Yesterday I lay in a basement in West London and got an hour’s whispering massage from a female Hungarian bodyguard. And it was one of the happiest hours of my life.
Allow me to explain. I am just slightly more tactile than a labrador. As a toddler, my mother would lie me on top of the washing machine for entire spin cycles just to watch my happy little vibrating face; I regularly ask acquaintances to pull my hair or rub my face when I’m hungover; I once dated a drummer for the sole reason that he would practice complicated rhythm sections on my back as I napped; I once let my little sisters draw an enormous mural across my arms and back in felt tip pen simply because the nibs felt nice against my skin.
So, when my editor asked if I would like to try out an hour’s ASMR massage, you may think that the ‘massage’ section would have appealed to me more than the ASMR. Not a bit of it. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response may sound like a horrendous suburban indie band from 1993, but what I am about to tell you might be one of those rare-in-a-lifetime-occasions when someone puts a word to a sensation, experience or phenomenon you thought was unique, inexplicable and known to yourself alone. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR , is a state of soothed relaxation, along with a physical tingling sensation across your scalp and skin, often triggered by ‘listening to a softly spoken or whispering voice, listening to quiet, repetitive sounds resulting from someone engaging in a mundane task such as turning the pages of a book or watching somebody attentively execute a mundane task such as preparing food.’ Imagine a physical response to watching someone sort through 46 train tickets, lining up Scrabble counters for twenty minutes, whispering the names from a phone book; a glorious mix of the mundane, the repetitive and the subtle. At least, that’s my experience of it.
Krisztina, my masseur and an all round superbabe, has had ASMR since she was a child and so uses her practice to try and recreate some of the relaxing, tingling sensations associated with ASMR for other people, combining it with natural lift face massage, reiki and personalised ASMR triggers (some people ask for whispering, others to have their skin lightly brushed, others to have their hair tousled etc). This is definitely not, as she tells me rolling her eyes, an ‘intimate massage’. But, although she will concentrate only on your face, neck, shoulders and scalp, sometimes tapping, sometimes applying pressure, sometimes brushing, sometimes using light touch, it still feels incredibly powerful.
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As I hop onto the bed, having tucked my bra straps down, the small matter of my 6 month foetus presents itself. I am pregnant. Actually quite pregnant, and so I choose to lie down with my knees slightly to one side with a bolster between my ankles. You can lie however you want. Krisztina starts by wiping my face with a cool cloth and then applies a delicious combination of light, easily-absorbed oils to my forehead, cheeks, jawline, neck and shoulders. At this point, I would have quite happily have proposed to Krisztina, but it was only a sample of what was to come. Turning my head to one side then the other, she rolled her hands over my trapezius muscles, gently whispering over my face about stress, letting a warmth, a light and a glow flow over me. It felt lovely. She then started to gently massage my ears and, honestly, I was ready to marry her. At one point she gently pinpointed a small spot in a fold at the top of my earlobe and, when she started to massage this tiny area, the baby in my womb started to roll around like a tiny crashing sea. It was wonderful. I had similar experiences of near-euphoria as she massaged the bridge of my nose and applied gentle pressure to my temples. She also gave me a scalp massage, tugging lightly on small strands of hair and caressing my hairline, explaining all the while about how this could release tension and help people relax.
As warned, Krisztyna then switched to Hungarian. This, she explained, helped to provoke an ASMR response in many people because, although they could tune into the sound, they had no idea as to the meaning. In fact, quite a few people assume she’s speaking Elvish which is at once adorable and pathetic, depending on your view. Everything she would be saying was all positive, she reassured me, but with my Hungarian being what it is she could quite easily have been telling me the gruesome details of butchering a cow and I would have been none the wiser. As it was, the warmth of her presence, her proximity (she chews gum so smells delightful), her strength and gentleness sent me off into something very like an ASMR response. I certainly tingled.
At this moment, the massage then transformed into a light touch tapping, almost like rain, delivered entirely by her fingertips across my face, shoulders, arms, hips and right down to my toes. My baby was still occasionally galloping across my womb like a first year trying to master The Worm but I was utterly relaxed. Krisztina was playing some nondescript ‘chill’ music that involved, I think, chimes - she offered to turn this off at the beginning but, aside from the occasional click of Sophie’s camera, I was entirely unaware of my surroundings. I couldn’t think how Krisztina was managing to move so effortlessly from the top of my head to the tips of my toes, but I was very happy she could. As a security guard (she still works at itv part time) she is of course bigger than me, but it still seems a little like magic that she can deliver such a sensation across my whole body apparently effortlessly.
The massage ends with her pulling on my feet, like a huge stretch, and then resting her hands just under my collarbones. As I opened my eyes, I saw a circle of fairy lights, wrapped in brown chiffon attached to the ceiling, saw a woman with a camera looking down at me, saw a blonde Hungarian bodyguard smiling and, honestly, thought ‘maybe I can just live here?’
Whether you have ASMR or not, whether you’re pregnant or not, whether you’re single or not, we all need touch and more of it. So what the hell - try a tingle.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.