It’s not every day that you stumble across the sight of two men wearing sci-fi-esque headbands but that’s exactly what happened to me when I attended the Mindful Living Show earlier this year.
Both chaps were seated in an upright position. Both had their eyes closed. And both looked blissfully at peace – quite a feat in a hall awash with people.
It turned out they were meditating with the help of a ‘brain sensing’ headband called Muse 2.
I was fascinated. Meditation has long been touted as a way to reduce stress, tackle anxiety, improve creativity and enhance focus but for many of us, it’s not an easy thing to do.
That’s why Interaxon, the Canadian company behind Muse, launched the headband.
So how does the Muse 2 ‘brain sensing’ meditation headband work?
The research-grade EEG (electroencephalograph) technology uses sensors on the band and arms to monitor heart rate, brain activity, breathing patterns and body movement. This real-time information is transmitted to the Muse app on your smartphone and used to shape your meditation experience based on how your body is responding.
So, imagine you’ve had a stressful day and need to clear your head. You might opt for the ‘mind’ meditation coupled with, say, the rainforest soundscape.
The sensors detect when your mind is busy by triggering the sound of monsoon-like weather but when you start to unwind it quietens to a drizzle and eventually stops if you remain calm. You know you’ve hit a prolonged period of relaxation when birdsong is heard.
The idea is that with regular use you effectively train your brain to become more in tune with your body and become aware of your active, neutral and calm states.
At the end of the session, your performance is captured in a graph which enables you to track your progress.
I gave the Muse 2 a quick try at the show but was lucky enough to test it again at home for a longer period as part of the day job.
Here’s how I got on.
Credit: Interaxon Inc
7 surprising things I discovered when I tried the Muse 2 ‘brain sensing’ meditation headband
1.Be prepared to be surprised
There are four experiences to choose from: mind, heart, body and breath as well as a selection of relaxing soundscapes – from desert and beach-themed to ambient music, wind chimes and the sound of a beating drum depending on your choice of meditation. It’s worth testing out all the options to see what works for you.
I assumed the ocean would be my favourite as I love the sea but the crashing waves – which signal an active mind – left me feeling rather uncomfortable. My brain refused to stop wandering and I couldn’t settle the water. I didn’t get on with the ambient music either – it felt eerie.
However, I adored the rainforest option for the ‘mind’ meditation
Now, I’ve written before about my love for Barbados and although the island does not have a rainforest, the noise of the heavy rainfall – which on Muse indicates an active mind – reminded me of the downpours experienced in the Caribbean. During my session, the showers never lasted very long and on many occasion – sometimes as early as 30 seconds in – the joyous chirping birds would announce themselves suggesting a very calm state. At night I chose the ‘heart’ experience where a beating drum mimics the rhythm of your heart. This practice turned out to be a soothing and relaxing way to end the evening and it hugely helped my sleep (see No.6)
2. Meditation can be fun
Okay. I know it’s probably not supposed to be. The whole point of such a practice is to achieve a calm, zen-like, non-emotional state, isn’t it? But if you’re a beginner who finds it hard to meditate, are easily bored, too busy to relax then the Muse 2 headband could be the introduction you need. Personally, I find it impossible to just sit and be still without help. I’ve always preferred guided options like the Headspace or Calm apps. Heck, I’ve even attended a group meditation class. However, I loved this new approach and selection of meditation sessions to suit your mood. The tweeting bird feature is genius.
3. It can make you competitive
Yes. Those tweeting birds are great because the moment you hit that calm state you feel incredible. It’s addictive though. I found myself desperate to hear the birds and was sorely disappointed when their beaks remained firmly closed for one of my sessions. Being sporty by nature – well, I was until my chronic illness took hold – I’m naturally competitive, especially with myself as this practice revealed! I appreciate this goes against the whole ethos of letting go, and releasing all expectation but the very nature of being able to track your progress and build on your improvements means (well for me anyway) you’re always striving to do better. As with anything, practice makes perfect so I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing although some may disagree.
Credit: Interaxon Inc
4. You have the time to meditate even if you think you don’t
It’s hard to switch off when you’re self-employed and, like many people, I barely seem to have a spare moment. But the design of the app makes it easy. Even if you meditate for one minute a day in the morning and one minute at night that’s two minutes a day which is 14 minutes a week, which is almost an hour a month. That’s better than doing nothing at all and, chances are, you’ll feel so good that you won’t stop at one minute. I certainly didn’t.
5. It makes you aware of bad habits
As mentioned, my first foray into Muse 2 was with the Mind (rainforest) experience. I tried just three minutes at first. My mind was calm for 1 minute 16 seconds, neutral for 1 minute 8 seconds and active for six seconds. In that time, I accrued 12 birds, signalling I’d hit a super relaxed state.
For session two I upped the duration to five minutes. I was thrilled to see my brain remained calm for three minutes and 37 seconds, neutral for 1 minute 23 seconds and there were 0 minutes under the active tab. Wahoo. I’d also amassed an impressive 26 birds!
That was at 10.03pm. A quick dabble on social media – namely Instagram – followed and at 10.22pm I thought I’d have one more three-minute session. OH BOY.
I was staggered at how quickly my mental state had altered. I only managed five birds, my calm reading fell to 1 minute 23 seconds and my neutral result came in at 1 minute 37 seconds.
I often try to switch off my devices before bed and this is a stark reminder of why I need to do it.
My brain had been in such as calm state after session two and I’d swiftly undone my good work with a quick Insta scroll!
Credit: Interaxon Inc
6. It can help you sleep when you think you can’t
I’m not the best sleeper. I can lie awake for hours tossing and turning and even when I do eventually nod off I wake several times in the night. One evening, around 7.12pm, I did a 20-minute Mind meditation in five-minute increments. My calm state rose from 26% to 60% by the end of the session. I dropped off quickly and slept through the night. I was flabbergasted. I assumed it was a fluke but the same thing happened again two days’ later!
7. It can change your behaviour
Whether I’m by the sea, on a mountain or walking in the forest I instantly feel at peace and connected to nature, which is probably why I repeatedly chose the rainforest soundscape.
Well, the other day I was working from home, on deadline, quite stressed and opened the window to get some fresh air. I instantly became aware of the birds chirping in the garden and a sense of calm washed over my body. It was a noticeable shift. I then realised the birdsong reminded me of the calm state experienced during the Muse sessions. My brain had been trained to recognise this and I was blown away when it worked especially as I hadn’t meditated for a while. Bonus!
The Muse 2 meditation headband costs £239. For more information visit choosemuse.com
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