History of Meditation – Part 1 – When did meditation begin?

No one really knows how old meditation is or who created it. One of the biggest challenges of dating meditation can be accredited to it being handed down from person to person, similar to storytelling. Fortunately, meditation’s widespread acceptance and inclusion in numerous religions provide us with a trail of breadcrumbs that can help us trace back its roots.

One of the earliest images of meditation c1630
One of the earliest images of meditation c1630

There’s speculation that the first civilization to meditate was our prehistoric ancestors. Theorists suspect that the original hunters and gatherers would show their appreciation to the gods through offerings and rhythmic chants. These chants are said to be the earliest form of mantras. Throughout history, mantras have been used as vehicles of meditation, used to clear the mind of all distractions. Its constant repetition evolves into a self-belief, becoming a truth within your consciousness and subconsciousness. You have probably seen a representation of the popular mantra OM, a vocalization of the sound of the universe. Another theory suggests hunters and gatherers would even enter trance-like states. It is believed the trances may have been induced by prolonged time spent in dark caves and staring at bright fires.

A more popular opinion believes the earliest form of meditation, an iteration similar to the one we are familiar with, can date back to anywhere between 5000 – 3500 BCE. While searching the Indus Valley, an area that was situated in what we know as Pakistan and northwest India, archaeologists discovered wall art depicting some of the first meditators. Figures were found depicted in different positions with their eyes closed. Meditation among these inhabitants isn’t hard to believe considering this civilization has been compared to Sumer; a notable, well-developed culture of the past.

Hundreds of years later, spanning somewhere between 600 – 500 BCE, we begin to see the formation of Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism. These three cultures would develop intertwining forms of meditation which would eventually differ in philosophy. Buddhism’s meditation wanted to come to an understanding of interrelatedness between all things. Taoism concerned itself with wielding one’s internal energy. Hinduism remained as it always had, to bring its followers closer to divine beings. These movements also acted as precursors to two of the most prolific meditation texts: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita. This early example of meditation’s evolution would demonstrate the practice’s flexibility in purpose, which would be seen throughout its lifespan.

This is the first part in Muse’s “History of Meditation” series. Follow the 3-part series in the upcoming weeks.

What is Yoga – Demystifying the Practice.

Yoga is most associated with a series of impossible bends and twists that may scare away newcomers. However, this is a common misconception. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Yoga invites practitioners to be “steady and comfortable”, welcoming crowds of any skill level. Even the most classic text regarded as the guide to yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras has no mention of tying yourself into a pretzel. According to the Patanjali, yoga is “the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness”. This law of mindfulness is just the beginning of yoga’s intertwining relationship with meditation. Engaging in both practices have the benefits of improved stress management, a boost in emotional integrity, and enabling a better diet.

Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar, Uttarakhand

As with all forms of knowledge, the Yoga Sutras were passed down for generations, traced back to an ancient educator, Patanjali. Outside of his notable guide, not much is known about Patanjali. It’s said that he lived sometime during the second century where he drafted many papers on different scientific claims. The Yoga Sutras described an “eight-limbed path”, that details the necessary steps to enlightenment. This would become the first codified yoga routine. Its philosophy of peace and detachment would become the basis of other yoga forms to come.

International Yoga Day in New Delhi India
International Yoga Day 2015 in New Delhi, India

A popular form that the western world has attached itself to is Hatha Yoga. Hatha is the umbrella term that is home to any form of physical yoga that involves asanas (postures). Hatha is a combination of the words “ha” and “tha”, meaning sun and moon respectively. The goal is to create balance, as if connecting the sun and moon, to create alignment within the body, leaving you limber and relaxed. Other common types of Hatha Yoga include Asthanga, Iyengar, Bikram and it’s warm equivalent of Hot Yoga. Regular practice of yoga can result in better posture, lower blood pressure, and stimulates bone health. A quick Google search of “Yoga” or “Yoga studios” will help you find groups and organizations in your area that practice this form of meditation. Yoga is an inexpensive form of exercise that one can do by themselves or within a group and with its many benefits, is definitely worth a try.

June 21st, 2013 in Times Square, New York City

June 21st is International Yoga Day. For more information click here.

The Road to Recovery – Meditation and Muse

Tragically, after unfortunate accidents, survivors find it hard to return to their normal lives.  This is not necessarily the case for David Todd.  A fighter at heart, 27-year-old David was involved in a near fatal motor vehicle accident in 2010, leaving him with a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic amnesia (PTA).  Initially unable to move, speak, or breathe on his own, doctors said he may never wake from his coma.  However, he did wake, and for the past six years, David and his rehabilitation team, including his employment rehabilitation counselor, Jo Muirhead, have developed strategies and devised treatment methods that would aid him in defying the odds and allow David to return to employment, driving and a feeling of independence.

David Todd
David Todd

On January 8th of 2010, in his hometown of Sydney, Australia, David was on his way to work when he lost control of his vehicle, resulting in his car crashing into a telephone pole.  Fortunately, residents in the area alerted medical services and David was air-lifted to Royal North Shore Hospital.  There, his family received news that David may not wake up, and that if he did, he wouldn’t be the same. Since then, David has relearned how to walk and speak as well as achieving his two goals of returning to work and driving a car.

Jo Muirhead from Purple Co

David found that meditation was an effective tool in managing some of the challenges he faces with living with a TBI.  David’s counsellor, Jo Muirhead, recommended the use of the Muse to assist with calming and meditation.  David has been using the Muse for about twelve months and finds it to be a very helpful and efficient device, which assists him in managing his frustration and anger related behaviors.

Jo Muirhead is the founder of Purple Co, a company dedicated to helping people return to work following injury, illness or trauma.  She has a background in rehabilitation counselling and her expertise comes from her own experience in navigating through different career streams for over 20 years.  Jo is a member of the Australian Society of Rehabilitation Counsellors as well as the Career Development Association of Australia.  

Every six weeks David and Jo would meet with other members of David’s rehabilitation team to brainstorm and manage David’s TBI challenges within the workplace and in social settings outside of work.  The Muse was included as an extra activity to assist with improved mood, improvement to agitation, focus and concentration, and to assist with meeting some of David’s behavioral challenges.  David continues to find success in Muse therapy where traditional meditative or calming strategies have failed.  David and Jo can attest that Muse doesn’t feel repetitive, especially when you receive different feedback after every session. 

“Muse keeps saying ‘Congratulations, you’ve made another day in a row’. It’s really motivating to to get that positive reinforcement”, explained Jo Muirhead.

After the accident David found himself battling bouts of anger and was regularly frustrated before he started with Muse. He tried forms of meditation before but none were as effective as Muse’s real time brain feedback during each exercise. David’s favorite metric is “The birds”.  Birds can be heard via the Muse app during a session once the mind is calm. This is just another reason to return to the app and see how the next session compares.  David uses Muse up to three times a day and has amassed a 137-day streak of meditation.  His daily exercise has paid off, resulting in David becoming more aware of himself and better able to control his emotions.  Jo informed us of David’s developing ability to notice social cues in conversations.  He has previously struggled with understanding appropriate times to speak and when to end conversations.  His astonishing progress is thanks to his hard work, a great rehabilitation process, and a helpful team consisting of his therapists, family and Jo. “After Muse, I just calm down”.  David admits, “Rehab is going to end eventually.  It will finally be over one day”.

“The Muse has actually given us a way of de-emotionalizing what’s going on with David and put that energy out to something quite tangible”, reasoned Jo Muirhead.

Jo Muirhead and Purple Co. has ‘a purpose for people’, as their tagline suggests. They hold workshopsprovide information on their blog, and offer many services.  For more information, visit: Purple Co.

David Todd and his dog
David Todd and his dog


Meditation and Depression

Depression can be a crippling disease.  According to the World Health Organization an estimated 350 million people worldwide may be affected.  Even more astonishing and disheartening is that roughly 800,000 people will lose their lives every year as a result of the mood disorder and the majority will be teens and young adults.  What makes the fight against depression so challenging is that less than half of the people affected will seek help and in some countries this number can fall to less than 10%.  Difficulties in diagnosis, lack of resources, and the social stigma associated with mental disorders amongst other reasons are to blame for lack of treatment.  In many cases, due to the difficulty in diagnosing symptoms, sufferers are turned away and non-sufferers are prescribed antidepressants.  In the US alone 6.7% of people / roughly 11 million are affected and the majority of those are women.

meditation and depression

One should never underestimate the seriousness of the potential onset of depression and should always consult their doctor when symptoms arise. A clinician can discuss numerous treatments ranging from pharmacological through to more holistic and naturopathic lifestyle changes and remedies.

Much has been made of the impact that meditation may have on, not only the brain, but also the way that it affects mood and response to certain environments and stimuli.  According to one study mindfulness meditation can actually alter the structure and physiological health of the brain and increase gray matter.  This “rewiring” may also be responsible for the way that meditation can affect depression and depression-like symptoms and moods.   For example in one study at a secondary school in Belgium students who practiced a program involving mindfulness reported a lower incidence of depression, anxiety and stress for up to six months later. What’s even more profound, the subjects were “less likely to develop pronounced depression-like symptoms.”  The positive effects of mindfulness are not limited to adolescents.  Moms-to-be also reported, according to a University of Michigan study, a lowered prevalence of depressive symptoms after practicing mindfulness for 10 weeks.  Another mindfulness meditation study from the The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine suggested that “the results support the safety and potential efficacy of meditative practices for treating certain illnesses, particularly in non-psychotic mood and anxiety disorders.”

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the benefits that meditation has on the brain, its moods and one’s lifestyle. Meditation has been shown to improve wellness and lifestyle in a number of categories from academic performancechronic pain and anxiety to self perceived general feelings of health and optimism.  Like physical exercise, the fruits of meditation cannot be enjoyed without a continued practice and just like exercise, meditation is not without hard work and determination. It takes time, motivation and practice.

To learn more about Muse: the brain sensing headband and how it can help develop and improve your meditation practice please click here. If you are a mental health professional looking to introduce meditation to your clients please see our Professionals Program.

(If you feel you might be experiencing depression or depression-like symptoms, always consult with a mental health professional.)



“Hacking Mindfulness” – Paying Attention to Your Own Attention

At Muse we like to share stories that help spread the word about the fruits of building a consistent meditation practice.  These may be stories of how Muse meditators have benefited and changed their lives using Muse, how meditation is scientifically shown to alleviate feelings of anxiety, chronic pain and depression or even how meditation can improve your golf swing.  Sometimes we come across great material that others have created that further pushes our purpose to bring meditation to everyone.

The following video, for example, which features Peter Baumann, the founder of the Baumann Foundation, explores how one can calm their attention was particularly interesting. Throughout our lives we always have forces that pull our attention one way and then pull our attention the other way.  This makes it difficult to think about the now and present.  Mr. Baumann explains that its not always right to say you’re mindful (i.e paying attention to paying attention) as this may drain your brain’s resources even further. Sometimes it makes more sense to just pay attention to your body’s own sensations as this can relax and calm the mind and bring you into a focus surrounding immediate present. Similarly, with Muse, we have always suggested that in order to get the most out of the experience one should focus on the sensation of breath.  Meditation is about strengthening the mind to resist negative, wandering or distracting thoughts so that we may be more productive throughout the day and emotionally satisfied. Meditation and mindfulness is the practice of being present and resisting, what Peter Baumann claims are, the “hijacking of our thoughts”.  We hope you are as captivated as we were listening to this.