Can Meditation Gadgets Really Help?

Meditation Gadgets

The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article in the Technology section about meditation gadgets last month.  The author who is a technology editor describes his experience with trying to aid his meditation with biofeedback devices.

He writes briefly about the NeuroSky MindWave device ($99) and the Emotiv Insight device ($659), but settles on the Muse Headband ($249) which he says offers the ‘most pleasant experience.’

Incidentally, this is the same headband that I have (check out my review here).

It took him a while to get used to it but one he did:

…it didn’t take long for me to notice a greater sense of awareness spilling over into everyday life. I’d suddenly find myself acutely conscious of whatever was directly before me—my daughter sitting on my lap, the colleague I was speaking to—and even the smell of coffee wafting from the espresso bar a block away.

Could this be a taste of “awareness”—that sense of being in the present moment rather than evaluating it or being lost in thoughts about the past or future? (Achieving this state isn’t the objective of the type of meditation I’ve been practicing for years.) And did the Muse really help me unlock that?

Now the next part of the article got really interesting for me.  He then goes to the Center of Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and uses their EEG biofeedback system, which involves wearing a swim cap with 128 electrodes (for comparison, the Muse only has 4 sensors).

He found that the meditation techniques needed for the 128 electrode system were different from that of the Muse device.  When he brought this up to the various experts he learned that Muse measures something called ‘focused-attention” while the 128 electrode system measures “effortless awareness,” which

…aligned with my experience: Muse feels like more of an exertion, Dr. Brewer’s rig [128 electrode system] more of a letting go.

The author then interviews a few more experts and their statements on the subject of biofeedback devices ranged from ‘cautious optimism’ to complete dismissal:

Yet he flat-out opposes the use of EEG biofeedback in meditation training-whether with a consumer EEG device or a more advanced one like Dr. Brewer’s.

“If you go back to the root of the word, ‘meditation’ in Sanskrit means ‘familiarization’: familiarizing an individual with the nature of his or her own mind. I think that when we get focused on external signals, we actually may detract from the ability to recognize certain features of our own mind,” said Dr. Davidson. He believes using biofeedback for meditation training can be more detrimental than helpful at this point. From a scientific standpoint, he said, we don’t yet know enough about what brain signals to look for to indicate a true meditative state. “The effort at this point is absurd. Literally, it makes no sense,” said Dr. Davidson.

I feel like I could benefit from both ‘focused attention’ AND ‘effortless awareness.’

Now that I think about it, I seem to get a healthy dose of both when I’m grappling with someone in my brazilian jiu jitsu gym.  Nothing quite focuses my attention like someone trying to choke me out and my awareness to recognize and get the hell out of that choke is definitely effortless.

I’m not sure if these experts would count this as legitimate meditation, but I’d sure get a kick out of watching them try to measure it.  I’m just imaging what it would look like to grapple with someone wearing a cap with 128 electrodes and wires on their head…

I also have a confession.  It’s been about 5 months since I bought it and it’s now fallen by the wayside.  I rarely use it now, and I’m sure any of the experts interviewed would agree that some meditation whether or not biofeedback is involved is better than what I’m currently doing… which is no meditation at all.

If anything this article reminded me that I really should set aside a few minutes to meditate, with or without my Muse.



2 Responses to Can Meditation Gadgets Really Help?

  1. Justin says:

    Neurofeedback with active electrodes (wet gel) instead of the passive pens found in headbands is much more effective. There are home units you can DIY for less than $2500 that are incredibly effective at helping achieve a meditative state as well as trainings focus through different protocols.

  2. Andrew Fox says:

    ‘No meditation’ is perhaps better than any meditation with a headband or any other tech device in my opinion. Like the Doc says, “preoccupation with external signals detracts from our ability to recognize certain features of our mind”.
    We depend on tech for a lot in our world, but when it comes to the mind and meditation, what we require is practice and training, even to achieve an effortless awareness. Like practicing BJJ or honing any skill, technique becomes effortless with practice.

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