As I sit quietly at my desk, eyes closed, focusing on nothing but counting the number of breaths I’m taking, the sound of a bird comes through my right ear. Several seconds later, another one chirps. In the background, wind is blowing very gently. My mind wanders and I start to imagine myself on a beach, suddenly the wind picks up, and it’s both loud and aggressive. I panic slightly, but quickly realize it’s because I’m actively using my brain to think of things, rather than focusing on my breathing. I take a deep breath and then focus on counting my breathing again – the winds calm and remain that way for the remainder of the session. I open my eyes, feeling relaxed, refreshed and ready to take on the rest of the day. I’ve just completed the 14th day of using Muse, the brain sensing headband.
Muse is a unique wearable device developed by Toronto based InteraXon and is one of the few consumer facing brain sensing technologies available to the general public. Muse uses it’s seven sensors to monitor your brain activity via electroencephalogram (EEG), and while EEG has been around for a long time, the Muse is the first time it’s all very convenient, portable and requires no specialized knowledge on how to use it. Future Shop recently hooked me up with a unit to test out the experience myself.
Your First Muse Session
Out of the box, the Muse is ready to go in terms of the hardware – all you need now is an Android of iOS device to download the “Calm” app. The app requires setting up an account, selecting your area (apparently background electrical signals are different based on where you are in the world), and then pairing it to your Muse. From there, you get a little lesson on properly wearing the headband so that all seven sensors are properly touching your skin and finally you’re given instructions on your first run at Muse. You can also select the difficulty level (Easy, Normal, Hard), the voice that instructs you (Male, Female) and the length of this sessions (3, 7, 12 or 20 Minutes). From there, you’re good to go. Upon conclusion, the Calm app displays how you performed including the amount of time your brain was highly active, neutral, and calm – and rewards you with points.
What Muse Does
The basic premise of Muse is ultimately a form of meditation – I believe the exact kind is “Mindfulness“. You focus on your breathing exclusively, while audio feedback helps you to focus your attention on nothing. Each day between 2-3PM, I would sit back in my chair, put on Muse and do a 3 minute sessions (with calibration and post-calm feedback it takes about 5 minutes). I would also use headphones to help tune out the world around me and really listen to the wind/water/birds. I tried doing longer sessions, but found myself losing focus fast, and even getting frustrated with myself that I couldn’t ‘calm the winds’. I would find that I was almost in a dreamy state in the minutes and up to half and hour after the fact, and in those states I was especially well focused on whatever task I’d take on.
My Overall Experience
Overall, I have to admit that during my two week run of using Muse I did NOT notice any major difference. HOWEVER, once I stopped using it, I noticed my stress levels shot up and my productivity dropped. Now that COULD be entirely coincidental, but since I’ve started using it again, I’m finding my focus and being highly productive again. The Muse is not cheap at $299 from Future Shop, so it might be a difficult purchase to justify. But the real value I found was in the ability to actually sit down and clear my mind. People all over the world swear by meditation to help them handle the stresses of life, and it is easy to dismiss them… but if it works for them, this might just work for you. Especially us techie/numbers people who just love devices and data, having one that can actually help you to disconnect from everything could provide a lot of value.
Muse is a solid concept and a great device (very well made). It may be slightly niche at the moment but InteraXon’s Muse is on the forefront of this technology. They have an SDK that has allowed developers to create additional functionality. Some of these ‘mind control’ applications are even starting to get some play at places like CES or SXSW, so it’s only a matter of time before fully featured apps that allow you to Control Lights or Pour Beer will be released. And as this happens, the demand and appeal of the Muse will skyrocket.