Meditation's Muse: What is muse and how does meditation change brain function?
Just a quick introduction about this product:
Muse is a wearable brain sensing headband, pretty cool right? The device measures brain activity via 4 electroencephalography (EEG) sensors and posts brain activity via the muse app. An accompanying mobile app converts the EEG signal into audio feedback that is fed to the user via headphones. The picture below shows my brain activity on my first attempt of meditation last year using muse. I definitely got better.
Muse is manufactured by InteraXon, a company based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada that was founded by Ariel Garten, Trevor Coleman, and Chris Aimone. I have reached out to the company to get involved with this product and they welcomed me with open arms. They know that as a psychotherapist we try hard to get our patients to meditate but I feel like there is a stigma behind meditation. A lot of people think meditation is useless and weird, however mediation has been clinically proven to help relieve stress and anxiety.
Muse was released to the public in 2014. The device operates by representing brain waves that correspond to a more relaxed state through the sound of tweeting birds, and higher amounts of brain activity is represented by louder sounds. You have to control the loudness of the sound by relaxing your mind. It is claimed that using the headband helps in reaching a deep relaxed state. As you can see in the picture below, a year later using muse, I am better at keeping my mind in a calm state. This happens due to practicing meditation constantly. I got way more birds in this six minute session compared to last year.
Muse is worn over the ears and connects to a mobile app via bluetooth. The use of Muse enables the use of biofeedback, differing from a device like Thync that claims to actually alter brainwaves by wearing it (pretty cool). Muse is the subject of various scientific studies, one of those at the Mayo Clinic, to understand its usefulness in supporting patients who have undergone breast cancer surgery. I believe muse is going to continue growing as more empirical research on the benefits of meditation are established. The claim of therapeutic benefits of meditation is backed up by growing empirical evidence. I will introduce a few of these studies and the effects meditation has on the brain. It is some very interesting stuffs. (Yes I like saying stuff in plural form, don't judge me. It just sounds cooler, stuffssss lol)
So why do people meditate? There seem to be basically two answers. First, people meditate because they want to overcome psychological or emotional problems: meditation as a means for self-regulation. Second, people meditate to achieve a better understanding of life, enlarge their consciousness, and gain wisdom: meditation as a means to (positive) transformations in consciousness. Now what type of benefits does meditation have? Let's look into some interesting facts from research I came across. (and no I am not doing a bibliography for these facts. Please don't call the APA on me. I will cite though. I have to show some respect for the psychology community.)
First off, I looked more at meta-analyses studies because meta-analysis is a statistical analysis that combines the results of multiple experimental studies as opposed to looking into one or two experimental studies. I feel like it produces stronger support for a backed up idea, this being: benefits of meditation. A meta-analysis by McGee (2008) summarized beneficial effects on both psychological and psychosomatic problems such as anxiety, addiction, aggression, suicidality, depression, chronic pain, insomnia, and hypertension. Positive effects of meditation on substance abuse and general health were found in a meta-analysis by Alexander, Robinson, and Rainforth (1994) . A recent review by Ospina et al. (2007) discussed the low methodological quality of most experimental studies but concluded that several kinds of meditation significantly reduced blood pressure and helped reduce stress. This series of meta-analyses also found systematic physiological and neuropsychological effects of meditation in healthy practitioners. One interesting survey of neuroelectric and imaging studies of meditation that was conducted by, Cahn and Polich (2006) found systematic changes in anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal areas due to meditation. The anterior cingulate cortex deals with selective attention, affect(mood) and social interactions. The dorsal region is involved in motivation and executive function. Executive function is another term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation. These brain areas are shown in the image below.
I began by discussing muse and stating that meditation may serve two different purposes that might often be intermixed: as a means for psychotherapy or/and for personal and spiritual advancement. I feel that it is perfectly all right to use meditation to enhance mental functioning as well. There are also various forms of meditation such as transcendental meditation, mindfulness meditation, movement meditation, and mantra mediation, which may have different effects. There are many forms of meditation that you can research and see what you like best. I felt a big difference after doing a 30 day meditation challenge with muse, where i meditated for 10-15 minutes a day. I felt like my attention improved as well as my working memory. I also felt more elegant and swift in my cognitive processing. Have you ever tried meditation? If not, try to make it your muse (that was corny but I hope it works).