Tag Archives: Muse EEG

Muse Indirectly Crushes Meditation Training

Looking at my morning tracking routine I realized that one of the most impactful wearable devices I have used has been the Muse EEG headband. After using it for more than five months, I think that Muse indirectly crushes meditation training.

I started using the Muse EEG headband in June of this year and have sat with it 152 sessions. The data the product has given me has not been the source of value. The source of value has been that the product has helped me become a habitual meditator.

Muse indirectly crushes meditation training

Muse claims to read your EEG and give you a “calm” score. It also awards a secondary score that is cumulative as a game style mechanic to keep you coming back.

When I started with Muse I took a straightforward sporting approach to the mediation training.  I would practice each morning with a goal to get higher “calm” scores. I saw it similar to training for a 5K where I would look to my speed. The fun would be to see how much higher I could push my calm score with practice.

Unfortunately, it did not work out that way. I did not improve the score even with months of  practice.

Muse indirectly crushes meditation trainingThe calm score itself is of questionable usefulness. It did not correlate with any other physiological factor that I compared it with. For example, when looking at the correlation between the score and heart rate variability (HRV) across 145 readings, there was no relationship (Pearson r = -.016). I had taken HRV readings simultaneous with the Muse readings and they did not track together at all. Blood glucose levels (r= -.17), average resting heart rate (r = .13), blood pressure (r=.21) all were at best a weak relationship.

Thinking that the calm score might somehow be associated with how distracted or stressed I was, I looked at a morning mood score I had been keeping versus the calm score. Oddly, I found a moderate inverse relationship between the Muse calm and my perception of mood (r = -.32). That meant I was more “calm” when I was in a lousier mood that morning. That made no sense at all.

So my original idea of practicing to increase my calm score did not pan out for me.  So why do I believe Muse indirectly crushes meditation training? Because for me, meditation had been boring and numerous attempts in the last 32 years to incorporate it in my daily routine had failed miserably. Chasing the Muse score in a structured way each morning I broke the boredom and acquired the habit of meditating. And meditating has scientifically validated positive benefits.

The Muse basic session is six minutes long with a starting calibration of one minute then a five minute reading. After multiple months of starting doing these simple six minute readings with the headband I found I had started comfortably expanding the amount of time I was sitting quietly.

First, I incorporated a ten-minute session before the Muse session to test the effectiveness of binaural beats, and that ended up with me sitting quietly for fifteen minutes each morning. Then a podcast on HRV inspired me to add twenty minutes of paced breathing later in the day. I was able to expand because I had gotten comfortable with sitting during the initial months of short six minute Muse sessions.

So the paradoxical outcome presents itself. In the past when I had tried to “learn” to meditate I could not do it for long and was unsuccessful. When I introduced the game of chasing the Muse calm score I was able to get enough time sitting quietly to find meditation doable and even pleasurable. And when I had enough data to determine the score I had been chasing was meaningless I had worked my way up to 35 minutes of sitting a day. That is why Muse indirectly crushes meditation training.

I imagine the engineers who created the scoring system and the EEG technology may not appreciate my assessment. It seems better to have the scoring and EEG technology to be a valued feature. However, the product bills itself as a meditation assistant. In that, it performs its job perfectly.

To someone looking for a Quantified Self product review on Muse the answer may sound like something out of a wearables zen koan. To realize the value of the Muse product, diligently try to improve your Muse score until you are sitting in comfortable in daily meditation realizing that the score never was the point.



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Morning Mental Worry and HRV

When you wake up in the morning do you wonder if your brain being engaged right away in the details of the upcoming day is actually causing you physiological stress? Is waking up worrying having an impact on your nervous system?

Morning Mental Worry and HRV

My Question

I wanted to see if how mentally calm (or not) I was in the morning was correlated with my Heart Rate Variability (HRV). How active was my brain when I had high HRV, or low? Was it ok to tick off my do list as I got up in the morning, or should I give myself a break and ease into the day?

What I Did

I measured my HRV each morning after waking using a Polar H7 Heart Rate belt connected to an app on my iPhone while simultaneously measuring my brain activity using an EEG device called Muse. The HRV would measure how close to fight or flight my nervous system was in while Muse measured my focus on breathing rather than on the worries of the day ahead.

How I Did It

I had my kit laid out the evening prior so on waking I would walk upstairs, take my toilet and sit in a chair in the Quant Cave to take the readings. I tried to keep distraction to a minimum. It was the same chair at the same time each morning. I took 16 readings over the course of as many days. The HRV app gave me an rMSSD reading, and the Muse app gave me a “% Calm” reading. I measured for five minutes and recorded the results in a Google Spreadsheet. After I had enough readings I used the Google Spreadsheet to create a graph of the results and calculate Pearson correlation.

What I Learned

My mental activity strongly correlates with HRV (r = .54). That means that higher my Muse “% Calm” score was the higher my rMSSD. It appeared that if I woke up and remained mentally relaxed my physiology seemed to be similarly relaxed.

Morning Mental Worry and HRV

Practical Application

I have a new piece of information about how I might be able to maximize my energy curve through the day. On waking allowing myself to simply go through my morning process without immediately running through my to do lists may result in a higher state of relaxation and physiological preparedness at the start of the day. If the idea of a hitting the slopes can ensure I start at a high level before I start the ride downward.

How You Can Do This Yourself

The kit you will need:

Unfortunately the Muse headset is expensive. Once you have acquired this kit and familiarized yourself, you can follow a procedure similar to the one I have described.

Short of repeating this experiment yourself you can give yourself a break in the morning and hold off on your to do list until you’ve had a chance to settle in for the day.