The nice folks at Muse sent me their “brain sensing headband” last week and after getting it charged up, I finally had some time to set it up.
The idea behind Muse is that most people know that meditation is “good for them,” but never feel confident that they are doing it right. Muse, because it measures like an EEG (electro encephalogram), gives you feedback in the form of a different soundscapes helps you to feel you actually did something and can help motivate you to keep up with your meditation ritual.
People use meditation for all types of situations including anxiety, depression and even pain. Pregnant moms have found it helps ease nausea and anxiety. Muse lists a whole cadre of name-brand institutions including the Mayo Clinic, Harvard, NYU, and MIT which are currently using the headband in different studies. Famous celebs and sports figures are also using the Muse, though tests have not just shown proven results as yet.
I had time to use the Muse for an extended length of time and do find the device compelling. It is well-designed and does what it says it will do: helps keep you motivated to do your meditation, while giving feedback each time on how well your session has gone.
Here is a detail my experience here over a week or so to give you a taste of what I thought of it. Here goes, starting with the setup:
The Muse headband comes in pretty see-through case made less for storage than to protect it during shipping. The headband is not “flimsy” exactly, but is not meant for rugged wear. Think of it as an object that is as sensitive as the organ it is designed to measure. Setup was easy. The accompanying manual makes it dead easy to turn on and pair with bluetooth, literally within 2 minutes once it is fully charged. The second step was downloading the app, also very simple by inputting “muse” in the Apple app store.
Once I had all the elements, I turned on the app (which required a short registration) and got down to business, fitting the headband on my head so the sensors touched the correct parts of my noggin. One thing the manual did not instruct was where to place the headband on my head. Luckily, the back page showed a happy user wearing his, so I imitated this image to get the approximate placement. A woman’s voice on the app then did an excellent job of both explaining how the sensors worked while instructing me how to get a better fit.
Once through with that process, I was ready to actually use the app starting with a baseline test of brain activity. The app recommended I put on headphones which I did both for better sound and to screen out the noise around me. Through my headphones, I was given the task of imaging names of things in three different categories. I closed my eyes and in my mind, I ran through names of cities, musical instruments and sports teams, running a little dry at the end of each section’s allotted time. The app said I passed and I was finally ready for my first “session.”
Again, the same gentle voice told me to put down the app in a safe spot, close my eyes and relax my shoulders as I listened to sounds of waves crashing at varying levels of intensity. I was instructed to breathe normally counting up as I inhaled and back down again as I exhaled (or was it the other way around?). The idea is to settle your mind while the magic of Muse measures your brain waves giving you feedback on your brain levels. This reminded me of old-fashioned pulse bio feedback machines of 20 years ago and I made a mental note to follow up with a question to the folks at Muse about this. Letting my mind wander in this way brought larger rain storms to my headphones, evidence that I was no longer in “my happy place.” After three minutes, my session ended giving me a nice score of 270 and “3 birds.” I was able to stay calm (as defined by Muse) for 32% of the three minutes which coincidentally is about how long I stay calm in a coffee line before wondering why it’s taking so long. More tomorrow after Session 2.
Today started off with a needed update to the headband which took 60 seconds and was effortless. Perhaps because of the update, I had to recalibrate the headband with the same 60 second exercise naming things in categories. Once I performed this task, I was on to the beach for Session 2. For this session, I upped my time to 5 minutes which passed by pretty fast. It must have been relaxing me because I was almost dozing by the end and the Muse app this time said I as 64% calm and I earned 21 birds (a 7-fold increase). The sound of the waves does require you to focus since losing focus results in immediate increase in wave intensity. I’m already interested to see how Muse will keep this interesting and motivate me to spend more time in meditation, and what the potential effects will be that I can actually feel. I also learned the hard way to set the phone on “Do not disturb” mode. A reminder of an upcoming meeting interrupted my session, but it also could have been a phone call.
Today’s session again started with the 60 second calibration, repeating the three lists I had last time. I now realize that every time I use the headband, unless I’ve kept it on between times like an alien), I’ll have to recalibrate. I’ll probably have a ready list of cities, kitchen utensils and others. Today I had a few challenges during my session. There was noise from power tools coming from outside which annoyed me and felt like it kept me from concentrating. Still, I was able to stay in the the “calm” range 60% of the time an earned another 18 birds though I didn’t hear them fluttering during the session.
Getting a little fatigued with the daily calibration and naming the same 10 kitchen implements (and cities and streets). I understand the reasoning for this but need new stimuli. Today, After doing 4 sessions in a week, I went up a level and decided for number five to increase my time to seven minutes. This might have been a mistake. I got so relaxed that I fell asleep. Ironically, this resulted in the lowest “calm” scores I’ve had yet. I was only calm for 32% of the time. I guess the snoring must really throw things off. Like any new “should do” habit, I’m starting to wonder if the time is worth the effort. This may be a point where the app needs to do more to keep people in the fold (if the $299 investment wasn’t enough). What’s keeping me going is the fairly good certainty that meditation is good for me and I’ve had some good results with it elsewhere.
Finally moving up in the world and on to new rituals. Today, there was no explanation of the category lists. We just jumped right into musical instruments, famous places and cities. Then it was on to a new meditation where I sat straight up, trying not to slouch while relaxing at the same time. It’s harder than it sounds. I also made a big error and spoke to customer service at AT&T right before sitting down for my Muse session, and it showed in the lowest calmness score to date (22% calm) and only 2 birds!
Just for fun today, I tried Muse while the family was at home. Not only did someone open my door and slam it shut, but my son started his piano practice.Meanwhile, a storm seemed to rage on my Muse. I expected to have my first 0 calmness score. Instead, I ended with 43% calm and 8 birds. I’m less clear now as to how the weather should represent my calmness.
After a few weeks and several sessions, it’s hard to say whether the Muse has led to any higher levels of awareness, but one thing it does is help you stay focused and gives you another reason to meditate each day, if only because you invested $299 in a device to keep you on point. I’m willing to keep using it to see the longer term effects and whether I can better my all-time calmness scores and number of birds.
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