I’ve always thought of meditation like eating vegetables.
You know that it’s good for you and that you should be doing it, but it just seems like such a hassle and a bore. Plus you question if the benefits are really worth it?
I kept hearing about people who praised these meditation apps such as 'Calm' & 'Headspace'. But it all seemed gimmicky to me. Surely an app wasn't going to help me mediate.
I then saw an advertisement for the Muse ‘brain sensing’ headband (code ALEXFERGUS saves) that left me intrigued. Being a gadget guy, I knew that with the right tool, I may actually get into this meditation thing!
So I took the plunge and purchased a Muse Meditation Headband for myself.
Four months later and with over one hundred consecutive Muse meditation sessions, I can state that I’m glad I decided to give the Muse headband a go.
The headband does have its limitations and some minor drawbacks - all of which I will cover in this Muse review below, but overall the Muse has had a big beneficial impact on my life and helped convert me into a habitual meditator.
Let’s dive in to my review and take a comprehensive look at the Muse & Muse 2 headband (code ALEXFERGUS saves) and accompanying mobile app and see what this device can offer those seeking a daily meditation practice.
In order to fully understand just how the Muse product is supposed to help people meditate, let’s first look at a standard definition of what ‘meditation’ is:
“Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.”
A surprising number of athletes, celebrities, and successful executives are all meditating. The list of famous meditators includes Clint Eastwood, Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Jobs, and Martin Scorsese.
That’s a diverse group of influential people who all seem to agree that meditating is something worth doing. What do all these influencers, athletes, and celebrities all seem to know about meditation?
Those all sound like good things to me, and as a parent I could certainly use some stress reduction in my life!
So how exactly did a headband help me meditate?
Let me explain.
The mind is a funny thing. As we go about our lives, we assume we know who we are and what’s going on inside our heads. But how much do we really know?
What’s really happening between our ears as we carry about our day?
I once heard the saying, “you don’t know until you look”. In a way, the Muse and Muse 2 allows us do exactly that - look at what's going on in our heads.
By using a technology called EEG, the Muse has the ability read my brainwaves.
Like an EEG at the doctor’s office? I’ve had myself hooked up to an EEG before, and I knew how powerful brainwaves were to mental states.
The Muse headbands take these brainwaves and use a process called ‘biofeedback’ to train and guide a person into calm mental states. Wikipedia’s article about biofeedback defines it as:
“… the process of gaining greater awareness of many physiological functions primarily using instruments that provide information on the activity of those same systems, with a goal of being able to manipulate them at will”.
Effectively the Muse allows us to see whats going on in the brain, and then help use shift our brain state into that of a deep meditation state.
The Muse may be the pinnacle of biohacking gadgets!
I ordered the $249USD Muse 2 over the slightly cheaper $199 Muse (I'll cover the differences later in this review).
You can also purchase a year long 'guided meditations' subscription for $95 (which I review below as well). Or if you purchase the meditation subscription with your Muse device in the 'Muse Bundle' you effectively get the meditations for $20 extra (i.e. The Muse 2 Bundle is only $269 at the time of writing).
Even better, you can knock another 15% off these prices by ordering through THIS link - where an automatic 15% saving will be applied at your shopping cart.
Wearing the Muse Headband
My Muse arrived on a Saturday - a day off for me so I had all day to spend setting up and exploring the headband.
The unboxing itself was a straightforward and standard fare.
The presentation and boxing seemed simple, yet functional. If you’ve bought an iPhone or any of the Amazon’s Alexa/Fire products, you’ll recognize similarities in the packaging.
Inside the box was the headband, a basic printed user guide and a USB cord.
I knew from the Muse website (code ALEXFERGUS saves) that the headband didn’t come with a travel case, something that I hope Muse decides to include in the future.
The official Muse-branded case for their headband’s retails for $39.99 USD, but I’ve found a headphone case can work in a pinch.
I first decided to plug the headband in using the included micro USB cable to let it get up to full power. While I waited, I went onto Apple’s Appstore (an Android version is also available) and downloaded the Muse app.
Setup was easy, with the app prompting me to create an account.
I chose to purchase & review the newer and more expensive Muse 2 headband. I debated with myself whether I should buy the cheaper and more basic version.
My logic for this decision was simple - I may someday want the extra features that the Muse 2 has and I’d rather spend a little more now than wish I had later.
The Muse 2 can do these additional modes due to a PPG (pulse oximeter) sensor that tracks breathing and heart rate, and an accelerometer to measure body movement.
Initially I wasn’t sure if I’d ever use these modes – but I decided I’d rather have them to use instead of wishing I did later. (Spoiler: I was right, I did!)
After getting my account created and letting the headband charge, I sat upright in my bed and put the headband on. It’s easy enough to turn on with a simple button press.
I didn’t need to go into my iPhone Bluetooth settings to find it, as the app located the device notifying me the headband had been found.
The Muse band is easily adjustable from either side. I did notice it felt a bit fragile, and I reminded myself to search for a case or pouch to store it in later (you can buy an offical Muse case for $40).
The headband fit snugly across my forehead and wasn’t uncomfortable at all, and I soon forgot I was even wearing it. The material is a smooth plastic with rubberized ‘hooks’ that double as behind-the-ears sensors:
The Muse Headband and sensor
After selecting the shortest ‘mind’ session which will monitor my brainwaves, the app played a video introduction to the headband and app.
I was pleased to see that Muse doesn’t just hand you an app and set you free without any kind of understanding.
After the brief tutorial I had the option to walk myself through a series of 10 introductory sessions called “Muse Essentials” found under an option called “Exercise”:
The instructional guides aren’t guided meditations, but sessions that start with an instruction and serve to bring focus to each session.
For example, the second “Muse Essential” is titled “Sensation of Breath”, a key component to most mindful meditation practices.
As you progress through the ‘essentials’ you’ll explore instruction such as “Dealing with Distraction” and “Working with Discomfort”.
Even four months later, I’m still using my own variations of those basic techniques.
When you begin a Muse meditation session the headband will first do a calibration to establish a ‘base line’ of your mental state.
This is a hot topic of among Musers (that’s what we colloquially call ourselves) in the official Facebook group, as the initial calibration sets the bar for what’s considered active, neutral and calm.
Ideally, you want your mind to be as close to ‘normal’ during the calibration. Extra mental activity or beginning to meditate early during calibration can drastically skew your results.
During the calibration phase, all the headband sensors need to have a strong signal. If the sensors can’t get a good reading, the calibration will stop, and you’ll be prompted to adjust the band.
I didn’t experience this, and in the several months I’ve been using Muse, have only run into this problem a handful of times. I suppose my greasy forehead provides a wonderfully conductive surface.
Once the session started with my chosen soundscape (Muse has several pre-programmed soundscapes that include rainforest, beach, desert, city park and ambient music) I tried to reduce the volume of the sounds I heard.
The louder the noises, the more active my brain was. Each time the noises got quieter I started to hear birds chirping. From the introductory tutorials, I knew that this meant my brain was calm.
After the session was complete, I was prompted to write a journal entry and select an emoji to indicate how I felt.
Once done, I was then shown a graph of what my mind was doing during the previous session. The graph had three levels of brain activity: calm, neutral, and active. The app also showed me how many “birds” I heard and gave me a score based on how calm my mind was.
I’ll be the first to admit that my early sessions were downright dreadful. Those early sessions were short, with less than 40% of the time being considered “calm”. As I worked my way through the ten
“Muse Essential” introductory sessions, I noticed I was learning skills that helped me get the ambient noises to quiet down.
I began to observe what I was doing when sounds got louder, compared to when sounds got quieter, applying those observations with greater and greater effect. And through all of this I was pushing my session times out more and more.
I had initially started with only five minutes, but by the end of the first month I was up to nearly 15.
The built-in rechargeable battery for the Muse 2 seems to give me about seven to 10 days of life, with about 150 minutes of use before needing a charge. That’s decent, and it isn’t hard to remember to charge the headband once a week.
The Muse 2 headband takes an hour or so to charge. When the indicator light on the unit stops pulsing, the charge cycle is complete.
One of the more interesting things about Muse/Muse 2 is that headbands aren’t just toys – the underlying technology has been and is being used in clinical settings by neurologists and research scientists.
A researcher from Canada even trekked to a village in Nepal to study the effect of meditation with Buddhist monks using the Muse headband:
“To measure monks' brain activity, Krigolson's team used a MUSE headband that records brain waves and displays them on a laptop in real time. The study of 27 monks recorded brain activity at rest, during meditation and while playing video games.
Researchers found that monks' brains are still very active in meditation. Their analysis shows monks' brains were more relaxed, focused and in sync during meditation compared to when they were at rest.”
Combining ancient meditation practices with state of the art technology with Muse.
Researchers are MIT and Harvard University are also using the Muse device. A study titled, “Identifying Pain with an Adaptive Brainwave Learning System” is using Muse devices to detect and distinguish brain signals associated with pain. Part of their results indicate:
“Our results indicate that commercially available, wearable EEG sensors provide sufficient data fidelity at fast enough rates to differentiate between arbitrary, user-defined states in real time.”
Since the Muse devices have sensors capable of capturing research-level data, the average layperson like you or I can use the Muse and Muse 2 to record raw brainwave signals.
A third-party app called “Muse Monitor” allows you watch brain activity in real time, record and graph the results.
The Muse Monitor app allows users to go beyond the official Muse mobile app. Many users in the official Muse Facebook group experiment with different meditation techniques and styles and record their brainwave activity.
I’ve considered recording my own brainwave activity while playing musical instruments to see what’s going on in my own head.
The Muse Monitor app lets you record raw data to a Dropbox account, and either use a web-based graphing tool on their website, or Microsoft Excel to graph the data. Either method produces interesting graphs like this one:
This graph was taken of my brain while using the “Meditation Plus” function of my Biostrap activity and biometric tracker (read my review of that device HERE). I used the Muse Monitor’s website to graph the raw data my Muse headband recorded.
The Muse platform is also growing.
In July of 2018, Muse’s parent company, InteraXon acquired Meditation Studio, an app that has an extensive library of high-quality guided meditations.
In June of 2019, Muse began integrating their headband with guided meditation sessions. I was able to preview this new feature in a public beta.
So far, I’ve had positive experiences in testing the new guided sessions with the headband. Muse breaks down individual one-off sessions under “collections” and has meditation lessons under “courses”.
Inside the “Collections” a wide variety of meditation themes are available, with numerous meditation instructors:
With numerous categories you also get several individual sessions. The ‘stress’ category had 18 individual meditations.
New meditations show up in the app from time to time and Muse does a good job highlighting them.
I decided to choose the ‘stress’ category to find a session:
As you can see, there are several sessions with different goals/purposes. Moreover, you can choose sessions with different guides. I haven’t sampled all the different personalities, but the voice recordings are pretty good quality.
After choosing a guided session, the headband does a signal test to make sure that all the sensors are getting a good, quality signal.
It’s very similar to the calibration during a non-guided session. The main difference I found was that unlike a non-guided session, the headband captures a snapshot of your baseline brain activity during the first 30-60 seconds of the guided session.
Previously in non-guided sessions, the signal check and baseline reading are done at the same time before starting. It makes sense that Muse wouldn’t go that route with guided sessions.
When using a guided session, it usually takes a minute or two before the instructor has guided someone down into relaxation.
At the end of a session you’re shown a graph of your brain’s activity. Along with the brain activity, you’re also given “Muse Points” (something I haven’t quite figured out - if you can explain them please leave a comment below).
Muse didn’t change anything here from the non-guided sessions. My graphs using the guided sessions aren’t as good as my non-guided sessions, as I typically do a more Vipassana-style mindfulness meditation practice myself:
The Muse app also keep track of all your sessions, letting you see how much time you’ve spent meditating. As of this writing, I’m on a 114 consecutive daily streak:
The Muse app also keeps track and shows you points earned, birds heard, and suggested goals:
If you click on “Meditation history” you can pull up a day-by-day listing of your sessions. You’ll be able to see the duration and percentage of that session your mind was in a calm state.
Here’s what mine has been looking like after 100+ straight days using Muse:
Muse incorporates the idea of ‘gamification’ into their app, which is defined as:
Gamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts. It can also be defined as a set of activities and processes to solve problems by using or applying the characteristics of game elements.
Using a combination of points, goals, and milestones, I found that I was motivated to see if I could improve my own performance.
I’m hardly a ‘gamer’ but I’ve always liked challenging myself. I found that the milestones Muse tracked helped show the positive improvement I was making.
It was one thing to look at my post-meditation graph, but seeing my skills improving over time was a great way to motivate me to keep going. Muse keeps track and awards users for many achievements, some include hitting a certain number of calm sessions:
As I used the Muse app more and more, I noticed that I was unlocking challenges that initially would have seemed difficult to achieve.
Currently, I’m stuck on the 16th challenge which requires a meditation session of at least 40 minutes. I’m not sure I’m quite up for that just yet!
Muse encourages users to try and meditate just a little bit more week by week, using “Weekly Goals”:
Each week the Muse app will ask if I want to up the total number of minutes spent meditating each week.
Recently, I’ve been keeping my weekly goal at around two and a half hours. I’ll admit that it does feel good when I check the app and see that I’ve met a weekly goal.
I never really thought that meditation was something that could be made ‘fun’. There are likely purists in the world that would argue that meditation isn’t a competition, but for the casual user I think Muse got this feature right.
As I mentioned earlier, I decided to purchase the Muse 2 device due to the extra sensors and meditation modes it offered.
In addition to reading brainwaves, the Muse 2 has an accelerometer and blood oximeter to read a user’s respiration and heart rate. These additional modes also come with introductory videos and walk throughs. Each meditation mode is unique and requires the user to focus on a singular sensory experience.
The ‘Heart Meditation’ uses the heart rate sensor to read and play back your own heartbeat.
The app takes the individual beats of your heart and translates them into a drumbeat. The idea behind this meditation is to feel and notice how focused attention can influence the heart. There are three exercises for heart meditation:
Just like with the mind meditation mode, each session ends with a summary and graph:
In this session I was aiming to keep my heart rate within a narrow window of activity. The idea is that by being aware of the heart (by hearing it played back as a drumbeat), you can learn to influence and maintain a steady beat.
The breath meditation mode uses the same pulse oximeter sensor to measure a user’s respiration rate. The breath meditation involves trying to harmonize your inhalation and exhalation to an auditory guide.
The goal is to achieve a consistent 4/6 ratio of in breaths to out breaths. The sessions also conclude with a graph to show overall performance:
The body meditation mode uses an accelerometer like those found in smartphones and wearables like the Oura Ring to measure how still a user can keep their body during a session.
The more movement the headband detects, the louder the soundscape becomes. The idea behind this meditation practice is that holding the body still in focused attention can decrease distraction and aid in achieving a calmer state of mind. The body meditations also feature a post-session graph to show performance:
Unfortunately, the session graphs for all meditation modes have no easy way to be exported. Right now, I’ve been taking screenshots on my phone. A simple “share” button or “export” button that gives a clean image would be a “nice to have”.
That issue aside, these additional meditation modes can be viewed as “core fundamentals”. I’ve found that as I progress deeper and farther into meditation, the importance of focused attention on the breath and heart can’t be ignored.
Are these extra modes worth the additional price? Possibly.
If someone is completely new to meditating (like I was), the additional modes are a solid way of introducing these core concepts.
They aren’t necessary, and to be frank I don’t use them nearly as much as I thought I would months after my purchase.
I seemed to get the most benefit from these additional modes early on in my dive into using the Muse.
For people who are wanting to expand upon an existing meditation practice, or those who have already worked with breath control /heart mindfulness -- the additional price might not be justified.
After using the Muse 2 for several months, I’m very happy I decided to take the plunge and wire my head up to a brainwave reading headband. That’s not to say that the device or mobile app are without their flaws.
Looking back over the last few months with Muse, I’ll admit it’s been a useful piece of technology in my daily wellness routine. One of the most interesting benefits I’ve personally noticed is that I’m more in-tune with my body (something I have also found after using the Oura Ring)
Practicing mindfulness daily has made me much more sensitive to changes in myself and my environment. I soon plan to write a much more detailed article that will dive deeper into the personal benefits a daily practice has given me so be sure to subscribe to my newsletter to hear about that.
Meditation is an activity that seems to exponentially reward a person’s efforts. In an ever-increasing digital world with higher demands on our attention and time, the impact of mindfulness cannot be overstated.
There are literally hundreds of different meditation styles and techniques available, but I think that Muse has done a good job making theirs accessible to nearly everyone. In fact, I’ve even toyed with the idea of having my 70+ year old father try it.
Muse has done a good job creating a comprehensive, meditation platform by seamlessly integrating their headband hardware with an easy to use mobile app.
With the inclusion of guided meditations, there seems to be a bit of something for everyone.
Although the Muse platform seems designed for people new to meditation, intermediate and advanced users can still find value using 3rd party apps such as Muse Monitor.
The initial cost and potential subscription for access to guided meditations may be off putting to some, especially if someone already is paying for a competing meditation app like Headspace.
For someone like myself that might need a bit more motivation to dive into meditation, Muse might be something worth taking a closer look at.
For the dedicated biohacker wanting to experiment with brainwaves, Muse (code ALEXFERGUS saves!) makes an excellent hardware accessory.
You can learn more about the Muse on the ChooseMuse.com website and be sure to watch my detailed Muse video review at the top of this blog.
If you want to purchase a Muse, be sure to order through THIS link to automatically have your 15% Muse discount code applied.
This blog post was written by David Baker. David has years of biohacking experience with an emphasis on testing gadgets. He's also got 15 years of amateur bodybuilding involvement.
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