bob Ross painting.
WATCH | Millions of people have tuned in to the ASMRrequests channel on YouTube. In this video, Ally, an ASMRtist, role-plays a shampoo, scalp massage, and blow dry with the viewer. The video includes a variety of ASMR triggers, from her soft whispering to the intimate personal experience.
The Whisperlodge experience
What happens when AMSR videos are brought to life? Whisperlodge attempted to answer this question during a limited run in late September.
"At Whisper Lodge, we transform ASMR into an indulgent immersive experience," explained the ticketing website. "Six guides lead six guests through special one-on-one treatments designed to relax the body and mind, expand awareness, and heighten the senses."
The rest of the details were left purposefully vague.
The making of Whisperlodge
On a Wednesday night, we stepped into a Brooklyn church for a behind-the-scenes look at the Whisperlodge training, led by Hoepfner and Lauw.
They unpacked a variety of seemingly random objects onto a folding table. These were the possible props for Whisperlodge. There were glass beads and a tennis racket, newspapers and hairbrushes, pearl necklaces and fans. For several hours, the guides-in-training tried out the props on each other, speaking in hushed whispers and sending chills down my spine.
"Why did the hairbrush turn out to be such a winner for us?"
—Andrew Hoepfner, co-founder
"It's been a surprise which [props] we've liked and which ones we've lost interest in," said Hoepfner. "I don't feel that I understand the formula yet of what makes a good prop. Why did the hairbrush turn out to be such a winner for us? Why was the vase full of pinecones not so good?"
Personally, I found myself most affected by the tissue paper and the sticks of charcoal.
A future for Whisperlodge
The September performances were a trial run for a more elaborate experience in the future. Ideally, Hoepfner and Lauw want to open a permanent ASMR spa in New York City.
The spa would offer a similar experience to Whisperlodge in one-on-one sessions with a guide. It would also offer a communal room, where a single ASMRtist could lead a group session. And they'd allow special requests, should someone want, say, 90 minutes of hair brushing. "It's kind of like ASMR on demand," said Hoepfner.
If you don't want to have to wait for the permanent spa to arrive, Whisperlodge is offering another limited run opportunity to experience ASMR in person. There will be 11 performances between Thursday. November 10 and Sunday, November 13 in a secret Brooklyn location.
Tickets for these November performances went on sale in late October, and several times are already sold out.
Tickets for the previous performances sold out almost immediately, demonstrating an eagerness to participate in the immersive spa for the senses.