Muse Meditation Headset – A Neuroscientist’s Review

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Always interested in understanding more about brain function and to optimise my meditation practice, my bf got the hint and bought me the Muse headband for my birthday. Although that was a long time ago, I’ve gained a small appreciation for this device over time.

Muse measures your brain waves (not specified which ones) to rate your level of focus during your meditation.

So what exactly is this device? According to their website..

Using finely calibrated sensors – 2 on the forehead, 2 behind the ears plus 3 reference sensors – Muse is a next-generation, state of the art EEG system that uses advanced algorithms to train beginner and intermediate meditators at controlling their focus. It teaches users how to manipulate their brain states and how to change the characteristics of their brains.

That sounds epic to be honest. But how exactly does is it ‘change the characteristics’ of your brain? It works by neurofeedback – an feedback system which measures your brain waves to inform you of your current state of consciousness. Muse’s model of biofeedback revolves around the sweet sound of birds.

Image result for birds meme

After calibrating the device and selecting a nature track to accompany your meditation, 2 auditory inputs over the track will mark your sessions progress. Birds chirping and singing signify that your mind is focused and in peak meditation flow. Increased volume of the nature sounds backing track signal your mind has drifted off course and your quality of focus has increased. Prolonged stretches of focus are awarded with ‘birds’ and when you reign your mind back in from some wandering you gain ‘recovery’ points. It’s very simplistic but it works well.

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The good stuff.

  1. It definitely works, although latency might be a second or 2 slow. I’ve tested various states of visual meditation and body scanning to see what technique elicits the most birb responses. If I open my eyes during the session the music gets louder and recognises I’ve changed brain state.
  2. The feedback design of auditory sound to reinforce your meditation focus is a very good way to train your mind and level up your meditation practice. I really do miss the birds when my mind is restless and wandering, guiltily pledging to get more  next time.
  3. It’s simple and straight-forward to use with an excellent battery life.

Limitations.

  1. Doesn’t tell you what brain waves it is measuring. The graph should plot your brain waves instead of just having the categories of ‘active’, ‘neutral’ and ‘calm’ on the y-axis. It would be great to have a percentage or ratio of which brain waves you were emitting or even the most dominant brain wave of the session.Screenshot_20191124_213453I did receive an email from muse titled ‘A deeper dive, what exactly is muse measuring’.  It’s extremely interesting stuff and you can read the full post over here: What exactly Muse is measuring. That’s all well and good that you know what you’re measuring, Muse. However, I would appreciate some transparency on my end as to what waves my brain is emitting. The analytics back-end graphs would be majorly improved in my opinion by the definition of your distinct brain waves.
  2. There is no freestyle mode. I thought this device would be able to just record my brain wave data off the cuff for a desired period of time and then I would be able to view my brain activity. This is not the case however as you can only use the provided ‘soundscapes’ on the app of which there are 3 – beach, rainforest and desert. You can also choose to download ‘city park’ or ‘ambient music’. This unfortunately restricts the devices purpose to neurofeedback. I realise now you can remove your earphones and listen to something else but if the signal gets interrupted the app will pause and your session won’t be recorded.
  3. Difficult to get a signal sometimes. I don’t know if my head is a weird shape or too small for the band but often the device can’t read a signal from the left hemisphere of my brain. The device has to be quite tight to your head. If you have hair in the way it won’t get a reading either. As I’m sure you can imagine the last thing you want to do when you have finally allotted yourself some time to chill out is to grapple with a headset, adjusting it until your phone can finally pick up a signal. It’s all about exercising that patience I suppose. The first time I tried it on I placed it backwards lol. 20190409_220948
  4. Using birds as a feedback signal is great, however if you are having a prolonged period of focused state the bird noises don’t go away, there’s a continuous chirping in the background. If you have a distracted state the volume of the background track increases. Depending on your mood the whole experience can be a bit jarring and I wonder if it’s preventing me entering a deeper state.

Verdict

Yes I would recommend. Although a bit pricey considering all the limitations, if you buy the headset with the purpose of practicing neurofeedback and learning how to meditate correctly you shouldn’t be disappointed.

The Muse 2 headset has since been released which apparently has some upgrades that overcome some of the issues I’ve mentioned. I have no idea what improvements the hardware has undergone to justify a whole new device. It would be great if I didn’t have to buy a brand new headset and I could just update the muse app to the latest version and the device would sync to the latest version.

 

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