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On a dim Brooklyn street, a guide asks you to sign a waiver, blindfolds you and brings you into a whitewashed Airbnb property. Next, a “sound bath” hits: Crystal bowls and gongs accompany performers as they crinkle paper and tap on glass. In private rooms, a makeup brush traces your face, and an electric toothbrush performs a “TSA scan” of your body. Lastly, a “narrative symphony” drones over silent-disco headphones.
Welcome to Whisperlodge (no, it’s not an episode of Black Mirror). The immersive traveling wellness spa—launched by creative director Melinda Lauw and advisor Andrew Hoepfner in 2016—is the world’s first live autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) experience. Beginning as a niche YouTube genre, the ASMR phenomenon, which now enjoys a massive online following, refers to the tingling sensation that many experience from specific visual, auditory and touch triggers. On YouTube, ASMR personalities can attract millions of followers, doing everything from whispering into microphones to eating noisy food (pickles, shellfish) and even applying teeth-whitening strips.
Though the computer offers an anonymous experience, Whisperlodge guests come face-to-face with ASMR practitioners trained in the live implementation of the wellness method, which has been linked in studies with decreased symptoms of anxiety, depression and chronic pain, as well as a significantly reduced heart rate. Lauw compares the “flow state” of ASMR to the calming aspect of the womb, when we learn about the outside world via “muffled sounds.”
The operation has mounted 11 sold-out runs to date in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City, with an average of three per year. Lauw also offers private sessions for clients ($100 for 45 minutes) called Whispers on Demand. “I don’t think live ASMR will work for everyone,” she admits of the trend, citing the anonymity that a screen offers. Even so, Whisperlodge has consulted for brands including Marriott’s hip Moxy Hotel, which tapped them to produce a series of “bedtime story” videos in April for its location in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, featuring artists Bella and Dani Thorne and Caroline Vreeland.
Embraced by celebrities such as Kylie Jenner, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, ASMR is indeed having a moment. “It completely changed my life,” says Lauw, who first discovered the term on YouTube when she was growing up in Singapore. “I always felt so weird, but finally there was a name, a community. There were other people like me.”