There is an old Zen saying: “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour.” If you’re constantly checking notifications or crossing things off your to-do list, the science shows you probably need to start meditating… right now.
How often have you heard yourself lamenting, “there just aren’t enough hours in the day”, or “things have been so busy”? It’s not uncommon – the reality is that most of us find ourselves running from one task or place to the next, and then filling the gaps in between with distractions like scrolling through Instagram or watching Netflix.
The problem with this need to keep ourselves preoccupied at all times, is that it results in the opposite of ‘getting more done’ – being busy all the time makes the brain less efficient, less productive, and worsens overall performance. It also leaves little room for reflection and a break from routine, which is what makes life more meaningful.
Signs You Need to Meditate: The “busy” trap
Here’s the easiest, single question litmus test that will give you your answer: Do you have 5 minutes a day to meditate? If not, you need to meditate.
Being ‘too busy’ can often be just a reflection of priorities, and not a real reason to take some time for self-care. After all, if high achievers such as Tim Ferriss, Oprah Winfrey, Ray Dalio, and Ellen DeGeneres practice daily meditation, you can too.
Most people believe that although their schedules are jam-packed they are still in control of their life, and how they spend their time. In fact, you may not even be consciously aware of the extent to which keeping yourself busy controls your life. Below are some clear signs that you would stand to benefit from a meditation practice: (1)
Are you constantly checking your smartphone for notifications?
Do you feel guilty if you don’t have much work to do?
Is it difficult for you to relax or take vacation?
Is it difficult for you to sit in silence without external stimulation of any kind?
Do your days consist of going from one to-do list item to the next?
Do you find it difficult not to talk about work?
Do others consider you a workaholic?
If you found yourself nodding “yes” to one or more of those questions, you’re in dire need of a heavy dose of mindfulness.
The Benefits of Meditation
Given our fast-paced reality, it is perfectly normal to have one, if not all of the warning signs above resonate with you.
Just as exercise is necessary to train the body and fight against a sedentary lifestyle, so is mediation a necessary tool to train the mind and become more effective in fighting off distraction. Research has shown that the benefits of meditation do extend beyond the current moment, and improve these two areas in particular:
A study conducted by the Information School of Washington found that meditation improves memory and the ability to focus on the task at hand. (2) Whether that’s work, a sport, or a conversation with a friend, we all know that being able to give our full attention enhances the overall quality of the experience. The study also showed that people had lower levels of stress and less distraction.
As recently discussed in this article about brainwaves, meditation does allow us to train our brains to operate at slower frequency states. These brainwave-changing skills help deepen your ability to focus and control your attention – abilities that are key for athletic performance as well as work performance.
How To Meditate
Fortunately, you don’t need to visit an ashram in India, or hike to the top of a mountain to learn to meditate. The beauty of a meditation practice lies in its simplicity and ease of access.
One of the simplest forms of meditation for beginners is concentration meditation, where you have a single anchor, such as your breath, to use as a way to bring your wandering mind back from distractions. The idea is that once you start to practice what is known as attentional loops, you become increasingly more skillful at avoiding distracting thoughts and bringing your mind back into focus.
Here’s what to do:
Find a quiet and calming space at home where you will be undisturbed.
Sit on a mat or chair in a comfortable position. Avoid laying down as that may make you potentially fall asleep – this is all about focused attention!
Concentrate on a single point of focus – this could entail following your breath, staring at a candle flame or repeating a mantra such as ‘Om’.
Anytime you find your mind wandering, shift your attention back to the point of focus. Do not judge your mind for wandering, just become aware of the thought and then let it go.
Try this for as little as five minutes, and then gradually increase the duration. You can stick to five minutes, or go all the way up to one hour if you’d like! Practicing on a consistent basis is more important than duration.
Meditation Tips for Beginners
When you’re starting out, your mind is going to wander a lot. This is perfectly normal! The key a successful meditation practice is bringing the mind back from a wandering thought to the point of focus, as much as possible — reinforcing that attentional loop.
To help bring back your mind from wandering thoughts and to make your practice more effective, try some of the meditation tips below:
Try guided meditation. This helps provide structure for beginners and keeps the mind more focused. Use an app like Muse to guide you through meditation sessions that are as short as three minutes or up to an hour.
Listen to soothing sounds. It’s often much easier to quieten the mind if you’re listening to waves crashing on a beach or the sound of rain. With the Muse app, you can choose from carefully crafted meditation soundscapes such as the beach, rainforest, a city park, ambient music or a desert.
Get real-time feedback and take out the guesswork. Measure your brainwave activity during a meditation session with the brain sensing headband, Muse. Using sensors on the forehead, Muse can translate brain activity into guiding sounds. For example, let’s say that you select the soundscape ‘beach’ for your meditation sessions. If your thoughts are bouncing around, the waves will pick up, signalling you to shift your focus. Once your mind is calm, the waves will also become softer.
Lastly, the best advice for beginners is to just do – don’t get too caught up in the ‘how’. Try to commit to a few minutes every morning and check in with yourself after a month to really feel the difference.
Harvard Business Review. (2018). The Busyness Trap. [online] Available at: https://hbr.org/2011/05/the-busyness-trap [Accessed 5 Mar. 2018].
Levy, D., Wobbrock, J., Kaszniak, A. and Ostergren, M. (2012). The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment. Proceedings of Graphics Interface, [online] (2012). Available at: http://faculty.washington.edu/wobbrock/pubs/gi-12.02.pdf [Accessed 5 Mar. 2018].
Lustenberger, C., Boyle, M., Foulser, A., Mellin, J. and Fröhlich, F. (2015). Functional role of frontal alpha oscillations in creativity. Cortex, [online] 67, pp.74-82. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010945215001033 [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
We’ve all experienced that magical feeling of being hit with ‘a brainwave’. That moment of newfound clarity, shift in perspective or a novel idea. And typically, it seems to appear out of nowhere. In between sips of coffee, while out for a walk, or simply indulging your dog in a good belly rub.
While “a brainwave” can be a figure of speech to describe our thoughts, scientists and clinicians can use literal brainwaves, measured on the head, to help understand the functioning of the human brain. As it turns out, the key to having more of these ‘aha’ moments lies in understanding the science behind brainwaves. Neuroscientists have been studying brainwaves – the popular name for the field of electroencephalography – for nearly a century.
WHAT ARE BRAINWAVES?
The brain has billions of neurons, and each individual neuron connects (on average) to thousands of others. Communication happens between them through small electrical currents that travel along the neurons and throughout enormous networks of brain circuits. When all these neurons are activated they produce electrical pulses – visualize a wave rippling through the crowd at a sports arena – this synchronized electrical activity results in a “brainwave”.
When many neurons interact in this way at the same time, this activity is strong enough to be detected even outside the brain. By placing electrodes on the scalp, this activity can be amplified, analyzed, and visualized. This is electroencephalography, or EEG – a fancy word that just means electric brain graph. (Encephalon, the brain, is derived from the ancient Greek “enképhalos,” meaning within the head.)
One way that EEG ‘brainwaves’ convey information is in their rate of repetition. Some oscillations, measured on the scalp, occur at more than 30 cycles per second (and up to 100 cycles per second!) These cycles, also called frequencies, are measured as Hz, or hertz, after the scientist who proved the existence of electromagnetic waves.
When looked at this way, brainwaves come in five flavours, each of which corresponds to a Greek letter. As we’ll see, these different brainwaves correspond to different states of thought or experience. While there are many other ways to analyze brainwaves, many practitioners of a field called neurofeedback rely on dividing brain oscillations into these five categories.
Some of these brain oscillations are more easily detectable on specific parts of the scalp, corresponding to the parts of the brain just below. The brain has many specialized regions which correspond to different processes, thoughts, and sensations. Particular oscillations often reflect distinct regions and networks in the brain communicating with each other.
THE 5 MAIN TYPES OF BRAINWAVE FREQUENCIES
Different patterns of brainwaves can be recognized by their amplitudes and frequencies. Brainwaves can then be categorized based on their level of activity or frequency. It’s important to remember, though, that brainwaves are not the source or the cause of brain states, or of our experiences of our own minds – they’re just some of the detectable reflections of the complex processes in the brain that produce our experience of being, thinking, and perceiving.
Slow activity refers to a lower frequency and high amplitude (the distance between two peaks of a wave). These oscillations are often much larger in amplitude (wave depth). Think: low, the deep beat of a drum.
Fast activity refers to a higher frequency and often smaller amplitude. Think: high pitched flute.
Below are five often-described brainwaves, from fastest activity levels to slowest.
Gamma brainwaves are the fastest measurable EEG brainwaves, and have been equated to ‘heightened perception’, or a ‘peak mental state’ when there is simultaneous processing of information from different parts of the brain. Gamma brainwaves have been observed to be much stronger and more regularly observed in very long-term meditators including Buddhist Monks.
Frequency: 13-32 Hz
State: Alert, normal alert consciousness, active thinking
Solving a problem
Focusing on a task
Learning a new concept
Beta brainwaves are easiest to detect when we’re busy thinking actively.
Frequency: 8-13 Hz
State: Physically and mentally relaxed
Alpha brainwaves are some of the most easily observed and were the first to be discovered. They become detectable when the eyes are closed and the mind is relaxed. They can also often be found during activities such as:
According to Professor Jim Lagopoulos of Sydney University, “previous studies have shown that theta waves indicate deep relaxation and occur more frequently in highly experienced meditation practitioners. The source is probably frontal parts of the brain, which are associated with monitoring of other mental processes.”
Most frequently, theta brainwaves are strongly detectable when we’re dreaming in our sleep (think, the movie Inception), but they can also be seen during :
When we’re doing a task that is so automatic that the mind can disengage from it e.g. brushing teeth, showering. Research has also shown a positive association of theta waves with memory, creativity and psychological well-being. (5) (6)
Frequency: 0.5-4 Hz
State: Sleep, dreaming
These are the slowest of all brainwaves, and are strongest when we are enjoying restorative sleep in a dreamless state. This is also the state where healing and rejuvenation are stimulated, which is why it’s so crucial to get enough sleep each night.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR BRAINWAVES
Is it possible to change how much we experience these different brainwaves, and the brain states and thought experiences associated with them? In short, yes.
Conditioning and Neurofeedback
For decades, practitioners have engaged in training programs which are intended to reinforce the brain states which produce increases in certain brain oscillations, and decreases in others. The most common example of this, called neurofeedback, can utilize EEG or other brain sensing modalities.
Neurofeedback practitioners and clinicians find that immediate, direct feedback on brain states, whether in the form of sound, light, or even a video game, can produce changes in underlying behaviors and brain states that are reflected in brainwaves. This feedback seems to accelerate the learning process, by making brain states more apparent to the recipient.
Another important discovery in the recent history of neuroscience is the significant differences in brainwave characteristics of highly experienced meditators. Expert meditators not only have different resting-state brainwaves from non-meditators – they also seem able to control their brainwaves through voluntary thought control with greater ease than others.
So how do we start to improve our ability to control our brainwaves? These brainwave-changing skills can be learned. Meditation deepens your ability to focus and control your attention.
What Does Muse Do?
Using 7 finely calibrated sensors – 2 on the forehead, 2 behind the ears plus 3 reference sensors – Muse is a next-generation, state of the art EEG system that uses advanced algorithms to train beginner and intermediate meditators at controlling their focus. It teaches users how to manipulate their brain states and how to change the characteristics of their brains.
The Muse algorithm technology is more complex than traditional neurofeedback. In creating the Muse app, we started from these brainwaves and then spent years doing intensive research on higher-order combinations of primary, secondary and tertiary characteristics of raw EEG data and how they interact with focused-attention meditation.
Scientific American. (2018). What is the function of the various brainwaves?. [online] Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-function-of-t-1997-12-22/ [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
Lustenberger, C., Boyle, M., Foulser, A., Mellin, J. and Fröhlich, F. (2015). Functional role of frontal alpha oscillations in creativity. Cortex, [online] 67, pp.74-82. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010945215001033 [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
ScienceDaily. (2018). Alpha waves close your mind for distraction, but not continuously, research suggests. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121008134058.htm [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
Haarmann, H., George, T., Smaliy, A. and Dien, J. (2012). Remote Associates Test and Alpha Brain Waves. The Journal of Problem Solving, [online] 4(2). Available at: https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/jps/vol4/iss2/5/ [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
Buzsáki, G. (2002). Theta Oscillations in the Hippocampus. Neuron, [online] 33(3), pp.325-340. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S089662730200586X [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
White, N. (1999). Theories of the Effectiveness of Alpha-Theta Training for Multiple Disorders. Introduction to Quantitative EEG and Neurofeedback. pp 341-367. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780122437908500146 [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
Brainworksneurotherapy.com. (2018). What are Brainwaves? Types of Brain waves | EEG sensor and brain wave – UK. [online] Available at: http://www.brainworksneurotherapy.com/what-are-brainwaves [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
Marzbani, H., Marateb, H. R., & Mansourian, M. (2016). Neurofeedback: a comprehensive review on system design, methodology and clinical applications. Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, 7(2), 143-158. http://dx.doi.org/10.15412/J.BCN.03070208
Calomeni, Mauricio Rocha, et al. “Modulatory Effect of Association of Brain Stimulation by Light and Binaural Beats in Specific Brain Waves.” Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health, benthamopen.com/FULLTEXT/CPEMH-13-134.
After an amazing 2017 CES and with 2018 now in full swing, we wanted to let you know about *THREE* (yes, we’ve been busy) new updates that have been launched since January 2018. Along with several smaller bug fixes to improve the overall stability of the app the following updates have been launched:
iOS UPDATE 12.1: Log-in Issues Resolved
After our previous update, some of you were experiencing authentication issues at log-in.
These issues have been resolved so now everyone can log-in (and never miss a session!)
iOS UPDATE 12.2: Continued support for iOS 9 & iOS 10
Many of you with older iOS versions had asked for support, so we’ve ensured the app is compatible with both older iOS 9 & iOS 10.
iOS UPDATE 12.3: Fullscreen Support
Attention all iPhone X users: You can now enjoy your Muse App experience fullscreen with added iPhone X support.
…and don’t worry Android users we haven’t forgotten about you – we’ve recently completed updates 7.1 and 7.2 with bug-fixes and improvements as well. It’s important to note that we are constantly trying to improve your Muse App experience and take your feedback seriously – so KEEP IT COMING!
Are there other features you’d like to see in the future? Let us know!
Today’s fast-paced environment is hard to escape. At the end of a busy day or week, it may not seem like there’s a lot of time to spend undistracted and one-on-one with your partner. For example, does a typical evening with your partner look something like this: both of you coming home from a busy day only to quickly whip up some food and settle in on the couch with Instagram open in one hand and the remote in the other?
Mindfulness and Relationships
If you’re mentally nodding your head – mindfulness is a perfect way to connect and deepening the intimacy you have with your partner. Why? Because being more mindful = being more PRESENT.
“Mindfulness practices and meditation have recently become popular in therapeutic circles,” according to Julia Colwell, Ph.D., psychologist and author of The Relationship Skills Workbook. “With the support of data from neuropsychology about how impactful mindfulness practices are on changing the brain, therapists are encouraging their clients to meditate and to use other somatically focused practices.”
At its core, mindfulness is about accepting and paying attention to experiences moment to moment. These experiences could be anything from having sex or really hearing your partner’s side of an argument. The real key to being a mindful partner is being open to each experience with thoughtfulness and curiosity in order to notice your own feelings in a patient way. Being mindful also includes being nonjudgmental and gentle towards your experience and allowing yourself to let the experience exist exactly as it is without trying to force it to be different (Brantley & Millstine, 2008).
Improving Intimacy: The Mindfully In Love Study
Mindfully In Love: A meta-analysis was published in the February 2016 issue of the Journal of Human Sciences and Extension found that mindfulness can be linked to profoundly satisfying, connected relationships.
Researchers pooled 10 different studies, including two mindfulness intervention studies. and found that the relationship between mindfulness and relationship satisfaction was statistically significant with an overall effect size of .27. This finding suggests that higher levels of mindfulness are associated with higher levels of relationship satisfaction.
According to study insights, mindfulness has the ability to promote acceptance and less avoidant behaviours in romantic relationships (Kabat-Zinn, 1990; Wachs & Cordova, 2007). Think about the last time you didn’t clean out the dishwasher — even though you know that annoys your partner — and avoided being in the kitchen at the same time as them for the rest of the evening.
Now think about how NOT participating in avoidant behaviour such as that can help you be a more considerate and loving partner – and in turn lower the reactivity of your angry partner when they bring it up in an argument down the road.
Some research has also suggested that practicing mindfulness has positively influenced social connectedness (Deci & Ryan, 1991), social skills, and perspective taking (Schutte et al., 2001) and has inhibited negative reactivity during conflict (Baer, 2003).
Ultimately, practicing mindfulness helps relationships in 2 major ways:
It helps to improve your relationship with yourself and your emotions, allowing for less reactive and calmer responses during conflict.
It creates an improved ability to stay present and attentive when with your partner, allowing for more meaningful connection.
So, how do you get started?
A great place to start is simply having a conversation with your partner about how you want to be a more present partner. It can be beneficial for both of you to develop a practice, though you don’t need your partner to join you to benefit your relationship. Simply letting them know that this is something you want to put effort into lets them know you’re invested in putting effort into your relationship.
Starting a new meditation practice can be intimidating and because results are not always instantaneous, many people give up quickly. It’s important to note that, like any other habit, consistency is key but you don’t need an hour a day.
Our Muse Headband was specifically designed to make meditation easy for new users and you (and your partner!) can start with as little as 5 min a day. To learn more go HERE.
My 40-day journey into meditation with Muse (the brain-sensing headband)
This article has been republished with permission from Kal.ceo. This was originally published at Kal.ceo on July 1, 2015 and slightly updated on Jan 21, 2018. Some sections of the original article have been removed, however, you can view the full article HERE.
This is Kal’s personal experience and thoughts on Muse and meditation.
He states: “while I’ve done my best to take a process-based approach, I am not a scientist, doctor, or guru. I encourage you to do your homework and feel free to call me out on anything I may have missed or got wrong. This include grammar and speling mestakes!
In attempts to make things simple, I’ve divided the article into six sections. From the table of content below, you can easily click around and navigate from one to another at your pleasure.
Thanks for reading.”
About this article
What started out to be an exercise in self-improvement quickly became an obsession. After documenting my meditation sessions and showing a few close friends — one thing led to another — I found myself with this 7,000-word article. Alas, I’m super excited to finally launch and share with you my journey into meditation using Muse — the brain sensing headband. Included are highlights of noteworthy sessions, a ton of nerdy data, and related research I’ve gathered.
Highlights you can look forward to:
Meditation session while medicated on cannabis
An emotional breakdown
Discovering how theta-wave rhythms prompt epiphanies
Table of contents:
About Muse and the brain – What do electric eels have to do with EEG
Observations and insights – What I’ve learned about meditation and me…
Noteworthy sessions – Interesting stories,highlights, and epic failures
The data – Nerds and Geeks, I present to you: sexy graphs and charts
Approach and process – My attempt at being an amateur scientist
Epilogue – My journey into meditation
“Muse [by Interaxon] is the first tool in the world that can give you accurate, real-time feedback on what’s happening in your brain when you meditate. It provides motivational challenges and rewards to encourage you to build a regular practice.”
7 sensors to read delta, theta, alpha, beta and gamma waves
Wraps comfortably around the forehead and above the ears
Super simple to use: turn it on, connect device to app via Bluetooth, put on the headband, and begin
Headphones/earbuds optional but highly recommended
Pre-session questions ensure device is properly calibrated
During session, app delivers real-time feedback via audio
Brain activity is recorded and displayed in-app, via line-graph format
The Muse app (for both iOS and Android) visualizes your brain activity, specifically how calm or active your mind is. Gamification (challenges, badges, and awards) keeps you coming back.
Real-time audio feedback
The app delivers audio feedback based on brain activity. When very calm, ambience noise is silenced while birds are heard chirping and landing within the vicinity. Depending on brain activity, sounds of light rain to heavy rain and thunder can be heard — no birds chirping.
At the time of writing this, you can choose between two settings: rain in a forest, or waves by an ocean shore. (Update: there are now five distinctive soundscapes.)
Research and usage
Over 75 different research institutions are currently using Muse.
“Studies have shown 10 one-hour sessions with a neurofeedback-based EEG system can be as effective as Ritalin in terms of treating ADD, with those effects persisting for six months. With a headband like the Muse, it’s totally possible to deliver a drug-free treatment for ADD. That’s the kind of thing that we’re really excited about looking at and working in as we go forward,”
– Trevor Coleman, Muse co-founder
For more research information on Muse, you can visit the research section HERE.
Brain science primer
A few definitions:
Electroencephalography (EEG) is typically a non-invasive (however invasive electrodes are often used in specific applications) method to record electrical activity of the brain along the scalp. EEG measures voltage fluctuations resulting from ionic currents within the neurons of the brain.
EEG Biofeedback is a learning strategy that enables persons to alter their brain waves. When information about a person’s own brainwave characteristics is made available to him, he can learn to change them. You can think of it as exercise for the brain.
Neurofeedback-therapy (NFT), offers an additional treatment option for people with eating disorders, addictions, mood disorders, anxiety and attention deficit disorder.
46AD: Scribonius Largus uses two electric eels caught from the Mediterranean Sea against Emperor Claudius’ head to relieve savage migraines. This is the first recorded instance of electrical stimulation being used as a medical treatment.
1798: Sir Alexander Crichton discusses hyperactivity and mental restlessness in his book “An inquiry into the nature and origin of mental derangement”.
1902: George Still describes ADHD for the first time.
1924: German psychiatrist Hans Berger connects electrodes (small round discs of metal) to a patient’s scalp and detects current by using a ballistic galvanometer (a medical device, not a Transformer).
1932: G Ditch becomes the first researcher into QEEG (Quantitative EEG).
1968: Joe Kamiya popularizes neurofeedback in an article for Psychology Today about alpha brain wave experiments.
1970: Doctor Robert White performs the first head transplant from one monkey to another.
1977: More public awareness on the subject thanks to books like Stress and the Art of Biofeedback, written by Barbara Brown, Research Psychologist.
80–90s: Neurofeedback is being applied to a wide variety of psychological and central nervous system based conditions, including ADD/ADHD.
Neurofeedback is used for peak performance by professional sports teams, Olympic athletes, and business people. It is commonly used as a non-drug solution for ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and emotional conditions of all sorts.
Neuromarketing emerges, aimed at making better marketing decisions based on neuroscience.
Neuroethics is becoming increasingly important in the field of brain science.
Consumers can now buy DIY kits that electrically stimulate the brain to help with depression, anxiety, and a host of other mental ailments
Similar to Star Trek’s Borg, scientists connect three monkey brains together to create a ‘brain-net’. The brain-net is able to solve complex problems that the monkeys cannot solve individually.
Doctors like Adam Gazzaley and Jane McGonigal research and create brain games to assist in a variety of areas from strengthening cognition to overcoming trauma.
Correlation vs causation
Do peak performers eventually find meditation and attempt to reap its rewards? Or does meditation help achieve peak performance? Between the anecdotal testimonies of peak performers like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Richard Branson in combination with scientific research, the benefits of meditation is solid.
More than just spirituality
For some, meditation is a way to connect to the universe, or perhaps a higher Being. More recently the scientific community has acknowledged that there’s more to the practice than connecting with God.
“There is nothing spooky or irrational about mindfulness, and the literature on its psychological benefits is now substantial.” 
– Sam Harris, Neuroscientist, Philosopher
Increases mindfulness while decreasing the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts
Improves concentration and attention
Helps relieve depression and anxiety
Helps break addictions
Helps preserve the ageing brain
May even lead to volume changes in key areas of the brain
The practice of meditation has been around as early as 2600 BC.“Some authors have even suggested the hypothesis that the emergence of the capacity for focused attention, an element of many methods of meditation, may have contributed to the final phases of human biological evolution.”Woah.
“Upgrade your grey matter,
Cause one day it may matter.”
– Dan the Automator
Before, during, and after
Alcohol in small amounts is not as bad as I thought, no real impact on my Muse Calm Score (CS)
Lack of sleep, hunger, and pre-meditation emotions impact CS
Cannabis leads to lower CS the next day
Random memories forgotten seem to surface without purpose
Session is over fast when calm, seems to never end when distressed (more on this later)
Spikes of brain activity is produced by epiphanies and REM (more on this later)
Epiphanies and answers to tough questions surface out of nowhere
Self-awareness and awareness of environment and others heightened throughout the day
Better decisions throughout the day
Increased peacefulness, and general happiness throughout the day
Referring to the audio feedback from the app, my partner Lannie asked,“How does the feedback loop affect your meditations?” My thoughts below:
Life is a feedback loop. We’re often aware that we are being observed. It’s important to accept that we cannot avoid either the noise of life and observation (judgement) from others.
I like the feedback. It notifies me when I stray.
At first, I was affected by the audio, and thus a feedback-loop was experienced. Eventually, I got much better at not letting the feedback affect me, sometimes forgetting it’s there.
The science of observation: Only once observed, does matter change its behaviour from waves to particles. If matter changes on the atomic level — you better believe we do too. Check out wave-particle duality or the double-split experiment. (video)
Two types of calm
The Muse app differentiates between three levels of brain activity: calm, neutral, and active. However, the line-graphs can tell a very different story. There’s ‘calm’ and then there is ‘…I’m in Nirvana calm’.
Left: A pretty calm state. Right: That time I touched God.
Brain activity can fluctuate quite a bit, even within the calm band, sometimes coming close to or slightly into neutral. Typically, this is the case. Nirvana-calm is when brain activity is extremely close or touching the zero-line, and remains there for seconds to minutes at a time.
Such an example of this can be found under ‘Noteworthy sessions // Absolute bliss’.
Early morning meditation sessions between 4 and 5 am became my favourite. In fact, they account for 48% of my sessions. This is when I experience the most peace, silence, and stillness.
My morning routine:
Wake up at 4 am
Drink half to a full cup of Bulletproof Coffee (BPC)
Surprisingly, being awake and alert yields higher CS. While alert, I am able to easily bring my attention back to breathing. This is more evident during my early morning routines after drinking a cup of BPC.
One would think being tired results in less brain activity; I’ve experienced the opposite. Fatigue and exhaustion always result in low CS. Exhaustion creates an alarming amount of head-noise which is very difficult to overcome. Imagine a dozen broken records playing the same time. Exhaustion reminds me of a computer left on for too long, running unnecessary processes in the background, burning itself out. Similar to a computer, the brain needs to shut down and cool off.
There is a temporary solution to exhaustion: stretching and yoga.
Stretching and light yoga
After a few minutes of stretching, yoga, focused breathing, and a bit of kung fu to channel my energies, my CS generally improves, sometimes dramatically. I’ve also noticed my posture naturally improves, allowing for better breathing.
Brain scans of yoga practitioners reveal that yoga produces a decrease in anxiety and a boost in a brain chemical that enhances our mood.
“Yogic practices can be used as psycho-physiologic stimuli to increase endogenous secretion of melatonin, which, in turn, might be responsible for an improved sense of well-being.” 
– Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Mindset and intention
Similar to physical preparation, mental preparation is important before meditation as well. Some call this mental preparation ‘setting intentions’.
Fluster and frustration: Typically from too much going on, the noise seems impossible to silence resulting in lower CS.
Anticipation and retrospection: The anticipation of a future event will create an active mind. Similarly, retrospection creates mental noise. A quote comes to mind:
If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present”
– Lao Tzu
Desire for “high-score”: Typically a noisy session, the desire to achieve a high CS results in the opposite.
Anger: Interestingly, anger is not nearly as bad as being annoyed, sad, or exhausted. My hypothesis is that anger turns off my ‘thinking brain’ allowing me to more easily tune out thoughts. Also, the high energy makes me alert, able to better observe my breathing. Thanks Ben Morgan for the additional thought on this.
For pleasure: Highest CS is achieved when I genuinely want to meditate, and not for any other ulterior motive.
“If you meditate for an ulterior motive, that is to say, to improve your mind, to improve your character, to be more efficient in life, you’ve got your eye on the future and you are not meditating. Because the future is a concept. It doesn’t exist.”
– Alan Watts (1915–1973)
Observing vs committing
Through meditation, I have witnessed the crazy amount of random and unprovoked thoughts that enter my mind throughout the day. Attempting to suppress them only strengthens them. The key is to observe and let the thoughts pass. In my best meditation sessions, I am able to observe without judgement, interference, or commitment.
“Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.”
– Eckhart Tolle
Do vs try
When I try to meditate or focus on my breathing, my brain activity is high, and my CS low. There is a mysterious area between wanting and doing — difficult to describe — that produces great results. By not trying to focus on my breathing, but rather, becoming one with my breath, I am able to experience more peace. When I am able to do this, nothing else exists. Not I, not my surroundings, just my breath.
Only a few times did I experience this extraordinary feeling.
Attention vs interest
The attempt to ‘pay attention’ or ‘focus’ can actually increase brain activity. By simply changing the word ‘attention’ to ‘interest’ makes a huge difference. The continued mantra of being ‘interested’ allows me to enjoy, indulge, and lose myself to the serene and beautiful rhythms of breathing.
“Interest creates flow, flow prompts a feeling of joy. It’s easy to be interested, while difficult (and goal-oriented) to pay attention or to ‘focus’.”– Someone
Unlike attention and focus, interest is pleasurable and without a future objective. I believe this was key.
This idea may be a bit strange, but it works. Language allows one to describe, label, and provide commentary. Disconnecting from language allows me to observe and be aware of my thoughts without being consumed by them.
This is an idea I came up with that seems to work for me, but I have not found any literature on this subject in my research.
Time is an illusion
We’ve all experienced the intangible inconsistency of time. This feeling is amplified during meditation. During my most blissful sessions, time seems to stand still, and paradoxically the session is over in mere moments. The opposite is true when my mind is flustered, frustrated, and noisy. Time seems to move fast at a thousand thoughts per minute, while the session just never seems to end.
“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time — past and future — the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”
– Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
Anger, and the 24-hour rule
I’ve been collecting data on my emotions and moods for quite some time — even before starting my meditation practice. One of my goals for 2015 was to dramatically reduce the number of times I experience anger. (I’m a passionate person.)
The raw data that I collected through the Muse headband has helped me see how anger affects my brain, even days after. This has prompted a new life-hack practice in which I (do my best to) give no power to my anger. I don’t deny it, but I don’t take it seriously. I find that postponing my thoughts on the subject for 12–24 hours almost always gives me a new perspective. A better perspective. The initial feeling of anger simply evaporates without effort.
Suffice to say,
Meditation has helped me better protect myself from mental noise and chatter. Increased self-awareness has brought a much-needed perspective and has enhanced strategic decision making tenfold. I can better see the cascading effects of each thought, and decision. My creativity has skyrocketed. My ideas are better, and they come more frequently. My mental output and stamina have also increased. Not to mention, my confidence is stronger, and more stable. I’m less prone to breaking from an unforeseen obstacle or failure.
You can bet that ninety-nine 12-minute sessions yielded some very interesting data for this noobie. Below are my favourite sessions. Some great, some horrible.
71 // 2015–05–29 Fri 2314hrs 78%
71 // = session number
2015–06–23 = date
Tue = day of week
0457 hrs = time of day
95% = calm score
Spikes: Epiphanies and Ideas
What an epiphany looks like
02 // 2015–05–24 Sun 1028hrs 93%
On Thursday, May 24th, I was consumed by a business challenge. I avoided thinking about it all weekend with no success. Anxiously, thoughts kept popping up in my brain like a broken record — until I turned to meditation. “Scientists have noted that these slower (theta) brain wave patterns are accompanied by deep tranquility, [and] flashes of creative insight.”
See the huge spike  10 minutes in? Voila! That was an epiphany to my big challenge I tried so hard not to think about it.
Waves of ideas
53 // 2015–06–17 Wed 2241hrs 84%
Have you ever surfed the waves of the Northern Pacific Ocean off the coast of Honolulu? Neither have I, but I doubt it’s as amazing as this session. Check out the spikes representing waves of ideas.
Partying, before and after
A night of partying hard negatively affects my brain the next day. Interestingly, my mind is also pretty noisy before an event. The mere anticipation of partying gets me stirred-up and wild.
Golden State vs Cavaliers
25 // 2015–06–04 Thu 2358hrs 22%
About to party
Excited to go out, my mind is anticipating some good times.
83 // 2015–06–27 Sat 2130hrs 57%
Awake for 24 hours
Can’t find calm when you’ve partied so hard the night before…
59 // 2015–06–20 Sat 1417hrs 39%
Hungry, tired, sleepy, exhausted, and doing it for all the wrong reasons. The following three sessions were amongst my most dreaded sessions. While 60% (07) and 71% (89) are not my lowest, these sessions felt like torture.
Wanted to achieve greatness, but afraid to let go.
07 // 2015–05–27 2258hrs Wed 60%
Starving and exhausted
Pushed myself too hard. Could hardly get through this session.
17 // 2015–06–01 1210hrs Mon 09%
More on this below in “Day 38: The worst and best day”
89 // 2015–06–29 0502hrs Mon 71%
Upset the night before
They say going to sleep upset or distressed is something you should avoid — and for the most part, I do. That being said, the following two sessions represent the morning after an upsetting evening. Quite low compared to my early morning average of 87.5%.
Moral: Don’t go to bed upset.
While I stayed calm during the actual conflict (the night prior), it clearly affected me more than I originally had thought.
39 // 2015–06–12 0438hrs Fri 57%
Upset with the wifey
Why do I ever challenge the wisdom of “Happy wife, happy life”? Because I’m a man, and I’m always wrong.
87 // 2015–06–29 0431hrs Mon 68%
Day 38: The worst and best day
Anxiety and defeat
87 // 2015–06–29 0431hrs Mon 68%
88 // 2015–06–29 0446hrs Mon 82%
89 // 2015–06–29 0502hrs Mon 71%
Started a bit rough, only to get worse. Below are my notes from that day, session 89.
“At this point — I am completely defeated. I can’t seem to get a grip. I can’t seem to calm my nerves, quiet my mind, and relax. At the end of this session, I find myself wallowing in misery. My head in my hands, wondering, ‘what just happened?’. I was so confident. I thought I had mastered my mind. Now I’m just scared. Scared shitless that I’ll never master my mind, and that this is the beginning of it getting worse.
Thoughts of work. Inadequacies as a father. You name it — I was thinking it. My mind spiralling out of control. The irony. Just last night I was studying body language, and how it affects our hormonal state, and thus, our mind.”
I went to bed upset. I awoke with the pain bodies still remaining from the night prior. For a moment, everything that I had learned up to this point about meditation and my mind, seemed to have vanished. I felt lost, and just a few days before the end of my 40-day journey. I thought to myself, “What am I going to write about now?”
90 // 2015–06–29 Mon 0543hrs 93%
I knew that my anguish was all in my head, literally. Remembering how one’s physiology affects the mind, I went for a walk, followed by stretching and yoga in the park, and a decision not to care. I thought to myself, “If I meditate, it’s for me, and not because I’m writing an article. Just, plain ol’ beautiful me.” Arriving back home, I did one more session.
Leading up to bliss
Later that evening…
First session yielded 67%. Totally okay with that. Second session: 92% of bliss. Don’t know if it was a coincidence, or linked to my morning breakdown, but session 92 was amazing.
91 // 2015–06–29 Mon 2015hrs 67%
92 // 2015–06–29 Mon 2032hrs 91%
A description of this session is below in “Absolute bliss // 2nd place: Amazing day 38”.
Honourable mention: I did it for me
80 // 2015–06–26 Fri 0459hrs 96%
This session is amongst my greatest. I didn’t care about the score, or this article. Pure and selfish — simply for the sake of meditation. I wanted to lose myself in my breathing, and I did. It was wonderful. I was in flow.
 Random thought about websites updates,  Drifted off thinking about time and space.
3rd Place: 11.9 minutes of absolute bliss
32 // 2015–06–09 Tue 0424hrs 99%
This was an absolute amazing session. But how I achieved 99% calm — I have no idea. I have yet to achieve such a blissful state.
2nd place: Amazing day 38
92 // 2015–06–29 2032hrs Mon 91%
This session was by far the weirdest. Unlike every session before and after, my breathing did not become softer and slower, but the opposite. Every breath seemed to get deeper and faster. At one point, I was taking in way more oxygen than I was exhaling CO2. My chest expanded upwards, and my posture with it. I was in a rhythmic state, unable to slow myself down.
Oh those orange and red chakras!
I’ve collected quite a bit of data, including session time, day, and what I did the night before. I documented this data in two places: an Adobe Illustrator file with notes accompanying each graph, as well as a Google Spreadsheet capturing all the statistical data.
Below is a summary of the data collected, and detailed in a Google Spreadsheet (enclosed below).
“LS” only takes the last session of a meditation event into account. More on this below.
I started meditating to increase the quality of life. Documenting and measuring myself is something I enjoy, and do a lot of. The idea of writing an article came after many friends showed interest in learning more about my journey into meditation using Muse.
At first, I thought thirty days was adequate time to provide enough data to yield insight. I later extended this to 40 days. The additional ten days turned out to be a great decision as I had some very interesting experiences in the last ten days. You can read about it in Noteworthy Sessions.
Calm score (CS)
A CS is a score the app gives you. The higher the CS, the better you were able to focus on your breath and not be consumed by your mind’s chatter.
A meditation event is one or more consecutive sessions.
All sessions (AS) vs last sessions (LS)
AS refers to data from all sessions, while LS only takes the last session of a meditation event into account.
I believe LS is a more accurate representation of my mind-state, which is the end of a meditation event. I consider previous sessions as warm-ups. Of course, AS data is included.
Constants vs variable
There were factors that I felt were important to keep constant, while some I allowed to vary. Below is a list:
At least one session per day
Sessions in a quiet place
Technology: Device: iPhone 5, Volume level: 50%, Audio option: Rain in Forest, Headphones: Sony earbuds
Number of sessions per day
Pre-session stretching and light yoga
Positions, places and attire
The majority of my meditation events were in my office, sitting on an office chair, feet up on another chair. I later decided to keep my feet flat on the ground as a standard, considering I won’t always have the opportunity to put them up.
Some meditation events were in bed, typically evening and midday sessions (I often work from home), a few in my minivan, a couple in my son’s bedroom, and one on the balcony. I’d typically wear simple and loose clothing, like loose jeans and a hoodie or pajama pants and a Tee.
Diet, exercise, sleep, and partying
I typically ate a slow-carb diet.
Aside from light stretching, I stopped exercising or going to the gym. I’m in the middle of a weird body experiment. A whole post is needed to explain this decision.
Because I was waking up quite early (4am), I’d usually take one to two naps throughout the day. Naps were typically between 15 to 60 minutes, depending on how many hours I slept the night prior.
I drank occasionally and medicated using cannabis a few times.
I didn’t stop partying, just partied less. I believe regular meditation suppressed my desire to party as I became more interested in other creative pursuits.
I did a few meditation sessions prior to starting my 40-day journey. I went through ten 10-minute guided meditation sessions using the Headspace app. I also clocked in several sessions using Muse. Those sessions are:
2015–05–16 0922hrs Sat 82% 03 mins
2015–05–17 1157hrs Sun 54% 03 mins
2015–05–19 0922hrs Tue 87% 05 mins
2015–05–20 0638hrs Wed 79% 05 mins
2015–05–21 0707hrs Thu 65% 07 mins
Screen-captured the line-graph using iPhone’s built-in screen capture.
Ported over the image(s) onto my MacBook Pro.
Placed images in Adobe Illustrator (each session in its own layer).
Within Illustrator, made reference points, lines, and notes.
Any points of the brain scan I felt were worthy would be highlighted.
Added data from each session to Google Spreadsheet. Data included:
Calm, neutral and active states
Date and time
Day number, session number
My first proper introduction to the benefits meditation and prayer was in 2003 when I found a stack of National Geographic magazines. It’s at this point I learned that meditation strengthens the pre-frontal cortex; the area of the brain that regulates feelings of peace and happiness. Suffice to say, I’ve known of the benefits of meditation for years, but never really started.
Fast forward more than a decade, I’ve been meditating daily for the last 90 days, clocking in over 38 hours. I can’t imagine my life without it. I only wish I started sooner. A quote comes to mind:
“To know and not to do is really not to know.”
– Stephen R Covey
It was a beautiful sunny day in Napa. I was attending Mastermind Talks. Answering questions from stage was Tim Ferriss.“What would you change about your past?” Asked a member of the audience. After a long pause, he replied “Starting meditation sooner”. Hearing how he started and stopped but never really committed, was an experience I could relate to. Hearing how much it made him super-human, was something I could not. It was at this point that I said to myself, ‘enough is enough; no more excuses,’ and made the decision to take meditation seriously.
Later that evening I was surprised to find that I won a Muse headband. The universe works in mysterious ways.
Meditation + technology = game changer
Whether you consider yourself a high-achiever, an elite performer, or perhaps someone struggling with adversity and trying to find happiness — regular meditation should be part of your formula for success. Simply, meditation is good for your brain.
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”
At no other time in history has brain (and other areas of our mind and body) sensing technology been accessible and affordable to the consumer. If you want to make leaps and bounds in your life: upgrade your brain by meditating. And it starts with measuring it
What started out as a simple data capturing experiment turned out to be a rather big mountain. I couldn’t have done it without the help of a bunch of people, included but not limited to my awesome wife and partner Lannie Le, Alkarim Nasser, Sami Sadaghiani, Sarah Eskandarpour, Richard Lazazzera, the peeps at InteraXon. And of course, Tim Ferriss.
. Nirvana is a place of perfect peace and happiness, like heaven. In Hinduism and Buddhism, nirvana is the highest state that someone can attain, a state of enlightenment, meaning a person’s individual desires and suffering go away. Vocabulary.com/dictionary/nirvana
. Only one day was missed (Saturday, June 6th).
. This was not always possible. While ambient noise was fine, abrupt noise and background conversations impacted session.
. 7/16 – 8/16 (50%) bars depending on level ambient sounds. If the volume was too loud, it would be distracting. If too low, getting adequate feedback was difficult.
. When possible, I would wear comfortable clothing.
. I should have made this a constant, but I simply forgot at times. When I did prepare to meditate with the proper intent (peace and calm vs I’m collecting data for an article) I’d achieve much greater results.
. My inlaws were visiting from Vietnam, so there was no avoiding traditional rice or noodle dishes at times.
. Interestingly, after my first week I really lost interest in both alcohol and medicating using cannabis. Not sure if it was the meditation or the combination of better choices, including slow carb diet.