Two years ago, I was a total meditation devotee. I got in my ten minutes of quiet reflection every morning, no matter what. But then I got lazy. Facing busier days that started earlier and ended later, hitting the snooze button for ten extra minutes of sleep was way more tempting than sitting cross-legged while a soothing voice told me to breathe in and out. Soon, I was hardly meditating at all.
There’s just one problem: I missed the benefits of meditation. I became a lot more anxious and could become irritable or moody in a snap. So when I heard about Muse 2, a brain-sensing meditation headband, I was cautiously optimistic. I figured that, if nothing else, testing it out for a week would encourage (read: force) me to meditate without excuses.
I’ll admit, putting on a brain-sensing headband sounds like a pretty strange sci-fi experience.
The headband is equipped with seven sensors that are used to detect your brain’s electrical activity, which Muse then converts into easy-to-understand stats. According to the brand’s website, “Muse is an EEG [electroencephalography] device widely used by neuroscientists around the world.”
Cool, but do you need to be a scientist to work this thing? Not at all! Once you unbox the headband and open the Muse: Meditation Assistant app, it prompts you to put on the headband and adjust it so that it lies flat against your forehead and hooks around the back of your ears. That way, the EEG sensors on the device can pick up your brain activity and Muse 2 can “start sensing your brain.”
After it’s done calibrating, you’re all good to pop in your headphones and get your Zen on. The app allows you to pick the type of meditation, duration, soundscape and voice recording you’d like to listen to. I went with mind meditations each morning, but you can also try heart, body, breath and guided meditations, if that’s more your thing. My go-to routine was three minutes with ambient music and one of Deepak Chopra’s recordings, because he’s one of Oprah’s best friends, duh.
But I also experimented a little. I tried one track from Muse that focused on inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for six to calm the body and mind. It was relaxing, but also kind of stressful. I didn’t like having to worry about syncing my breathing with the recording. I also tested out a recording on “breathing through the heart” from Joel and Michelle Levy, two mindfulness experts, but their words didn’t leave me feeling quite as calm as Chopra’s did.
Once you’ve wrapped up all that clear thinking, the Muse app presents you with a detailed chart of your brain waves. You can see when your brain was active, neutral or actually calm. The stats show exactly how many seconds your brain remained in each of these states, which it determines based on the EEG data. It’ll also tell you how many times you “recovered,” meaning you brought your mind back from an active state to a neutral one, and it gives you “birds,” a symbol for each time your mind stayed consistently calm for a long period.
To be honest, I was pretty skeptical about its efficacy, until I learned Muse’s technology has been used in a number of research studies at Harvard, MIT and the University of British Columbia. One study even used a Muse headband to study the brain activity of Tibetan Buddhist monks while meditating. Muse was clearly not just another wellness gadget; I started to see it as a highly respected tool.
Plus, the type A side of me loved getting this kind of feedback. Because while I know meditation is supposed to be all about the “journey” and not how “well” you do it, I liked being able to see exactly how effective my meditations were from day to day. And, appealing to my competitive spirit, it inspired me to want to beat the previous day’s stats with more calm moments.
In fact, I found myself wanting to meditate at night too, just to get a chance to use my Muse 2 again. There’s something fun about putting on the futuristic gadget and tuning the world out for a few minutes. I also noticed that I left my apartment feeling a lot calmer and more grounded each morning. Who wouldn’t want that feeling twice a day?
After a week of consistent use, I really had only one complaint. While Muse does have a large library of guided meditations and courses to address specific issues like stress, confidence and focus, you have to buy the monthly ($13) or annual ($47) membership to access them. And considering buyers have already shelled out $250 for the gadget itself, this feels like a lot for a practice that could otherwise be free (or picked up from a library book).
So, is this fancy headband really worth $250? That depends. If you’ve never meditated before, I’d suggest trying it the old-fashioned way first or even downloading a free meditation app, just to see if you could really implement a practice into your everyday life. If you really want to love meditation but just can’t get into it, I’d suggest trying this tool. The extra encouragement and novelty of it are well worth the price tag. Regular meditators can benefit too, since there’s always room to improve your practice and discover new ways to tune out.
The moral of the story: Is a brain-sensing meditation headband kind of ridiculous? Yes. But is it fun to use and effective? Also yes.
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