Muse Headband Review

BJJ Caveman Muse 1

 

In the past year, one of my goals has been to meditate regularly.  Every article I read and podcast I listened to seemed to so vehemently extol the amazing benefits of meditation that I just couldn’t ignore it.

Here’s an article interviewing a neuroscientist from Harvard Medical School discussing how meditation can literally change your brain!

So I gave it a shot.  I tried a couple of different guided meditation apps on my phone.  My favorite was Headspace, which offers 10 free guided mediation sessions lasting 7-10 minutes each (more are available as in-app purchases).

I then spoke to some people who meditated regularly who advised me that while guided meditation is a great place to start, most of the benefits come from un-guided meditation.  In fact just the action of sitting still in silence is beneficial.

Ok… so I tried to give this a shot too.  It was definitely harder to keep my mind focused on my breath since there wasn’t a voice guiding my attention and awareness.

The main issue I ran into when doing both guided and un-guided meditation was whether or not I was ‘doing it right.’

Any experienced meditation practitioner will tell you that there is no ‘doing it right,’ rather the benefit comes with ‘just doing.’  It sounds pretty Zen doesn’t it?  This was a little hard for my brain to accept.  In my job there is a right way and a wrong way to practice medicine.  In BJJ there is a right way and wrong way to perform a technique.

How could there not be a way to meditate correctly?  Or at least optimally.

When I first heard about the Muse Headband in one of my podcasts and how it measures your brainwaves and provides gentle feedback when it detects your mind wandering, to redirect you to your breath, I knew I had to try it out.

The first obstacle at the time was the price: a hefty $299.00, although Amazon sweetens the deal by including a hard carrying case which normally costs $39.98.

Amazon has a pretty good return policy, so I reasoned that if I really didn’t like it I could return it to Amazon minus the shipping fee, and at worst I could sell it on Ebay.

With this contingency plan in place, I added it to my cart, and in two short days, found it in my mailbox (gotta love Amazon Prime).

As you can see in the picture above, the box it comes packaged in is pretty swanky.

BJJ Caveman Muse 2

A charging cable and two thin instruction booklets are included.

Setup

Setting the Muse Headband up was a cinch.  I just had to turn on the bluetooth on my phone and follow the instructions to pair the device, and voila, I was up and running in less than a minute.

Once in the app, you’re prompted to create an account and click through the standard user agreements, and you’re off and running.

You place the headband across your forehead and around your ears so that the sensors are sitting flush with your skin.  The headband is also adjustable so that you can make it tighter or looser.

The headband itself is very comfortable.  It’s light weight and I frequently forget that I have it on.  It also fits well over glasses including my Uvex Blue Blockers.

Here’s what it looks like on my grappling dummy!

BJJ Caveman Muse 6

Using it

The first screen that greets you allows you to select the two environments you want to use while meditating.

A beach with lapping waves, sea gulls, and blowing wind as the sound effects

BJJ Caveman Muse 3

Or a forest with raindrops, wind, and birds for sound.

BJJ Caveman Muse 4

I personally prefer the forest.  For some reason it just brings me more peace as opposed to the beach scene.  It might be because I find the cawing of seagulls obscene and annoying.

They recommend using headphones to get the most of the sounds which also helps to block out any distracting ambient noise.

You can also select the length of time of your session: 3 min, 7 min, 12 min, 20 min, and custom; and the exercise you want to perform: counting your breaths or focusing on the sensation of your breath.

Once the parameters are set, the app determines how well the sensors of the headband are detecting your brain waves and forces you to optimize the positioning of the headband before allowing you to proceed.

Before the beginning of each session you’re prompted to spend 1 minute calibrating the headband.  The app instructs you to think of as many things as you can in 3 random categories like historical figures, toys, vegetables, colors, shapes, countries etc…

Unfortunately, this needs to be done each time before a session.  There’s no way around it.

BJJ Caveman Muse 5

Once this is complete you’re ready to begin.  The sound picks up and you start meditating.

At the end of your session the app shows you how calm you were during the session as a percentage, how many birds arrived (a measure of calmness), and how many points you earned (more calm = more points).  It also shows what ‘awards’ received.

BJJ Caveman Muse 7

BJJ Caveman Muse 8

BJJ Caveman Muse 9

 

The app also offers Challenges to motivate you.  Here are some of the ones I’ve completed:

BJJ Caveman Muse 10

And if you want to look back at your old sessions, you can do so through the app as well.  I had a pretty good streak going in May!

BJJ Caveman Muse 11

BJJ Caveman Muse 12

Does it Work?

The first few sessions I tried to test it out.  I went from consciously counting my breaths to thinking about other things and low and behold, the wind sounds started to get stronger and stronger!  In the beach the winds go from gentle rustling to tropical storm levels in a flash!  In the forest the gentle pitter patter of water dripping quickly becomes a torrential downpour!

I’d then have to really try to come back and focus on my breath and after a few seconds the intensity of the sounds would abate.

When I stopped experimenting with it and really tried to incorporate this into my meditation practice the headband really did a good job of letting me know when my mind was wandering.  I’d be steadily counting my breaths and then all of a sudden I’d hear a monsoon in my ears and suddenly realize that my mind had wandered to a BJJ technique or previous sparring session.

It was great to get this feedback to remind me to come back to my breath.

I started with the 3 minute session and after awhile it felt too short so I moved on to the 7 minute session.  I’ve been here for a while now but it’s probably time I graduate to 12 minutes since I don’t feel the urge to look down to see how much time is left anymore.

I really liked looking at the daily chart to see how long of a streak I can keep going, in fact, keeping the streak alive really motivated me to maintain my practice.

The achievements, points, and challenges part of the app didn’t really do much for me.  I consider it a win if I can just get my ass to sit still, so I feel pretty satisfied with myself having just sitting for a session no matter what % calm I get.

What the BJJ Cavewife Didn’t Like

The BJJ Cavewife saw my shiny new toy and wanted to try it out for herself.  After a few sessions she decided to stop using it because she found that the sound effects were too distracting for her.

When the intensity of the winds and rain would go up, it actually caused her to have a little anxiety, and she found herself thinking things like, “wtf is going on?  I AM counting my breaths!  WHY ARE YOU NOT SEEING THAT I’M CALM!!”

And instead of walking away with a sense of peace she was getting more aggravated with each session.  I guess that’s how biofeedback works sometimes.

Final Thoughts

I liked this so much that I decided to keep it.  I liked what the regular meditation practice was doing for me and the fact that this helped to motivate to motivate me so much was enough for me to swallow the $299, but I thought the benefits were worth it.

If you’re someone like me, who enjoys meditating but just can’t seem to get the motivation sometimes, then the quantification and gamification of the Muse Headband may be just the thing you need.

If you’re someone like the BJJ Cavewife who can get a little spun out by this sort of biofeedback then this definitely isn’t for you.

You can pick it up here: Muse Headband

And just for kicks, here is one of my favorite guided meditations:

F*ck That: A Guided Meditation from Jason Headley on Vimeo.

6 Responses to Muse Headband Review

  1. Fung Yen says:

    I thoght the purpose of meditation is to keep calm and have a peace of mind or an empty head without any distraction from the outside world. It’s an exercise and needs practice by oneself for a long time.
    Wearing a headband is an ouside help, I won’t use it even if it’s $9 or $19 a piece; not to mention the risk of getting brian tumor or cancer from the radiation. (not proved yet just like overuse of cellphone).
    Thousands of monks in Asia don’t use it and they are fine.

    • BJJ Caveman says:

      That’s a fair point! The only problem is I live a modern life and unfortunately… am not a monk in Asia, although I probably need a little bit more of that in my life.

  2. Sonny Brown says:

    I have a Muse and think it is great.

    I look at it like training wheels for meditation. Hopefully I will not have to use it forever when I want to meditate but for now it is helping me get balanced and set the habit up.

    One day i will stop using it when I have the habit locked in and can tell the difference between Calm and Active.

    Cheers,
    Sonny

    • BJJ Caveman says:

      I really like this idea of using it as training wheels. I think if I can consistently get myself over 80% and figure out what it takes to do so… then I can probably wean myself off of using this device.

  3. Dale says:

    Do those standard user agreements allow them to see and use the data that’s saved? It always bugs me that these days we don’t get the opportunity to say “keep my data local”.

    I looked at a wi-fi scale that would graph my weight, but it required an Internet connection and would save my data on their servers. Why not have a local app and no Internet connection?

    There’s no reason why my health data needs to be “stored in the cloud”. Not that it would be horrible if a bad actor accessed my meditation data, but I’d like to be able to opt out. End rant (no need to make this public if you think it’s distracting).

    • BJJ Caveman says:

      I have to admit that I never read through the user agreement and don’t know if it’s saved at all or not.

      Recently I’ve been using it while in airplane mode, leaving only blue tooth on, and without internet connectivity the only thing I don’t have access to are the ‘achievements’ which I don’t really care about any ways.

      So there is some transfer of data online…

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