A personal meditation assistant
The past few months have been probably the busiest of my life. I’ve been going nonstop between work, caring for a family member who is recovering from an illness, taking a teenager to and from school, work, and other appointments, taking my significant other to doctors appointments due to an injury, and of course, reviewing products. It’s been so hectic that I honestly don’t know how I’ve been able to make it through the past few weeks (NOTE: coffee helps). Even though I’ve been busy, I’ve been able to keep my stress level pretty low which is very fortunate.
One way I do that is to take a few minutes every day and relax or do something just for me. It may be something as simple as taking a walk down our street or taking a little longer of a shower. No matter what the activity is, the important thing is to quiet one’s mind in order to relax. Some people have an easier time of this than others and what I’ve learned is that relaxation or meditation is a learned skill. It’s not something you can just do automatically. In the weeks since my life took this overwhelmingly hectic turn, I found a somewhat simple tool — the Muse Brain-Sensing Headband — to help guide my chaotic brain into a state of relaxation and calm.
Muse is a personal meditation assistant. It consists of a headband and a companion app for your mobile phone. The process is designed to guide you to a ‘calm’ mind. You start the app, close your eyes, and concentrate on the relaxing sounds of nature. During meditation sessions, the headband uses brain-sensing technology to measure whether your mind is calm or active and translates those signals into different sounds. For example, when you are a calm you’ll hear a steady rainstorm or even birds. When your brain is active, you will start to hear storms and other intense sounds. After a session has concluded, you can immediately review your data and set goals for the next session.
Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce symptoms associated with stress, depression, and anxiety. It can also improve focus, performance, and quality of life. Muse is the first tool in the world that gives real-time feedback on what’s happening with your brain when you meditate. The headband uses 7 finely calibrated sensors – 2 on the forehead, 2 behind the ears, plus 3 reference sensors – to measure your brain’s activity through electroencephalography.
“By leveraging improvements in dry sensor technology, Bluetooth, and battery life, as well as significant advances in digital signal processing, Muse makes it easy to access and use brainwave data, inside and outside the laboratory and in real-world environments.”
Measurements are harmless to people and only provide information about your general state. Muse uses Bluetooth instead of cell phone radio waves to send data to your mobile device. There is a lot of research associated with Muse. To read more about it, click here.
- Learn the essentials of focused attention meditation
- Soundscapes include Beach, Rainforest, Desert and others (soundscapes vary between mobile operating systems)
- Milestones and rewards to keep you motivated
- Create multiple accounts and share with family and friends
- End of session results and graphs help measure progress
- Exercises contributed by meditation experts to help you learn
Muse has a very nice box. It has a clear image of the product and how it’s used on the cover of the packaging and many details about how it works are included on the outside of the box. When you open the box, you will find the headband with all its accessories located below it. The headband comes with a sticker, legal information, a quick start guide, a short Micro USB charging cable, hair ties, and a storage bag. My first impressions of the headband were good. I like solid packaging and straightforward accessories.
When I took the headband out of the box, I noticed right away how flexible it was. The band is 100% adjustable and because it’s designed to be comfortable, but worn securely, it seems almost loose. The design of the headband actually reminds me of something from Star Trek. A few years ago, we reviewed a set of headphones that were based on bone conduction. I thought the Muse looked a lot like that. The big difference here is that Muse does not include any type of listening device with it. Here is where I picked up on the first ‘con’ of this product. Part of its process is to have the user listen to sounds played from the mobile app. With that being the case, I thought that headphones would be included or even integrated into the headband.
The basic operation of the headband is very simple. With the hardware, you simply power it on. The headband will automatically connect to the app (after it’s paired the first time) and you can start your meditation session. Because a big part of meditation is comfort, I decided to use my Apple AirPods since they are small enough to use with this headband and they are my favorite set of headphones. One thing that I want to note here is that even though Muse can be used anywhere at any time, it’s really best to find a place that has some seclusion. I was trying to do this at home and there is always something going on and someone walking through. And, since you can’t use over-ear or on-ear headphones with Muse, you need to do your best to isolate yourself for focus purposes.
The first session was an introduction piece and was focused on teaching you how to breathe and relate your mood/thoughts to the sounds you were hearing. You’re instructed to listen to the sounds of the rain and try to keep your thoughts calm. As you hear the steady calm rain, your brain is at rest and relaxed. If you start to hear something more intense like heavy rain or even thunder, your brain is becoming more active. I set up my meditation spot in our home office and was reclining in a gaming chair. I have some lower back problems and could feel my back tense up throughout the exercise. You’re not supposed to move around much during a session because it causes brain activity so I suffered through the pain. This in itself was a problem and I’m sure that the stormy weather I experienced during that session was due in part to my discomfort. As I mentioned above, since you are confined to in-ear headphones, you might still hear some ambient noise bleed through. This was true for me as I could hear the TV in another part of our house. This was another distraction for me.
Throughout the session, I tried to focus on my breathing, but apparently, the headband knew I was thinking about that and that caused the weather sounds to shift to something more intense. Towards the end of the session, I was finally able to hear a bird (an indication that you have achieved relaxation) and I immediately thought, “Ooh, I heard a bird!” That made the weather sounds go from calm to violent because I had a thought that was separate from meditation. My second session was much more productive in my opinion. Because I knew what to expect, I wasn’t as surprised by the bird sounds when I heard them and I heard them more often.
With the exception of not having headphones included, I think Muse is a really great concept for guided meditation. I remember seeing guided meditation audio tapes on TV shows and I much prefer this method to a voice on a tape. The headband is comfortable to wear and as long as you can find an isolated space to work in, this can be a really great tool for letting the world fade away when it gets too crazy. I plan on continuing with Muse as a tool for relaxation and can recommend it to others who need a little assistance finding time for themselves.