Do you wonder if you're actually making a difference when you meditate?
Well, the new Muse headband ($299) might be just what you need! Created by Canadian company InteraXon, Muse takes a technology-based approach to training the brain to meditate, and provides feedback letting you know if your brain waves show you are practicing mindfulness, or if you're getting distracted.
Muse is a headband that uses an EEG (electroencephalography), a device that monitors your brain waves to track the electrical activity in your brain, and then gives you feedback on how well you’re focusing. Audio cues, like wind and bird sounds, let you know when your mind is wandering and help you bring yourself back. Much like a fitness app, Muse trains your brain and helps you find your path to mindfulness and relaxation.
We called up InteraXon CEO Ariel Garten to find out more about this amazing new technology.
MBG: Can you explain what inspired Muse and give an idea of what the device does?
Ariel Garten: When people sit down to meditate, they don’t know if they’re doing it right. It’s often difficult to find and maintain the motivation to do it. It’s difficult to explain to somebody else what you do or how you do it.
Muse is this amazing tool that can literally look inside your mind and let you know if you’re in a state of focused attention or if your mind has wandered.
Typically when you meditate, your mind starts wandering and three minutes later, you realize you’ve been thinking about something and you bring your mind back.
With Muse, you know immediately when you’ve begun to wander and you can bring your mind back.
What we’ve done with Muse is to allow you to hear your own mind. So you hear your mind as the wind. When you’re thinking, ruminating, or are distracted, it sounds windy. You hear the wind, and it’s your job to come to a clear, calm focused attention, and calm the wind. You’re getting real-time feedback from your brain.
How did you get into this?
My background comes from neuroscience, psychotherapy, and design.
I started working in a research lab over a decade ago in Toronto with the precursor technology that we could use to make music from our minds, creating concerts based on people’s EEG states. As you focused, relaxed, and changed your brain state, music would happen.
From there, I worked with clients every week, helping them understand their anxiety, inner motivations, limiting beliefs, and teaching them to do what I ultimately came to recognize was something that could be taught in a variety of ways.
Working with InteraXon, we had this amazing technology.
We’re really trying to find the best way to add value to humanity with it.
We recognized the beautiful synergies between our brain-sensing technology and the ability to track states of focused attention and teach people to build meditation practices that are based on neuroscience.
What are the basic functions of Muse? What is someone using the headband going to experience?
It is a clinical grade EEG. There are sensors on the forehead and behind the ears that track your brain wave activity in real time, the electrical activity generated by your brain. You slip on the band, and you can see your own mind on your tablet or phone.
Then you get 60 seconds of calibration so that you know where your own brain is at, and then you go into the experience.
In the experience, the scene is a beach and the sounds are the sounds of being at that beautiful, calm beach. When you’re thinking, worrying, or are distracted, you hear the sound of wind, and the more distracted you are, the stronger the wind.
It’s your job to calm the wind by calming your mind. You do that by counting your breath; having a single pointed focus on your breath. You hear birds when you’re doing well, which people get excited about. But then the birds fly away because the experience isn’t just about the birds, or the goal. It’s a lesson in non-striving.
Is there any reason to be concerned about monitoring our brain waves? Is the technology safe?
It’s completely safe. It’s the same as clinical grade EEG. When you go into a clinic and someone puts an EEG on your head, Muse is the same thing. It doesn’t put anything into your head. It’s not writing in any way; its just reading. It’s a passive device.
Why is Muse preferable to a guided meditation, other than the benefit of getting real-time feedback from your brain?
There are all sorts of ways to meditate; they are all valid and bring immense benefits. We’re not here to say we’re absolutely better. But Muse lets you get back to that state of focused attention much faster.
If you compare meditation to going to the gym, every time you bring your attention back, you strengthen the muscle of your focus. The more you can quickly identify when your mind has wandered and you bring it back, the more rest it gets. Instead of doing three reps on the weights, you’ve now done 20 reps in the same period of time. People become much more sensitively aware of their own mental state and the shifts that it makes.
For people who are new to a meditation practice, this device really answers the question of, Am I doing this right?
For people who think meditation is woo-woo, the device is a scientifically validated tool, with studies run at Harvard and Brown. If “meditation” is a scary word for people, this device backs meditation up with neuroscience.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photos courtesy of InteraXon