An Introduction to a Data-driven Meditation Practise with “Muse”

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

One motivation for mediation is to train your mind to become more aware, present, and focused. For comparison think about your mind as a biceps that when trained in the gym will grow stronger. Similarly with meditation you can train your mind to grow stronger. In addition, research has proven many health benefits (e.g. more focus, healthier body, more resistant to stress, improved emotional well-being) and higher emotional intelligence (EQ).

When asked why people have then not established a regular formal mediation practice, I often hear

  1. It‘s hard to find time in my busy schedule

  2. I can‘t sit still for more than a few minutes

  3. I‘m not sure if I'm doing it right and whether I’m progressing or

  4. I tried it a few times but it didn‘t work out.

There are plenty of books on meditation and a plethora of guided meditation apps available, but so far it has been hard to measure real progress and obtain reliable feedback on how well one is doing. This can be discouraging and therefore many discontinue their mediation practice.

When you start a meditation practice it can therefore be helpful to have access to a meditation teacher or a community (e.g. participate in a meditation class) where you can obtain feedback and ask questions. This may help you to make faster and more consistent progress.

As we’re talking about progress, I need to point out that mediation is not a sport where you compete, and is not about the „doing it right.“ It is all about „being“, and the fact that you “just” sit in silence with closed eyes focusing on your breath for a few minutes per day doing nothing else. The benefits are huge and can make a big difference in training your mind and raising your overall level of consciousness and well being.

Still, for the mind, especially for the more rational mind, the central question comes up how was the quality of my meditation, and how do I progress? Wouldn’t it be great to obtain data similar to a fitness band or watch, that obtains data of your workouts, to measure your mediation progress and show you some data of your daily practice and progress?

In the past years there were only very expensive methods for measuring the brain waves during meditation available that were not affordable for the typical consumer (e.g. more than 10,000 Euros to participate in a weekly program). The deeper your mediation the more relaxed your brain, reaching very low frequency brain waves (e.g. delta or theta waves) whereas in the standard awake time the brain operates at higher beta frequencies. “What are Brainwaves” is a good background primer that explains those different brain states.

A few months back I discovered a device called „Muse“ that caught my attention. It looks like a modern headphone, and reminded me a bit of the “Borg” in Star Trek when first looking at some pictures (but not as bad). This device provides an affordable way to measure your brain activity during mediation and provides real-time feedback. It comes with the Muse app that you can install on your smartphone. Once installed, you sign up for a free user account and you are ready to go. The setup is easy and well explained. There are also a few other devices on the market, but I picked this one as it seemed the most mature.

I was skeptical about this technical gadget initially, but my scientific mind likes numbers and so I decided to give it a try. I got excited after the first try, as I realized it enables me now to have a systematic way of progressing my meditation practice, which I refer to as a „Data-driven Meditation Practise“. The term “data-driven decision making” is typically used in business to make decisions based on data instead of gut feelings. For example, you learn when comparing the number of clicks a button has on a web site is twice as high when you change its color from blue to orange. Based on that you decide to keep the orange button instead of the blue one. Similarly here with Muse you obtain data about each of your meditation sessions and can use that to improve the quality of your meditation practice. What’s even cooler, you also obtain real-time feedback that allows you notice when your mind drifts away, so you can redirect your focus back to your breadth.