Take a Breath

Musings on neuroscience, meditation, and Muse.

Meditation for Mothers

Liza, shown above, is an actual Muse meditator, and just one example of a mother in a specific situation and stage in her life, but meditation can benefit various stages of motherhood from pregnancy through to the later years. As we approach Mothers Day we take the time to notice how moms have shaped our own lives through their constant flow of empathy and nurturing. Due to their unselfish role they also tend to bear the weight of the world on their own shoulders as they quite regularly focus on their children rather than themselves. Meditation is an effective and time efficient way for mothers to cultivate a calm mind, patience, positive thoughts, and connection with their own needs and emotions.

From pregnancy to menopause women undergo a wide range of hormonal experiences, affecting moods, perspectives on life, and forms of happiness. Positive emotional health during pregnancy not only helps to reduce stress mothers might be experiencing, but it is also a bonding mechanism for the expecting mother to build a deeper connection with their new baby. According to a study on Mindfulness Approaches to Childbirth and Parenting, researchers found that practicing regular meditation has been shown to be an effective way of reducing the pain of labor.

There is nothing quite like the exhaustion of running after a toddler. Mothers who care for toddlers understand the stress that often accumulates from tantrums, morning and bedtime routines, and growing to-do lists. Even though a healthy, nutritious diet, good sleep, and exercise all play a positive role in helping mothers cope with the stress associated with parenting, mental fitness is highly recommended.

Meditation has the power to shift a mother’s perspective from being rushed, anxious, and worried to being aware in the present moment, attentive, and kind. Meditation helps mothers to have confidence as they take on the role of a parent, and may improve decision-making skills. Parenting does not come with a guidebook. Navigating tough days with patience is made easier by a regular meditation practice.

The Journal of Child and Family studies published results from a study on Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting Education. The study showed that, “Laying a foundation of healthy coping through mindfulness during the perinatal period of family formation may promote family resilience across the lifespan, effectively placing new families on a healthier developmental trajectory than they might otherwise have experienced.”

Parenting through the teenage years takes unparalleled patience, fortitude, and confidence. Meditation may help mothers to cultivate trust in their own parenting decisions and help them to communicate more effectively with their teen children.

Liza’s situation is not uncommon. Mothers go through various points in their life whether it is the hardship of weighing career vs. parenting to taking care of their own mother later in life. Liza found a way through meditation with Muse to cope with being in the present by strengthening her mind and resisting impeding wandering thoughts so that she could be more efficient and in control throughout the day. Meditation is ideal because it can be practiced almost anytime and anywhere.

Among the most important roles of a mother is the call to nurture. Mothers are the emotional backbones of the family. They provide the foundation for everyone’s emotions and do their best to keep us from harming ourselves and teach us the values of empathy.

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Of Sound Mind: Finding Your Feedback Loop with Muse

mountain

People often try to use metaphors to explain meditation. Some stay pragmatic and compare it to physical exercise, while others get lofty and talk about ocean waves crashing on the side of a mountain.

These metaphors are aiming to make the practice more tangible, because the reality is, it’s quite a subtle thing. You’re trying to achieve a “meditative” state of mind, but what exactly does that mean? There’s no simple answer. No one other than you can experience your consciousness. It’s up to you to find your way.

Teachers can help point to techniques, share things they’ve learned, and support you through emotional discoveries, but ultimately the practice is yours to explore. Meditation is a process of personal experimentation and discovery. As you practice, trust your own experiences and insights – there’s no higher authority than your own experience.

Many find that a playful, curious approach helps a lot in the early stages. Being open and ready to try different techniques, positions, tools, lengths, and locations is key. When practicing with Muse, you may also learn from experimenting with your soundscape settings as you search for a feedback loop that feels right.

Here are some Muse soundscape settings to play with:

sound settings

To access these soundscape settings, connect your headband, start a session, and then tap the volume icon in the top right corner.

  1. Gentle and Soft

    Turn up the background volume while reducing both the feedback and birds volumes to make the soundscape much gentler. If you find the feedback too distracting, this can help a lot.

  2. Silence the Birds

    If you find the birds distract you too much, you can simply turn their volume down to zero. They’ll still be counted in your session report and data – you simply won’t hear them.

  3. Focus on Real-time Feedback

    The background sound helps ground the soundscape and prevents total silence from becoming a distraction when you’re calm. Turning up the feedback and birds and setting the background to zero can feel like a very different experience, so it’s worth exploring.

  4. Turning off the Sound

    It can also be instructive to explore having no sound feedback at all to see how different it feels. You’ll still get a full session report with all your data after the session.

When playing with your soundscape settings, try to find a feedback loop where Muse supports your focused attention on the breath without getting in the way. You’re looking for volume levels where your wandering mind is pulled back to the breath, but your focused mind is not pulled away from the breath.

Your preferred settings may be different from those of other Musers, and they may also change over time as your practice evolves. If you ever find yourself frustrated or unable to find settings that work for you, remember to bring back that playful curiosity and enjoy the process of exploration itself. Good luck!

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A University Student’s Story Of Academic Stress And Meditation With Muse

Student Stress

Student stress

Stress has been proven to impact student performance. In 2008, five researchers conducted a study to evaluate the impact on stress during two 8-week, 90-minutes per week training programs for college undergraduates using meditation-based stress-management programs. Their study concluded that, “Meditation-based stress-management practices reduce stress among college undergraduates.”

One student who has been impacted by stress is Christine. She’s a third year English and Creative Writing student at The University of Western Ontario, and she visited Student Services asking about ways to manage her stress. A psychology professor suggested that Christine try Muse since, as part of an ongoing program, they were being loaned out to students through Student Services for the purposes of stress management and meditation.

Before meditating with Muse, Christine thought that in order to meditate one had to think about absolutely nothing. She had dabbled and dropped into a few mindfulness-based meditation classes on campus, but never felt compelled to continue meditating on her own. Christine felt skeptical and unsure if meditation would really work for her.

“Meditation-based stress-management practices reduce stress among college undergraduates.” – Journal of American College Health

In her first Muse meditation session, and to her own surprise, she found herself focusing on her breath, body, posture, and the present moment. When asked about the experience and data that Muse provides Christine replied,“I thought it was pretty cool that it seems to pick up my brainwaves. At first I was frustrated at my mind being all over the place. But, it actually really worked for me over time by helping me take control of my own thoughts.”

Christine was so satisfied with her initial Muse experience that she later purchased, using a student discount, a headband through the university. After a few weeks of practice, she made Muse part of her daily routine. Once classes and day activities are over, Christine commits to at least 7 minutes of Muse meditation using the beach soundscape – her favorite. She believes the regularity of her practice has facilitated changes in her life and expressed enthusiastically,“I now notice when I feel myself get worked up, stressed out, or anxious… I just think okay… I will just think about what I do when I use Muse. I imitate that meditative state that I go into.. And now I find it’s easier to slip into that state and calm myself down.”

It’s like all of the bad feelings have been purged. I can think more clearly.”

The data is important to Christine. In the beginning she explained that her scores were variable, but over time they have been more consistent. Christine was asked if she uses Muse in moments of stress and anxiety and she responded, “Yes. Sometimes I use the Muse when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It’s like restarting or shutting off my brain and coming back refreshed. It’s like all of the bad feelings have been purged. I can think more clearly.”

In a different, but related study, researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Boynton Health Service surveyed 9,931 students at 14 different schools. They matched grade point averages with health problems related to stress and other factors. Of the 69.9 percent of students who reported they were stressed, 32.9 percent said that stress was hurting their academic performance.

Studies such as these are causing college campuses to provide more resources such as Muse, for example, to students to help with mindfulness based stress reduction and other stress coping programs. University of Western Ontario is one of them.  Christine shared how meditating with Muse can help university students, “If someone is struggling with academic or personal stress, they need to give it a try. At first I thought this isn’t working for me, but I wasn’t really using it everyday. After a few weeks, once I worked Muse into my regular routine, I started to really notice a difference.”

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Meditation with Muse Helps Jessica Cope With Anxiety Like Symptoms

“If you have unproductive worries,” says Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, “you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently. You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self.”

One of Dr. Hoge’s recent studies found that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program helped control anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder: a condition marked by excessive worrying, insomnia, and irritability.

Jessica, 31, a professional woman living in a North Carolina town influenced heavily by the local military base, was recommended Muse by her Psychiatrist, Thomas Mathew M.D., of the Trinity Wellness Center. Dr. Mathew takes an integrative approach to mental health and claims, “while I was intrigued by the idea that there were chemicals and electrical signals that formed the basis of our thoughts and feelings – I always felt that the change had to be more than just a prescription for a pill; it had to involve holistic and organic change in our thoughts and behaviors.”

Following a serious car accident years ago, symptoms of severe anxiety began to plague Jessica’s life. After 10 years of starting and stopping various prescription medications, Jessica took the advice of Dr. Mathew and began training her brain to have more positive thoughts. Jessica undertook 7 minutes of meditation per day for 101 consecutive days in order to help control her anxious thoughts.

Jessica committed to meditate daily at 8:05am. She started each day with a meditation at her desk before diving into work. Jessica described the first few days as a little awkward “because I was using technology to sense my brain and I, of course, never experienced that before!”.

“I’m now more aware of the words that want to come out of my mouth… I’m able to stop myself if it isnt going to be a good thought.”

Jessica wearing a Muse headband

Jessica wearing a Muse headband

When Jessica asked about any potential side effects. Dr. Mathew advised her that Muse would be, “as harmful as drinking water.”

After a few weeks of daily practice, Jessica shared, “I liked hitting the milestones. I like it because it’s like a game.” The milestones and challenges built into the Muse experience are designed to progress with you, at your own pace. Jessica knew that Muse was having a positive impact when she heard birds chirping in a simulated nature soundscape and felt like it was the result of a calm and focused moment. Birds chirping symbolize extended moments of calm during the Muse experience.

Jessica lives close to the ocean and finds the beach soundscape to provide more peaceful meditation experiences instead of the rainforest or city park options. Her best sessions occur while listening to headphones rather than speakers from her tablet or iPhone.

Jessica continues to practice with Muse daily, and has logged over 2,212 min and over 300 sessions to date. She describes the overall impact of Muse to her life now as, “there is a calmness, more times than not. It’s very calm. I’m now more aware of the words that want to come out of my mouth. I am able to stop myself sometimes if it isn’t going to be a good thought, or something worthwhile to say.”

Jessica

Jessica

Everyone experiences stress and some level of anxiety at some point in life. Dr. Hoge believes that mindfulness meditation makes perfect sense for treating anxiety. She explains, “People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power. You can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently.”

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Why Would Anyone Use Technology for Meditation?

An early brain sensing prototype.

I often get asked why someone would need an external tool for meditation. A brain sensing headband and smartphone seem out of place in a practice that’s supposed to be about doing less. Isn’t meditation something we do to simplify our lives and get away from technology?

“It takes motivation and effort to actually meditate regularly.”

Meditation is full of contradictions. On one hand, we’re taught that we’re perfect the way we are and that we should accept reality as it is. But on the other hand, the practice itself can feel like a lot of work. It takes motivation and effort to actually meditate regularly. Especially for beginners.

A Double-Edged Sword

Keeping a journal, documenting your meditations on a calendar, or using a tool like Muse can help you practice and reflect. But at the same time, you might end up looking back at these tools and feeling like you’re not good enough. Judging your performance like this is completely opposed to the core values of meditation.

At Muse, we are constantly researching people trying to start a new practice. What we’ve learned is that no matter what tools you use, a significant personal investment is always necessary. We’ve also learned that physiologically tracking your meditation using brain-sensing technology can successfully evoke motivation, curiosity and inspiration for many people in the modern world. For some people, the kind of support Muse provides makes a big difference.

“Making sure you don’t fall down the rabbit hole of self-judgment is critical to making this particular technique work.”

Making sure you don’t fall down the rabbit hole of self-judgment is critical to making this particular technique work. That’s why we work around the clock to find the balance between promoting a non-judgmental attitude and motivating habit formation.

Compassion for Today’s Beginners

Building meditation into a contemporary lifestyle can be surprisingly difficult. Muse is full of compassion for those having trouble sticking to a meditation habit. The intention is to develop secular, science-based “training wheels” for new meditators.

A compassionate act.

The fact is, we live in a goal-directed and achievement-driven society. I see bringing motivation into a meditation program as a compassionate act to help with the early stages. Muse is a gateway to meditation which acknowledges the world we live in.

If you already have an established practice, you may find yourself resistant or opposed to the idea. This is natural, as this technology doesn’t solve a problem for existing meditators. If you already meditate, it’s simply a curiosity to experiment with. But for those having trouble creating a strong daily meditation routine, it can be a wonderful ally in the hard work of building a practice from scratch.

“Muse is a gateway to meditation which acknowledges the world we live in.”

Technology or Technique?

Many teachers will tell you that everything is perfect as it is, and they’re right. But the wise ones will also point out that it takes effort to accept and be with that perfection in this moment. Muse is less of a new technology, and more of a new technique to help you put in that effort. If you’re one of the millions trying to get a meditation habit going, it’s worth considering how Muse might help.

“Many teachers will tell you that everything is perfect as it is, and they’re right. But the wise ones will also point out that it takes effort to accept and be with that perfection in this moment.”

Muse is not about attaining some miraculous state of enlightenment decades from now. It’s about helping you start a practice today. It’s about motivating yourself to create a sustainable daily routine. It’s about learning to habitually give yourself an opportunity to exist within the perfection of presence every single day.

Our intention is to encourage people to see the wisdom in a daily meditation routine focused on attention and awareness in the here and now. We started this journey with a belief that this technology might truly help people start meditating. Now we’re even more sure.

Jay Vidyarthy


Jay Vidyarthi is the User Experience Lead for Muse. He helped conceptualize Muse and has directed all UX research, design and validation processes since. Follow him on Twitter @jayvidyarthi.

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