Want to see my brainwaves?

If you’re someone who meditates – or has ever tried – I bet you’ve asked yourself the question…. “Am I doing this right?” Even though I’ve been meditating for a lot of years, and I definitely feel that it does me good, I still wonder if I’m doing it right.

To answer that question, I bought a Muse to measure my brain waves. If you’re ready to take your meditation to the next level – you gotta check these things out. A Muse is an EEG machine that scans your brain while you meditate. Today I would like to share some of the things I’ve learned since I’ve been using it – and I’ll show you my brain scans.

HOW TO USE THE MUSE
You strap the device around your head and put on your headphones – here’s a picture of me this morning with the device and my noise-cancelling headphone on.

When I’m ready to meditate, I open the Muse app on my phone and begin my session. I can chose a guided meditation or I can simply set the timer and go. When I first started I did opt for the guided sessions, now I just use the timer. I meditate for 20 minutes per session, and I do a morning and an afternoon session.

The Muse is connected to my iPhone – which is where I will see my scans at the end of my session. Those scans will reflect the amount of time I spent in an active, neutral, or calm state. The more active the brainwaves, the more intense the sound of rain I hear in my headphones – the calmer my brainwaves, the softer the rain. This biofeedback serves as an immediate indicator that allows me to bring my focus back to my practice if I’ve wandered off.

If I am able to maintain a calm state for an extended period of time, I hear birds chirping. More on the birds later.

A session readout looks something like this…on the left is my best session (calm 92% of the time), on the right is the one I just finished (too much thinking about what to write in this email and only 30% calm). I would say I average around 80% calm for most sessions.

Notice the vertical 3 bars – the lower waves are the calm states and the highest waves are the most active:

LESSONS FROM USING THE MUSE

1) Our language is completely inadequate to describe the human experience. There’s just so much in the experience of being a human that can’t be put into words. I guess that’s why we admire the effort of poets. None of the reading I’ve done on meditation adequately reflects what I see in the brainwaves. For example…

2) Everyone says “focus on the breath.” I can tell you in my experience that focusing on anything causes an increase in brainwave activity. I am most calm when I think of nothing – or as I’ve seen described in Eastern philosophy, no-thing. Focussing on the breath, like counting exhales, or chanting “OMM” is a gimmick that helps re-center and recover a wandering mind – but it doesn’t sustain a state of calm. Eventually I find myself working to focus on the gimmick, and not sitting with an empty mind.

3) Morning meditation is more calm than afternoon meditation, but I find afternoon meditation more beneficial. An afternoon meditation when at least 25% calm will leave me more energetic. The more calm I can get, the more energetic I feel after. This has lead to fewer naps and less caffeine in the afternoon.

4) There is a direct connection between the tension in my body and the tension in my head. By allowing the body to fall into a deeper state of relaxation, the mind follows. In my experience, calm begins in the body and moves to the mind. I didn’t expect this to be my experience. It’s amazing how much unrealized tension we are carrying in our body.

5) I am able to achieve a longer duration of calm when my feet are touching the ground. It’s even better when I’m outside. I haven’t found any difference in sitting on a meditation pad (this is mine), sitting on the couch, sitting in my office chair, sitting in the bed. I can tell you that there is a difference though when my feet are grounded.

6) The Muse birds are bastards. The first bird always distracts me and lures me into trying to make more birds chirp. The more I try to make the birds chirp, the less they comply. This has made obvious the degree to which I try to control everything in my life. In life and in meditation, the more I let go and let things just happen, the more they just happen and turn out the way they are supposed to. Lesson for me right now is to allow the unconscious mind the opportunity to work for me. I want the conscious mind set the goal, and then get out of the way.

7) Yes, I’m doing it right and I didn’t need a machine to tell me that. Ultimately, meditation is about training the mind to be still – to make that little voice in there shut the hell up for a minute. I don’t need a Muse device to spit out pictures of my brainwaves – but it has certainly helped bring additional focus to my practice.

Until I can see you in person, stay healthy,
Chad