As my mind quieted, sounds of a calm beach arose around me – gentle waters lapped onto the shore, beautiful birds songs were chirped, and a soothing breeze flowed through the environment. “Wow… This feels amazing.”
While thoughts of how awesome my meditation was going popped up in my mind, the environment suddenly morphed. Waves became stronger, heavy winds swirled around me, and the singing birds had vanished. The more I tried to fight it, the more my environment intensified.
Eventually, I gave up trying to control the increasing roar of the beach. And as I did, everything around me suddenly quieted down again. The water became still, the birds came back, as did the calming breeze.
15 minutes later, my meditation session with the Muse headband wrapped up.
If you’re unfamiliar with Muse, it’s an entry level EEG device that reads your brainwaves. The “brain sensing headband” can detect whether your mind is calm or active, and translates this data into guiding sounds to help steer you back into a calm state.
Its company Interaxon sent me the headband back in 2015 and I’ve been using it ever since. In this article, I’m going to share my honest review of The Muse headband. Here’s a few things you’ll learn down below:
- How to use the Muse to accelerate your results with meditation
- Common mistakes people make when using The Muse which drastically halts progress
- What I like (and dislike) about the device after using it for the past 3 years
- The science behind its technology
- And more
Let’s get started.
Why Most Fail at Meditation and How The Muse Headband Solves This
Before we dive into how the Muse works, it’s worth setting a foundation and briefly covering the various categories of brainwaves and how they relate to meditation & The Muse headband.
There are a hundred billion neurons that make up the brain, responsible for every function of the human body – from breathing, to sleeping, to helping you read these very words. These neurons communicate with one another through electrical signals, which occurs rhythmically. These speed at which these electrical rhythms occur are associated with a number of different mental and emotional states:
Beta (38hz – 12hz) – Normal waking consciousness occurs in the beta range. This category is associated with cognitive tasks such as problem-solving, decision making, verbal communication, and general mind wandering. Higher levels of beta brainwaves can be linked to stress, anxiety, and panic.
Alpha (12hz – 8hz) – Awake, but deeply relaxed. Simply closing your eyes will produce alpha brainwaves. This category is associated with daydreaming, visualization, imagination, light meditation. Brainwave expert Anna Wise called the alpha range the bridge between beta and theta. (More information can be found in Wise’ book The High-Performance Mind)
Theta (8hz – 3hz) – Light sleep, dreaming, REM sleep, creativity, access to unconscious material, access to long-term memory, emotional healing, intuition, deep reverie, and spiritual wisdom. Hypnotists have found theta to be the range of hyper-suggestibility, where one can program or reprogram beliefs. To learn more, check out our in-depth article Theta Brain Waves.
Delta (3hz – 0.2hz) – Deep, dreamless sleep. Intuition. Empathy. Brainwave expert Judith Pennington calls it the doorway to Universal Consciousness and “A radar that scans the environment and psychically picks up information and energy.”
For the average adult reading this, chances are you have an overabundance of beta brainwaves. These faster electrical rhythms dominate the mind when you worry about the future, overanalyze the past, or are lost in mental dialogue. This mental overactivity causes long-term stress, anxiety, depression, and a host of physical health ailments.
Meditation is a tried and true practice to cage this monkey mind. As thoughts quiet down through focusing on something like the breath, beta waves lessen, and alpha waves naturally become stronger and more prominent. As you enter deeper, more powerful meditative states, theta brain waves eventually start to come to the surface (see our article The Awakened Mind & Brainwaves of Enlightenment for more info).
Over time, you’ll find yourself stressing less, sleeping better, managing anxiety better, concentrating longer, being more creative, and generally healthier and more resilient.
Yet as amazing as these benefits sound, the truth is most people struggle with the ancient practice. Some find it incredibly boring, unable to sit in silence for just a few minutes at a time. Others can handle the silence, but get so frustrated trying to keep up with the hurricane of thoughts whizzing through their mind that they give up well before they see any tangible benefits.
Another common complaint is not knowing if you’re even meditating correctly. Sure you may think you’ve quieted your mind down, but as you progress down the game of meditation you learn just how masterful the mind is at hooking you into newer, even more subtle thought forms.
By placing electrodes on the scalp through electroencephalograph (EEG), you’re able to directly monitor your brainwaves in real time, giving you greater awareness of your mental activity. Most neurofeedback systems will signal the user if there’s an increase/decrease of certain brain waves (whether through audio or video signals), allowing them to steer their brainwaves into a desired state.
In terms of meditation, you’re able to catch all those subtle thought forms upstream that normally hook you in and take you away from your point of focus. Think of it as a mental GPS system, giving you essential feedback to get you to your end destination.
The problem with most EEG devices is how outrageously expensive they are. Up until a few years ago, this technology was only available for medical practitioners, researchers, or the uber-wealthy. Most medical grade EEG systems can start in the five figures range on the low end, to six figures and more on the high end.
Over the past few years, the cost of entry to access this technology has radically reduced through consumer-friendly devices like the Muse headband, which you can get for $199 on amazon.
How The Muse Headband Works
So how does the Muse work?
Once you fitted the device on your head, launched the Muse app on your phone, the device will need a minute or two to read your brainwaves and calibrate to get started. Every brain behaves differently, and the device needs a bit of time to analyze your brainwaves during a neutral state. It will then use this as a baseline to compare against during your session.
Once the calibration is finished, you’re ready to start your meditation session.
When your session begins, the device is able to take your raw EEG data and detect if you’re in an active, calm or neutral state. The Muse feeds this data to you through sounds. If you’re in a calm state, you’ll hear birds chirping or gentle waters on the shore of a beach. If you’re in an active state, you’ll hear the waves start to crash and the winds become stronger. Here’s a sample of what this sounds like:
These auditory cues give you a much-needed signal to steer your attention back to your breath. Overtime, this feedback allows you to develop a greater awareness of your wandering mind, and strengthen your ability to revert your attention back to your breath.
Throughout the session, the app records how many minutes you were in an active, neutral, or calm state. You’ll know on a minute-to-minute basis, where your head was at during the session. For example, in a recent session you’ll see my mind started out relatively calm for the first half of my session, and then gradually got noisier during the second half:
You’re also given an overall score based on how long you were in a state of calm (from 0 to 100%). It also provides other scores like the number of birds you heard during the session (bird chirps only occur when you’ve been in a long stretch of calm) or recovery points (if you’re able to steer yourself back to neutral from an active state).
You can then use these metrics to help improve your performance over time. I’ve personally found that with regular practice, my calm scores consistently improved. When I first started to use the Muse a few years back, I’d hover around the 70% calm mark. But this past year, I’m consistently in the 90% and above range. It can feel gratifying seeing tangible progress, as the results you see from meditation are usually subjective and difficult to put into objective numbers.
The Drawbacks With The Muse Headband
As excited as I am with the Muse, there are a few drawbacks that are worth mentioning.
As I stated earlier, the Muse is an entry-level device into the world of neurofeedback. Practically every neuroscientist, biofeedback expert, or researcher I’ve interviewed on Warrior Radio has told me they would never rely on The Muse to provide accurate EEG data (compared to the high-end equipment they’re accustomed to).
In fact, the Muse isn’t actually a neurofeedback device in the traditional sense. According to the company:
“Many people often ask if the Muse headband and Muse app offer traditional neurofeedback. The short answer is no – the algorithm that Muse uses in order to provide real-time feedback while you meditate is more complex than traditional neurofeedback. In creating the Muse app, we started by looking at individual brainwaves and then spent years doing intensive research (with hundreds of hours of meditation data) on the higher-order combinations of primary, secondary, and tertiary characteristics of raw EEG data and how they interact with focused-attention meditation.
From there, we’ve implemented a machine learning algorithm to have each bandpower used in a unique and complex way to map to the states of calm, active, and neutral. So, while traditional neurofeedback focuses on monitoring and training individual frequencies, Muse doesn’t look at the individual brainwaves in isolation. Instead, it has been able to use a unique combination of the various brainwaves in order to provide valuable insight into the different mind states.”
If you’re a beginning meditation practitioner, the Muse is great at helping flag when you’re mind is active or calm. The first year of using The Muse, the feedback was amazing to quiet my mind, as I was still learning the basics of the practice.
But as my skills improved, the device wasn’t as useful as before. I’ve found that if you’re an intermediate or an advanced meditator (whose beta/alpha wave fluctuation are much more subtle), the device is relatively crude in picking up these signals.
For example, if I’m now in a session and my mind ever so slightly shifts focus away from my breath, I’ll catch these thoughts but it will go undetected on the Muse. I’m in the process of transitioning to a higher-end device that is more accurate and sensitive to these subtle electrical changes in my brainwaves.
Another thing that can be a pain is The Muse’s ability to calibrate. The session won’t start until all the electrodes on the device are able to catch a consistently clear signal from your scalp. I’ve had many a session where I’ve had to fiddle with the device for twenties minutes or longer until the device was ready to go. However, I’ve found that dabbing a little bit of salt water on the forehead beforehand solves this issue.
The Buddha once said that attachment is the root cause of suffering. Practices like meditation help you to lovingly accept and let go of these attachments. If you’re not careful, devices like The Muse (and neurofeedback in general) can actually be a hindrance towards this goal.
You may find yourself attached to being a “good mediator” – feeling good if your Calm score is high, and feeling crummy if your Calm score is low. You may beat yourself up if you’ve broken your streak of meditating on consecutive days. As you get better at calming your mind, you may start to build a new ego structure around being “skilled” at the practice. These are all pitfalls you need to watch out for with neurofeedback.
Use the device, don’t let it use you. Gather the feedback the Muse headband can give you but don’t take it too seriously. For a more in-depth discussion about the pitfalls of meditation apps, I’d suggest listening to the following Warrior Radio episodes:
I recorded with Christopher Plowman, the CEO of the Insight Timer meditation app:
- WR 029 : How Chris Dancy Used Over 700 Devices To Hack His Mind
- WR 034 : Are Meditation Apps Engineered To Be Addictive? – with Christopher Plowman of Insight Timer
The Bottom Line
All in all, The Muse is incredibly useful at helping improve your meditation practice. This is especially true for beginners. If you’re new to the practice, the Muse is relatively accurate at letting you know if your mind is active, calm, or neutral during your meditation practice. If you’re an advanced meditator, you may need to look for higher end neurofeedback devices.
For most beginner practitioners, the real-time feedback the Muse gives you can really help accelerate your development over time. The app makes meditation downright fun, almost as if you’re playing a video game. This can encourage new meditators to keep up with the practice and to eventually start seeing tangible benefits from the practice.
If you can learn to not get overly attached to things like your Calm score or other gamified stats the app will present you, then I highly recommend picking up The Muse.
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