A recent article in The Atlantic about a phenomenon called ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) reminded me of how little we celebrate the purely sensational nature of massage.
ASMR is a subjective sensory experience that typically includes highly pleasurable tingling in the head triggered by external audio or visual stimuli such as whispering, tapping or watching certain videos. Possibly because someone early on began referring to this sensation as a “brain orgasm,” the ASMR meme went viral with articles appearing on Slate, Time, and Huffington Post as well as numerous podcasts and radio programs. YouTube already lists nearly 2 million videos on the subject.
I had two reactions when I first read about ASMR. The first was, “What’s the fuss about? Every time I get a massage, I tingle all over, including in my head and brain.” My second thought was, “How come massage doesn’t have 2 million videos on how good massage feels?”
Professional massage exists on a social acceptability spectrum that can be summarized into four major categories: Sexual, sensual, wellness, and therapy. For the past 30 years the goal of the mainstream massage industry has been to highlight the latter two categories while downplaying the first two in an attempt to create as much distance as possible between massage and any hint of prostitution.
In the process, the fact that, first and foremost, massage feels good has gotten lost. That is unfortunate because, as science is now discovering, feeling good is probably one of the best things that we can do for our ongoing health and well being.
Learning how to stimulate a parasympathetic (relaxation) response, as massage does quickly and so effectively, is crucial to the daily health and renewal of virtually every physiological system in our bodies, not to mention the maintenance of a healthy psycho-social balance.
“Massage is not just pampering,” popular magazine headlines try to convince us. I say, what’s wrong with pampering if it boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases oxytocin and heightens heart rate variability, a marker of parasympathetic response? A simple, caring massage is also an unconditional validation of my existence that nurtures both internal and external empathy. What’s not to like?
All massage is sensational. It makes us feel more and it makes us feel better. What a gift is the massage that banishes the numbness with which we armor our bodies and our spirits. Let us celebrate the sensational essence of massage and start making those videos.