I have been meditating since my schooldays – not all the time, but often enough to have developed a good practice. My friends and I were interested in the occult, the paranormal and the esoteric and looked at numerous systems including tarot, meditation, shamanism, angels, Wicca, rune lore, Zen, scrying, ley lines, you name it. We visited a number of groups over the years, went to seminars teaching different spiritual practices and engaged in activities from guided meditation to overtone chanting to crystal workshops to earth energies and more. For me, it was an excellent foundation in what lay on the other side of science (see also my review of Real Magic) and while you would have a difficult time proving any of it, the experience was real and the results were profound in some cases.
With the current resurgence of the benefits of meditation – now scientifically proven – I thought it was high time I started to take it more seriously and not use it as a band-aid when times were tough. Regular meditation can, for example:
- Reduce stress
- Help with anxiety
- Help with depression
- Enhance self-awareness
- Improve your attention span & cognition
- Reduce age-related memory loss & bias
- Generate kindness
- Help fight addictions
- Improve sleep
- Manage pain
- Decrease blood pressure
- Improve heart health
So, I bought a Muse 2 and set out to get my mind back in the groove.
The Muse 2 Headband & App
The headband sits comfortably on your forehead, propped over your ears. It’s lightweight but initially feels odd having it on your head. Calibration can be a bit tricky, but with patience and perseverance learning to get the headband sitting just right, you are quickly connected to the app and ready to go.
The app itself has a number of different meditation styles – mind, breath, heart and body – and records stats of how well you’re doing based on the EEG feedback recorded during your sessions. I focused on the mind meditation and spent 2-3 weeks meditating regularly.
Muse Mind Meditation
In the mind meditation, you can select from a number of background tracks to listen to for the duration of your meditation (which you can also choose to be as short or as long as you want). You will need a set of headphones, and the device happily links Bluetooth earbuds simultaneously. This audio feedback is stepped so when you are meditating brilliantly the background sound is almost silent and you heard birds chirping. Your goal is to have chirping birds for as long and as often as you can to ‘stay in the zone’. When you drift out of meditation, the birds stop and you hear more of the background sound. When you are distracted, the background sound gets quite loud and you have to really try to get back in the zone. I felt this counter-intuitive as a loud sound reinforces my overriding conscious state and some of the backing sounds were really distracting.
My first session’s EEG recording was all over the place, suggesting I was very rarely ‘in the zone’ of meditation. It seemed like I had a long way to go to get back into the practice of good meditation. However, on my second night, I hit over 95% success rate with a very high number of birds tweeting and only one or two distracted, conscious spikes. My EEG looked like a slightly-above-baseline murmur.
As the two nights were so different, I continued meditating to see if it was just one of those things, or if I was actually suddenly very good at it, or if it may be a technical issue. Over the next week or so I consistently hit 95-99% meaning I actually entered a meditative state very quickly and stayed there. The guidance from the introduction to the tracks was very useful. It helped my subconscious present whatever it wanted to – remaining objective to observing what popped up seemed to be key to remaining in the zone; as soon as you consciously thought about something you dropped out of the quiet zone. There were a couple of other nights that didn’t go so smoothly, probably due to big stresses from the day, but I found that regular meditation did help overall. I think my history with meditation also gives me a head start at being able to ‘get back in the zone’ and the Muse 2 provided confirmation of this.
Journal, Journal, Journal
The Muse app also gives you the option to record a journal entry after your session to record anything that comes up. This is really useful and, as many spiritual guides suggest, you should always journal after your sessions as you often have great insights into situations or yourself that you can carry forward. It was a shame you could not export these entries into Day One or something similar (at least I could not find the option), but I did take screenshots for posterity.
The Facebook group for Muse owners was active and there was a lot of sharing of graphs and questions about meditation practice. It is good to see an active community behind the product and practice.
Other Meditation Styles
I did not get into the heart, breath or body meditations. The heart is about tuning into the rhythm of your heart, the breath is about following your breath and the body is about keeping absolutely still. For me, the mind is the thing that keeps everything else running so I chose to focus on the source which would have benefits in all the other areas. However, as other reviews mention, the mind meditation can be the hardest one to succeed in as even the slightest distraction throws you into louder, distracting soundscapes.
I preferred the rainforest soundscape as it sounded the most natural of the five. The others were ambient, beach, desert and city. When you’re in the zone, all is quiet and you have birds accompany you. When you start to become less meditative, the sound jumps up a notch and you get a flood of new sounds which you need to ‘control’ your impulse to listen to and return to meditation. When your mind gets into a fully distracted, active state, you get a full orchestra of sounds which feel enough to snap you out of the whole exercise.
With rainforest, the sounds still felt natural enough to allow me to remain calm. Ambient was an electronic cacophony of supposedly New Age style tones but was more electric whistle to me. The beach was relaxing ‘in the zone’ with gently lapping waves but quickly turned to a tempest of crashing breakers. No thank you. The desert was a gentle breeze, but this became an electronic storm of more whistling winds. I’m out! And I live in a city, so I don’t want more honking horns and bustling streets when I’m distracted. I want to be away from this.
As with all good tools, Muse provides a series of guided exercises to help you practice. These offer variety and help you want to come back to the app and try something new or settle in with one that works well for you. There are over 100 guided meditations in Muse, though many require a subscription. You can also use the app with just a straight soundscape if you prefer, so it offers great flexibility.
I found a couple of the starter guided meditations (free) worked very well as they took me on a more direct journey to stillness than some of the others that wanted to focus on specific attributes of mindfulness.
Personally, having practised a lot over the years, I find guided meditation or using background tracks of Solfeggio or Binaural Beats the most effective tools for me to get into my zone. I get good results more consistently and do not need an EEG headset to achieve this. However, I did meditate more regularly with Muse because the statistics help gamify the experience – rewards (achievements) in the app are good and encourage you to develop a positive habit.
However, I chose not to continue with the headband for a few main reasons:
- I did not want to become ‘addicted’ to meditation because of the stats and feedback – that’s counter-productive (and something the makers are also aware of and strive to achieve a balance between detailed, scientific analysis and a more holistic, gamified reward-based experience).
- I felt that having even a low-level electric fog around my brain while trying to achieve serenity was not beneficial to my baseline state. I wanted to ‘unplug’ and did not feel totally unplugged with both headphones and a Muse 2 EEG on my head.
- I am a bit of a rebel (from the four tendencies by Gretchen Rubin) and also get bored with routine, so get frustrated with ‘having’ to adopt the headset in order to meditate. I am working on this as there are some things I need to do consistently.
I prefer to use Calm – the 21 Days of Calm are great – and also Insight Timer (with wired headphones where possible). I also have a number of guided meditations bought from iTunes (now Apple Music), plus other guided meditations from people like Gabby Bernstein, Anna Thompson, Marisa Peer, Lisa Nichols, Christie Marie Sheldon, et al. Which audio I use depends on how long I have and what I want to achieve.
Muse 2 is a great tool to help with regular practice and, as long as you don’t focus on the details of the statistics but use them as a guide to achieve better practice, you can get some great results (as thousands of others attest to).
If you are looking for more reviews and insights into the Muse 2 app and headband before making a decision, here are some great ones: Insider’s review of the Muse 2, Wareable’s Review, Mashable’s Muse 2 Review.
Wearable technology is great at giving us direct feedback on our physical and mental states and has a significant positive impact on our ability to improve techniques such as meditation, fitness, etc. I chose another path, but Muse 2 may be perfect for you.
Let me know if you have used Muse 2 or another EEG headband in the comments and what your thoughts on it are.