I’m one of the many who jumped on the meditation bandwagon during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a time of isolation and fear, I needed an outlet to find calm. I had always wanted to try meditation even when there wasn’t a global pandemic. I felt like the opposite of “zen” and “calm” and more like “anxious” and “harried.” However, I grew up in the south in a time and community where meditation and yoga were for hippies and heathens, and I struggled with this label of “being someone who meditates.”
Last spring, my company began hosting weekly mental health and awareness programs (go Paysafe!). I finally attended one in October. The session was on mindfulness and meditation, and I asked the speaker for advice on overcoming resistance to the word “meditation.” She recommended to think about meditation as going to the gym for my brain, and to focus on the brain science and on the power of neuroplasticity to change your brain and bring new traits into your life.
I remember saying something like, “Thank you, that helps. But I’m still struggling a little. I mean, cowboys don’t meditate.” Her next 10 works stuck: “What if you thought about it as a performance accelerator?” Now we’re talking! I’m in!
That was the day I downloaded Headspace (free through my company, again go Paysafe!), which would eventually become my gateway to meditation. I was meditating for 3 minutes a day and not feeling the effects (not terribly shocking in retrospect) and kept wondering “Am I doing this right?” I remembered hearing the creator of the Muse meditation headband speak at a conference at HBS, and her saying that the headband gives neurofeedback that would answer that question. I bought it for myself as an early Christmas present and started experimenting.
How Muse Works:
The Muse headband and mobile app use EEG technology to detect and record your brainwaves and the electrical activity of your brain. EEGs in themselves are not uncommon, but what is unique with Muse is that it translates this activity into usable feedback during your meditation session. In the most classic Muse example, a user can select a meditation with soothing rain as a soundscape. If your mind is calm, the sound of the rain is slow and peaceful. If your mind starts to race, you’ll start to hear storms brewing. You’ll also hear birds if you have a period of extended calm during your meditation.
I felt a little too distracted by the weather feedback, and also found myself getting annoyed at the birds. I could actually hear my brain activity go haywire after a bird award/dopamine hit. Thankfully there are other sensors in the device for breath, heartrate, and body stillness that have different audio feedback and still come with the nice data visualizations. My personal favorites are breath meditations, during which you count breaths and hear a soothing breeze if you’re in harmony, and then a heartbeat meditation where you listen to your own heartbeat and try to slow it down with your breath.
When you finish your session, you can immediately see the results of your brain activity, your bird awards, and various other metrics depending on the type of meditation you chose. There is something so cool and beautiful about being able to detect and see a visualization of your brain waves in the comfort of your own home, any time you want. The gamification aspect of the app is appealing to those of us who are a wee bit competitive. There are various personal and group challenges, awards and points you win in the app, and not gonna lie – birds are immensely satisfying (and can be disabled if you disagree)!
My Muse Results:
Here’s my first Muse meditation – notice 3 minute session length, 1 bird, and 19 seconds of calm. Again so funny to me now that I expected 3 minutes of meditation to be life-changing.
Here’s my Muse meditation that I did after a glass of wine (for science of course). Notice 10 minutes, 30 birds, and 4+minutes in calm lol! Eventually I tried meditating after several glasses (anything for science!). My session didn’t save because I moved too much, got a bad signal, and then eventually just fell asleep!
After about a month of sticking with it, Muse ended up being the perfect way for me to develop a meditation practice. The data, science, and gamification kept me going until I could actually feel the positive benefits of meditation itself. Meditation can be really hard and frustrating at first. Do you overthink now? Wait until you’re anxious about being anxious and thinking about thinking… or even worse, thinking about thinking about thinking. I’m still always distracted while meditating but am much less bothered by my thoughts and less anxious overall.
Muse is not the only meditation wearable or the only example of technology and meditation. Throughout the semester, I’ll be focusing on this general subject of digital transformation of meditation. I’m happy to crowd-source the next topic. Anything you want me to cover in my next post?