Imagine if you could trigger a powerful release of oxytocin in your body, along with other feel-good hormones like serotonin, without taking anything or inadvertently messing with your body chemistry or tolerance levels? Well read on, people!
As a kid, I used to periodically experience a feeling of tingling euphoria, which I aptly named “The Feeling”. The first time I strongly remember it happening, I was playing with our cleaning lady’s daughter Maria, and she was the dentist and I was the patient. Maria had a very gentle voice and a Portuguese accent, and as the dentist she made me lean back in a reclining chair as she poked at my mouth and inspected my teeth with a flashlight.
As far as games went, this one was deadly boring. And yet I wanted it to last forever! Why? Because it triggered “The Feeling”, which I can only describe as a tingling sensation along my scalp, down the back of my neck and into my shoulders, accompanied by very strong feelings of euphoria and calm relaxation.
Cut to twenty five years later when I was given Pitocin to help my labour along. Wow! I went from insanely painful labor cramps to totally relaxed euphoria. My husband wanted to go home to sleep for a while, and I was like, Sure! NBD! I’m just gonna lie here and enjoy this! I was unbelievably high with euphoric feelings, and my pain was gone.
Pitocin is a synthetic oxytocin, but where oxytocin is beneficial to newborns – Pitocin can actually be quite damaging. The natural birthing cocktail is a combo of hundreds of different factors, not just oxytocin – so pushing one, let alone a synthetic version, at the expense of all the others sets up an imbalance from the start.
WHAT IS OXYTOCIN
Oxytocin is a neuropeptide made of nine amino acids which acts as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. Most oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus and released by the posterior pituitary gland to create reactions throughout the body.
If you really like the feeling of oxytocin and Pitocin, it’s not hard to buy on the internet as sublingual drops or a nasal spray. But what would be the point? You would quickly build up a tolerance to it and soon it would be nearly impossible to get “The Feeling” at all. Plus coming down from pure Pitocin creates the opposite effects – feelings of isolation, loneliness, unworthiness etc. Total shame spiral.
But the internet has once again changed everything.
THIS IS A HALLELUJAH MOMENT
I’m here to tell you that I can trigger a totally natural release of oxytocin just by watching a certain type of YouTube video. This is freaking bananas. And since it works for me, it might work for you too.
These videos are tagged as “ASMR”, which is a recently made up term that stands for “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response”. There are thousands of ASMRtists creating videos that average 20 minutes and consist mostly of gentle whispering, light tapping that rolls from ear to ear, hair brushing sounds, and then diversify into triggers as specific as folding towels and cutting hair.
Many of the videos simulate what I classify as Primate Grooming Triggers. These are simulated hair brushing, eye exams, various other white-coat procedures, shoulder massages and near-ear whispering. In primates, grooming is an incredibly successful behavior which promotes bonding within social groups. If you ever have a chance to experience “The Feeling”, a let-down of oxytocin, you will understand with so much greater clarity why and how these primate grooming sessions work.
Here is an example of one of the most viewed Primate Grooming trigger videos, by an ASMRtist who calls herself GentleWhispering: Watch this ASMR video first to see if any of these triggers work for you. (I will post these videos again at the bottom because you know how much I hate embedding links within the body of posts because embedding makes us all dumber! I made this exception because I’m weak.)
You need to wear headphones to really make this work, because there is something about the way sound travels from one ear and then around the head to the next ear that is a strong trigger. I think this ear-to-ear intake of sound closely simulates the way we would have processed sound while grooming back when we lived in trees. You don’t remember those days, but your cells still do and they like it.
If you watch that whole video and don’t get a definitive “feeling” of euphoria and tingling, then these triggers do not work for you. We are not looking for a general feeling of relaxation or calmness. This is something more dramatic, and you will just know it when it happens. You will also know it if it doesn’t happen.
But maybe you trigger to different things. For me, I trigger much more strongly to the sound of someone tapping gently on a piece of cardboard. How crazy is that??? Here is an example of another ASMRtist named Dimitri who really knows how to play a piece of white card: This particular video also has nice visualizations. And if you only want a quick 2-minute fix: this “layer cake” gets me every time.
Again, this video does not just relax me. I am talking about something different. I think I am a “strong responder” to oxytocin in that it feels like a total phase change when that peptide is emitted into my system. The feelings I get are so strong they are sometimes nauseatingly euphoric. You may not get as strong a reaction as me (until you find your own trigger), but for it to be defined as an ASMR event, it has to be more than just relaxing or calming.
HOW IS THIS LIKE MEDITATION
I worked with a meditation coach for a couple years and I really owe her a lot for clarifying the responsibility I needed to take over my moods, thoughts and perceptions. Not all of us are lucky enough to learn those skills from our families or from school, despite the fact that they are critical to living with any presence at all.
My main takeaway from my meditation practice is that it’s not all about carving out some time to sit cross-legged. It’s also about turning every day moments into opportunities to become present. Long line at the bank? Rather than complain about it in your head or fantasize about your bucket list, why not still your mind and focus on your breathing? Look at the long line as a gift, a chance to practice a standing meditation and become fully present. Once you change your perspective this way, you can find opportunities to be grateful for all the most infuriating irritations in life.
However it’s hard to get to a deeper level of meditation without putting in the time to do some sitting. It takes practice, repetition and habit building to be able to release attachment to your thoughts. Finding this “sitting” time was always a challenge for me, and I assume for most meditators. One early hack I took advantage of was a device from HeartMath which connects your ear to your iPhone and gives you real-time feedback about whether you are “in the zone” or not. As you breathe in through your heart and create intentions to feel open and loving, the screen either glows green to show your heart and breath are in coherence, or it glows red to show they are in dissonance. By subtly letting go of attachments to outcomes and thoughts, your heart and breath can make the screen change to green. That’s some powerful feedback! (I will post a link to the device at the bottom).
People who meditate consistently literally change the physical shape of their brains: MRIs reveal a cortical thickening in the part of the brain that is associated with emotions and perception; also revealed is a minimizing of the physical part of the brain associated with worry, anxiety and depression. You actually build a different brain which interacts with your environment in a more positive way. In addition, meditation up regulates the immune system and reduces your chance of heart attack.
Even if you can get “in the green” with the HeartMath device and application for a solid hour, you will be achieving some remarkable health benefits but you still might not reach a truly euphoric state. At best you might reach a calm and tranquil disposition unless you have the dedication of a proper Zen monk. Deep meditators can open the sensory gating channels in their mind and see the world in a different way, also known as approaching enlightenment. However there are some shortcuts to opening those sensory gating channels, which is why sometimes people give up on meditation and turn to ayahuasca, ecstasy, LSD and hallucinogens.
ASMR IS NEXT LEVEL MEDITATION
Well I’m here to say I’ve found a middle ground between basic meditation and psychoactives. Watching an ASMR video with appropriate triggers for your particular disposition can take you to a place where you will get the health benefits of meditation, the “everything is connected” awareness of psychoactives, and a bonus of purely pleasurable physical sensations in your head, neck and shoulders (but not limited to those areas). This is oxytocin, baby!
BENEFITS OF OXYTOCIN
When I’m talking about the benefits of oxytocin, I really mean the benefits of the flood of wonderful chemicals that comes when you breastfeed, when you first fall in love, after you orgasm and when you watch an ASMR video with your unique triggers. This natural flood of chemicals cannot be limited to oxytocin, and at least also includes serotonin, but the comprehensive package is still not really understood. It is better to experience the “full flood” rather than pure Pitocin/oxytocin in the same way it is better to get your vitamins from food than from pills. The full flood of chemicals works together synergistically to create an enhanced experience, and also one that you have specifically evolved to benefit from.
But it sounds weird and complicated to describe it that way, so I am just going to shorthand this list as the Benefits of Oxytocin:
- Facilitates mother-child bonding. Without it, all those crying and sleep-robbing newborns would probably be abandoned. Every positive interaction between mother and baby releases new oxytocin, which creates a physical association between the flood of good feelings and the relationship, and in turn fosters an association with general social behavior.
- Facilitates father-child bonding. In the same way, fathers can be induced to release oxytocin through skin-to-skin contact with their babies, which creates the same physical feedback loop relationship.
- Higher levels of oxytocin drives new oxytocin receptors in the brain, which confers greater ability to manage social stress and aggression. Conversely, abandoned infants have far fewer oxytocin receptors and are susceptible to stress, and prone to hostility and aggression. See: history of Russian orphanages.
- Regulates all of our social interactions. People with more oxytocin receptors are better at making and keeping friends, and defusing conflicts.
- Reacts with the opiod and dopamine systems in the brain. The release of these other positive-feeling chemicals is part of the synergistic flood experience. An increase of serotonin hormone drives a further release of oxytocin. This seems to create a virtuous loop of good feelings.
- More oxytocin receptors in the amygdala still allow you to detect and process fear when applicable, but allow the fears to be mollified more quickly once the threat has passed or proved to be benign. A person with more receptors in this area will have better sleep, less phobias and less feelings of social isolation.
- More oxytocin receptors in the ventromedial hypothalamus provides a stronger feeling of satiety after eating, and is associated with less issues of eating disorders and better regulation of body weight. It also facilitates better “play” in women due to enhanced feelings of security and safety, which translates to better sexual response.
- More OT (oxytocin) receptors in the hippocamus increase memory and spatial orientation.
- More OT receptors in the pineal gland better modulate production of melatonin for more pronounced sleep and wake cycles.
- More OT receptors in the brain stem mean better regulation of the whole central nervous system, including cardiac and respiratory function, sleep cycles, and consciousness itself.
- OT receptors are also found in the septum, spinal cord, the nucleus accumbens, the adrenal medulla, pancreas, kidneys, ovaries, uterus, testicles as well as other organs or parts of organs which lead to various other associated improved responses.
- OT increases both sex drive and sexual arousal, and ability to climax.
- OT increases trust, empathy and understanding within a group. However it can foster distrust of outsiders, which makes sense from an evolutionary perspective when outsiders were frequent marauders and rapists, as well as carriers of plagues and pestilence.
- OT helps with microcirculation by stimulating the production of nitrous oxide, which vasodilates blood vessels. People without adequate OT levels tend to have cold hands and feet, as well as recurrent headaches.
- OT decreases certain cytokines, which decreases inflammation and allows for speedier wound healing.
- OT increases pain threshold. Applicable in people with chronic pain or who are going into labor or other procedures.
- OT stimulates osteoblasts which build bone, and inhibits the osteoclasts which break down bone. People with low OT receptors develop osteoporosis.
- There is a link between OT and glucose metabolism that could contribute to Type 1 Diabetes and the impaired glucose metabolism on the spectrum of metabolic disorders.
- There is a link between OT and regulation of cell proliferation. In breast cancer patients, OT helped inhibit estrogen-induced tumor growth.
- High levels of OT are associated with mental clarity, concentration and memory. Low levels contribute to a feeling of “brain fog”.
While the natural and evolutionarily preferred methods of increasing oxytocin are ideal, they are not always practical anymore. You can’t breastfeed forever. You can’t fall deeply and madly in love with a new person every month. It’s too expensive to get your hair blown out by a whispering empath every day. You probably have to go to work instead of hosting drum circles and holding hands with friends all day long. So we have lost a lot of our opportunities to create oxytocin release due to the modern way we have organized our society.
Like I said before, supplementing with synthetic or even bioidentical oxytocin is only going to lead to tolerance and addiction – until it no longer does anything for you at all. You will desensitize your oxytocin receptors to boot, which will leave you with the opposite effect than intended. Such is the tyranny of pharmaceutical intervention!
If you can find a couple ASMR videos or audio tracks that actually work for you, then you will always have a natural way to stimulate oxytocin release in your body, which will lead to increased production of oxytocin receptors, which will lead to greater mental and health benefits.
Having said that, I’m not sure that it is a great idea to watch or listen to Tingle Porn all the time. In order to maintain a strong reaction, you may need to keep the novelty alive a little bit. I would consider saving these videos for times of stress, insomnia, grieving, anxiety and disease. That is my recommendation for a healthy person, anyway.
Having said that, if you are suffering from a chronic condition, by all means consider this a form of therapy and work towards increasing your oxytocin receptors. You may have to cycle videos, but fortunately there are many ASMRtists creating new ones all the time – and often they will take suggestions and create experiences based on your own personal triggers.
I know this just got weird, but you will totally thank me once on-demand access to The Feeling changes your whole quality of life forever.
The best introduction video to ASMR, firmly in the primate grooming category: GentleWhispering
The best introduction to ASMR tapping, should that be a thing that works for you: Tapping Genius on White Card Stock
Shorter 2-minute “layer cake” video for a quick fix! Remember: wear headphones.
There isn’t any real research on ASMR, but this place calls itself a lab and tries to accumulate information: ASMR Lab.
The Huffington Post article about how ASMR is purported to cure insomnia. This reporting really broke the news to the wider world this year.
Wikipedia tells you like it is about oxytocin.
This is the meditation tool I have used from HeartMath, including the iOS app Inner Balance.
Pubmed article linking social grooming in primates to release of oxytocin, from Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences.
Some people can’t make adequate receptors for oxytocin, and there is a gene to indicate as much. If you want to check yours, send in some spit to a site like 23ndme.com, then once your sample has been processed – look up your OXTR gene, then specifically check the SNP called rs53576. If you have two GG genotypes from your parents, then you will be receptive to oxytocin. However if you have an AA or AG genotype, you are probably much less sensitive. My guess is that you have a hard time feeling empathy for other people, that you find social situations incredibly stressful, and that you suffer from chronic health problems. Super sorry for you, but at least you finally know that it’s not your fault. Add it to the long list of things you can blame your parents for!