A week with Muse Meditation

I'll 'fess up; I like gadgets. I'm getting better and no longer need the latest iPhone but mine's sure not a Nokia 3310. So when I saw an advert for a headset that scans your brainwaves, giving you real-time feedback I had to have it (I'm an advertiser's dream sometimes). Whilst I'm confessing, I also rarely meditate, hence I don't preach about it. I know its benefits, and do meditate when I feel I 'need' it, but I don't have a daily practice.

Though the post came the Muse headset, looking like something from Star Trek. You wear this whilst you meditate and receive audio feedback through the weather; if your brain starts getting busy you'll hear rain, and at the opposite end when you're in total calm you'll hear birds singing. Rather sweet I think. Your brain has different frequencies (think of an analogue radio being tuned into different stations) it works at. There are Beta- the conscious mind, alert and thinking; Alpha- a relaxed state or in light meditation; Theta- REM sleep, light sleep and deep meditation; and Delta- deep sleep and some states of meditation. Muse is looking out for Beta, Alpha and Theta brainwaves which it calls Active, Neutral and Calm. The aim is to remain in calm or Theta and hear birds singing.

The app which works alongside the headset, records all of your data, but more importantly gives you reminders and goals. Much of forming a habit is seeing positive results and having a goal to work towards, so it is in theory well designed if you want to start to meditate daily. I am admittedly quite 'faddy', in that I'll try something new for a few weeks, plunging head first into it, and then get distracted by something else new to try. My nearest and dearest all know this about me, so my partner has kindly set a date (in private) which is the time I'll be bored of this 'fad'.

As soon as it arrived I got going with it and got 82% calm on my first meditation. I was very smug with myself, quietly thinking how I knew I was 'good' at meditation. That in itself is the most ridiculous notion and the first thing I observed about myself. The next meditation was a nice ego bubble burst of 42%, which at the time was mortifying to my meditation pride. I have since had scores of 15% so there is no way I can say I'm a Zen monk. More of a Karl Pilkington.

The good thing about the headset and app is that is has made me meditate, and now 3 times a day. This is exactly what I wanted it to do so there are two enthusiastic thumbs up for that. It's great having a record to be able to see the effects of things such as time of the day (I'm more calm at night), coffee intake (24% calm meditating on coffee) and interestingly the people you interact with. I'm a sucker for data and science so seeing the graphs, analysing what's going on etc is right up my street.

And then there's the 'buts'...

It's made meditation a thing. It's effectively turned it into a computer game that I now compete with myself in. Not only that but a damn annoying computer game where the more you try the worse you do. I will be so focused in a session, but I'm still hearing rain, because I am too focused so it's using the alert Beta state. I now try to meditate!!! A while ago on an old social media account I posted a video about 'stop trying to meditate' (I think I'll post it up on my new Instagram soon) as it defeats the purpose of meditating. Now I'm bloody doing that. I will be feeling frustrated whilst meditating because I'm hearing rain but thinking I'm being really focused. Then I'll reach the stage where I just give up which actually makes the next meditation nice and calm; starting the loop all over again where I start trying more.

I've written that all as a negative of the device, but actually it isn't. It's me! All spiritual work, including meditation, is actually a magnifying glass on ourselves. You've seen all the marketing of the benefits of Yoga or meditation and you begin quite happily, seeing positive changes to your life and then boom! You get hit by something you don't want to see. These practices help us learn about ourselves, and that includes all of our shadows. I actually think Muse is like meditation on speed. It would've probably taken me years of meditation to get to a stage of realisation that I was trying too hard to meditate, that I'm still competitive with others and myself (something I've tried to work on already), and that I HAVE to be good at anything I do.

Sensors on the Muse headband detect the brainwave frequency

So whilst meditating has now actually become rather frustrating, it's all part of the process which has been speeded up by this little contraption. I also got the device so that I could use other apps to track actual brainwave data and get all geeky. It the future I want to practice Yoga and Pilates whilst analysing brainwaves, heartbeat and blood oxygen levels (which we actually want to be lower than the average of 97-99%). Then I have evidence of the benefits of what I teach, opposed to basing it on my own experience. Eventually the aim would be to collate all my data, and also analyse the data using other people to see exactly what goes on. You'll find that all in about 10 years time I reckon, so stay tuned.

Will it just become a very expensive hairband?

Even if you weren't going to use the headset for other things I would recommend it to people who like a gadget and want to take up meditation. It's definitely helped me do that. If you already meditate do you need this? I would say no unless you have spare money floating around as it's not cheap. It could certainly deepen your awareness in meditation and help you get more into Theta states, but that comes in time with regular practice anyway. If you're thinking about getting one they're currently on sale for £159 (I did warn you), but I also used a coupon code from here to get another 15% off, taking it down to £135.

I'll let you know if I pass the date when I'm due to stop using it ;)

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