My 40-Day Journey into Meditation with Muse (the brain-sensing headband)


What started out to be an exercise in improving myself quickly became a passion I lost myself in. Documenting my meditation sessions, then chatting with friends, one thing led to another, and at one point I found myself with a 7,000 word article. Alas, I’m super excited to share with you my journey into meditation using Muse – the brain sensing headband. Included are some interesting sessions, a ton of data, and a little research I’ve gathered.

A few things you can look forward to: My meditation session while medicated on cannabis, my emotional breakdown, discovering how theta-wave rhythms prompt epiphanies, and how I almost had an orgasm while meditating. Seriously. I’m not shitting you.

In attempts to make things simple, I’ve broken the article into six sections. You can easily click around and navigate from one to another at your pleasure.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

– Kal

Table of contents


Disclosure: While I’ve done my best to take a processed approach, I’m in no way a scientist. 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 mistakes!


01. Muse, and the brain

muse-the-brain-sensing-headband
“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.”
– ChooseMuse.com

muse-device-sensors

  • 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 app

The Muse app (for both iOS and Android) present graphs representing 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 vicinity. Depending on brain activity, sounds of light rain to heavy rain and thunder can be heard – no birds chirping.

beach-vs-forest-audio

You have the option to choose between two settings: rain in a forest, or winds by an ocean shore.

Research and usage

Over 75 different research institutions are currently using Muse. More info from Interaxon to be provided…

Brain science primer

Trevor Coleman - Muse, InteraXon
“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

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.[01]
  • EEG Biofeedback is a learning strategy that enables persons to alter their brain waves. When information about a person’s own brain wave characteristics is made available to him, he can learn to change them. You can think of it as exercise for the brain.[02]
  • NFT, also known as Neurofeedback-therapy, aka EEG Biofeedback, offers an additional treatment option for people with eating disorders, addictions, mood disorders, anxiety and attention deficit disorder.[03]

A few points in history[04]

    emporer-claudius-electric-eels-scribonius-largus

  • 46AD: Scribonius Largus uses two electric eels caught from the Mediterranean Sea, against Emperor Claudius’ head to relief 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.
  • 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 attention deficit disorders
  • Recently:
  • star-trek-borg-collective

    • 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, 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.
  • Even more recently:
    • 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.

02. Observations and insights

Correlation vs Causation

Do peak performers eventually find meditation and attempt to reap its rewards? Or does meditation help achieve peak performance? Aside from my own anecdotal experience, and the testimony of peak performers like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Richard Branson, the science 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.

sam-harris
“There is nothing spooky or irrational about mindfulness, and the literature on its psychological benefits is now substantial.”[05]
– Sam Harris, Neuroscientist, Philosopher

Some benefits include:[06]

  • 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 deal with depression and anxiety
  • Helps break addictions
  • Helps preserve the aging brain
  • May even lead to volume changes in key areas of the brain

Evolutionary impact

evolution-of-man
The practice of meditation has been around as early as 2600 BC.[07] “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.”[08] Woah.

deltron-3030-dan-the-automator
“Upgrade your grey matter,
Cause one day it may matter.”[09]
– Dan the Automator

Observations

General observations

  • Pre meditation
    • 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
  • During meditation
    • Random memories forgotten seem to surface without purpose
    • Session is over fast when calm, seems to never end when distressed (more on this below)
    • Spikes of brain activity is produced by epiphanies and REM (more in Noteworthy sessions)
    • Epiphanies, and answers to tough questions surface out of nowhere
  • Post meditation
    • Overall awareness heightened throughout the day
    • Better decisions throughout the day
    • Increased peacefulness, self-awareness, and general happiness throughout the day

Feedback loop

Referring to the audio feedback from the app, my partner Lannie asked, “How does the feedback loop affect your meditations?” My thoughts below:

    double-split

  • 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.
  • In life, We’re usually aware that we are being observed. It’s important to acknowledge that we cannot avoid life’s feedback loop. 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.[10]

Two types of calm

The Muse app only 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 ‘holy fuck I’m in Nirvana calm’[11] .

nirvana-calm-meditation

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. There’s an extreme example of this in ‘Noteworthy sessions // Absolute bliss’.

4am sessions

Early morning meditation sessions between 4 and 5am became my favourite. It fact, they accounts for 48% of my sessions. This is when I experience the most peace, silence, and stillness.

  • My morning routine:
    • Wake up at 4am
    • Drink half to a full cup of Bulletproof Coffee (BPC)[12]
    • Begin meditation sessions

Learn more about my daily routines.

Awake and alert vs fatigued and exhausted

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 results in low CS. Exhaustion creates an alarming noisiness in my mind 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 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.[13]

“Yogic practices can be used as psychophysiologic stimuli to increase endogenous secretion of melatonin, which, in turn, might be responsible for improved sense of well-being.” [14]
– Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine

Mindset and intention

Similar to physical preparation, mental preparation is important before meditation as well.

  • 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:
lao-tzu
“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”[15]
– 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.
  • For the pleasure: Highest CS is achieved when I genuinely want to meditate, and not for any other ulterior motive.
alan-watts
“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.

eckhart-tolle
“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.

“Interest creates flow, flow prompts feeling of joy. It’s easy to be interested, while difficult (and goal oriented) to pay attention or to ‘focus’.”[16]

Unlike attention and focus, interest is pleasurable and without objective. I believe this is the key.

Eliminating language

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.

eckhart-tolle
“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 amount of times I experience anger. (I’m a passionate person.)

Using my Muse headband has helped me see through data, 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 waiting 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 ten-fold. 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 – less prone to breaking from obstacle or failure.

Sources
05.^ SamHarris.org
06.^ Forbes.com
07.^ TheMeditationNlog.com/how-old-is-meditation/
08.^ Wikipedia.org/wiki/Meditation
09.^ A Brymar College Course (song, 2000), by Deltron 3030, Dan the Automator
10.^ Wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wave-particle_duality, Video
11.^ 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
12^ Video: How to make BPC
13.^ HarvardHealthBooks.org
14.^ Online.Liebertpub.com
15.^ Wikipedia.org/wiki/Laozi
16.^ I said this. 🙂

03. Noteworthy sessions

You can bet that ninety-nine 12-minute sessions yielded some very interesting data for this noobie[17]. Below are my favourite sessions. Some great, some horrible.

Example session

71 // 2015-05-29 Fri 2314hrs 78%

Legend

71 // = session number
2015-06-23 = date
Tue = day of week
0457 hrs = time of day
95% = calm score

Spikes: Epiphanies, ideas, and thoughts of sexy-time

session-02-2015-05-24-Sun-1028hrs-93

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.”[18] See the huge spike [1] 10 minutes in? Voila! That was an epiphany to the big challenge I tried so hard not to think about.

session-53-2015-06-17-Wed-2241hrs-84

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.

session-41

Lucid sex dreams

41 // 2015-06-12 Fri 2117hrs 81%

A pretty good session considering I was falling asleep. You can see spikes caused by hallucination/REM. At one point my mind decided to get kinky in thought. Over three minutes I couldn’t shake off the visuals from my mind. #GoodTimes

[1][2][4] = REM, [3] = erotic dreams

session-71

Sex on my mind, part 2

71 // 2015-06-23 Tue 0457 hrs 95%

This was one of my most enjoyable sessions, only to be interrupted by sexual thoughts [2]. Clearly, the desire to copulate was lurking in the deep recesses of my mind. Horizontal red bands [1] represent moments of bliss.

Partying, before and after

A night of partying hard negatively affects my brain the next day. Duh! Interestingly, my mind is also pretty noisy before an event. The mere anticipation of partying gets me stirred-up and wild.

session-25

Evening adventures

25 // 2015-06-04 Thu 2358hrs 22%

Golden State against vs Cavaliers

session-83

About to Party

83 // 2015-06-27 Sat 2130hrs 57%

Excited to go out, my mind is anticipating some good times.

session-59

Awake for 24 hours

59 // 2015-06-20 Sat 1417hrs 39%

Can’t find calm when you’ve partied so hard the day (and night) before…

Horrible sessions

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.

session-07

Performance anxiety

07 // 2015-05-27 2258hrs Wed 60%

Wanted to achieve greatness, but afraid to let go.

session-17

Starving and exhausted

17 // 2015-06-01 1210hrs Mon 09%

Pushed myself too hard. Could hardly get through this session.

session-89

Mental breakdown

89 // 2015-06-29 0502hrs Mon 71%

More on this below in “Day 38: The worst and best day”

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.

session-39

Business conflict

39 // 2015-06-12 0438hrs Fri 57%

While I stayed calm during the actual conflict (the night prior), it clearly affected me more than I originally had thought.

session-87

Upset with the wifey

87 // 2015-06-29 0431hrs Mon 68%

Why do I ever challenge the wisdom of “Happy wife, happy life”? Because I’m a man, and I’m always wrong.

Day 38: The worst and best day

Anxiety and defeat

session-87

87 // 2015-06-29 0431hrs Mon 68%

session-88

88 // 2015-06-29 0446hrs Mon 82%

session-89

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 myself. 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 spiraling 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?”

session-90

Walking away

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 orgasm

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 orgasmic. A description of this session is below in “Absolute bliss // 2nd place: Orgasmic day 38”.
session-91

91 // 2015-06-29 Mon 2015hrs 67%

session-92

92 // 2015-06-29 Mon 2032hrs 91%

Absolute bliss

The following sessions are the dragons I’ll forever keep chasing.[19]

session-80

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.
[1] Random thought about website updates, [2] Drifted off thinking about time and space.

session-32

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.

session-05
chakras

2nd place: Orgasmic day 38

92 // 2015-06-29 2032hrs Mon 91%

This session was 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 seemed to be in a rhythmic state, unable to slow myself down.

The last 2-3 minutes I started getting a tingly sensation in my lower torso – around my Muladhara and Swadhisthana chakras.[20] I’ve never been into chakras or anything. I’ve only now Googled it to point out the location. And because the imagery is so appropriately cool.[21]

The best way I can describe the experience is that it was similar to the wonderful orgasmic feelings of controlled and long-lasting sex, right before the finale. Oh those orange and red chakras!

session-05

1st Place: Cannabis infused

05 // 2015-05-26 2302hrs Tue 91%

Medicated on cannabis, what you see between 0.5 – 6 minutes [1] of activity is total awareness. While it may look like I’m almost brain dead, the opposite is true. It felt like I had thousands of thoughts, yet I was able to let them pass through me without judgement.[22]

The upwards curve [2] you see (6 – 9 mins) is my mind hallucinating; having an out-of-body experience. Basically, I’m falling into lucid dreaming. At the highest point of brain activity, I was in full REM. Quickly realizing it – thanks to the audio feedback (heavy rainfall) – I was able to bring my attention back to breathing. In the last two minutes [3], I was able to control myself going in and out of REM. A very odd and spiritual experience.

Considering this was only day 4, I set myself up for failure for the next week. For a brief moment in time, my ego thought it was invincible. I thought I ‘figured it out’. And while, this session is dear to me, it was the cause of my performance anxiety for a few days. Despite my efforts, I have yet to recreate an experience so blissful

I will forever chase this meditation dragon.

Sources
17.^ Newbie, newb, noob, n00b, noobie, n00bie, nooblet, or nub is a slang term for a novice or newcomer, or somebody inexperienced in any profession or activity
18.^ CenterPointe.com/articles/articles-research
19.^ Wikipedia.org/wiki/Chasing_the_dragon
20.^ Wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra
21.^ tia-ma.com/chakra-work/
22.^ Sitting on the couch, wife on the right, sister-in-law on the left.

04. The data

I’ve collected quite a bit of data from time of day to what I did the night before. I documented this data in two places: an Adobe Illustrator file with anecdotal notes accompanying each graph, as well as a Google Spreadsheet capturing all the statistical data. Below is the data from my Google Doc.

All sessions

40
Days
99
Sessions
1,188 min
(19 hrs 48 mins)
99%
Best
9%
Worst
78%
Average

Most sessions per day Most sessions per 7-day period Best day averages
6
Mon, June 29
D:38, S:87-92
24
June 21-27
D:30-36, S:61-84
93.0%
Sun, May 24
D:2, S:3
92.5%
Sat, June 13
D:22, S: 42-43
92.5%
Fri, June 26
D:35, S:79-80

Time Sessions Total Mins Best Worst Avg
Early morning
3am – 09am
48 576 99% 56% 84%
Morning
9am – 12pm
11 132 93% 27% 75%
Early afternoon
12pm – 3pm
5 60 90% 9% 58%
Afternoon
3p – 6pm
6 72 92% 35% 73%
Early evening
6pm – 9pm
3 36 91% 67% 80%
Evening
9pm – 12am
26 312 95% 22% 73%


“LS” only takes the last session of a meditation event into account. More on this below.

Last sessions


40
Days
68
Sessions
816 min
(13 hrs 36 mins)
99%
Best
9%
Worst
81%
Average
+2.8% difference

Most sessions per day Most sessions per 7-day period Best day averages
6
Mon, June 29
D:38, S:87-92
24
June 21-27
D:30-36, S:61-84
96%
Sat, June 13
D:22, S:43
96%
Fri, June 26
D:35, S: 80
93%
Sat, May 24
D:2, S:2

Time Sessions Total Mins Best Worst Avg
Early morning
3am – 09am
28 336 99% 57% 87.5%
+4.2%
Morning
9am – 12pm
8 96 93% 27% 79.5%
+5.6%
Early afternoon
12pm – 3pm
4 48 90% 9% 63.0%
+8.2%
Afternoon
3p – 6pm
5 60 92% 35% 72.8%
+0.2%
Early evening
6pm – 9pm
2 24 91% 67% 86.5%
+8.1%
Evening
9pm – 12am
21 252 95% 22% 75.7%
+4.2%

LS – Days of the week

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
10
sessions
12
sessionss
11
sessions
12
sessions
11
sessions
6
sessions
6
sessions
60
mins
72
mins
66
mins
72
mins
66
mins
36
mins
36
mins
80%
avg
75%
avg;
89%
avg
81%
avg
71%
avg
87%
avg
85%
avg
Additional assets
icon-google-spreadsheet
Link to Google Spreadsheets
icon-illustrator-doc
Download Illustrator file
icon-photo-doc
View/download screenshots

05. Approach and process

Why?

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.

Duration

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.

Meditation events

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:

Constants Variables
• At least one session per day[23]
• 12-minutes sessions
• Sessions in a quiet place[24]
• Technology

• Device: iPhone 5
• Volume level: 50%[25]
• Audio option: Rain in Forest
• Headphones: Sony ear buds
• Number of sessions per day
• Pre-session stretching and light yoga
• Clothing[26]
• Proper intent[27]

Positions, places and attire

The majority of my meditation events were in my office-den, 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 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 T.

Diet, exercise, sleep, and partying

  • I typically ate a slow-carb diet.[28]
  • 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.[29] 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.

Pre-40-day sessions

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

Documenting data

  • Screen-captured the line-graph using iPhone’s built-in screen capture ability.
  • Ported over the image(s) onto my MacBook Pro.
  • Placed images in Adobe Illustrator (each session in it’s 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
Additional assets
icon-google-spreadsheet
Link to Google Spreadsheets
icon-illustrator-doc
Download Illustrator file
icon-photo-doc
View/download screenshots
Sources
23.^ Only one day was missed (Saturday, June 6th).
24.^ This was not always possible. While ambient noise was fine, abrupt noise and background conversations impacted session.
25.^ 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.
26.^ When possible, I would wear comfortable clothing.
27.^ 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.
28.^ My inlaws were visiting from Vietnam, so there was no avoiding traditional rice or noodle dishes at times.
29.^ 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.

Epilogue

My first proper introduction to meditation was in 2003 when I found a stack of National Geographic magazines. Skimming through, I opened and started reading the issue on Prayer and Meditation. It’s at this point I learned how meditation strengthens the prefrontal cortex; the area of the brain that regulates feelings of peace and happiness. So 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. Thinking how silly I am for not starting sooner, a quote comes to mind:

“To know and not to do is really not to know.”
– Stephen R Covey

The catalyst

It was a beautiful sunny day in Napa. I was attending Mastermind Talks, an event run by my wonderful friend Jayson Gaignard.[30] Answering questions from stage was Tim Ferriss.[31]

“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.”
– Unknown

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.

Sources
30.^ Learn more on how Jason is awesomeness at: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/24666531.
31.^ Author of 4-hour Work Week and 4-hour Body, Tim is an overall amazing human being.

Special Thanks
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 Jayson Gaignard, Tim Ferriss, Alkarim Nasser, Carolyn Van, Sami Sadaghiani, Sarah Eskandarpour, Richard Lazazzera, the peeps at InteraXon, and my awesome-in-so-many-ways partner Lannie Le.
  • Oliver Hollis-Leick

    My god! What a fantastic article! Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. I have been meditating every day for the last three years and also cannot imagine my life without it. It would be like a ship at sea without a compass! I also enjoy analyzing these experiences, hence my interest in Muse. I recently found an article on Hypnagogic states, something I experienced at a retreat. This lead me to the specific EEG patterns experienced in Hypnagogia and I now want to see if I can learn more about how to deepen my meditation through exploring these states. I was unsure about whether to get the Muse but I’m now convinced. Thank you again and good luck with your meditation path!

  • Chris Schmitt

    Thanks for sharing your observations in such a detailed manner. Some of what you’ve described resonates closely with what I have been experiencing over the the last few weeks, some pretty mind-blowing stuff, particularily:

    – Random memories forgotten seem to surface without purpose
    – Epiphanies, and answers to tough questions surface out of nowhere (moreover feeling that I can answer any ethical question put to me with 100% confidence)
    – Overall awareness heightened throughout the day (but more switching focus from one thing to another)
    – Better decisions throughout the day
    – Increased peacefulness, self-awareness, and general happiness throughout the day

    I’ve also had days where I found myself dropping into pure anxiety and fear.

    The changes started after completing 110 consecutive sessions of Headspace; a life-changing event; listening to Eckhard Tolle’s audio book version of The Power of Now (for the second time); an awesome vacation; beginning to read Zen Mind, Beginners Mind (the concept of duality is mind blowing); and many wonderful heart-to-heart discussions with my wife.

    What brought me to your article was a Google search trying to find a name for the weird state between wakefulness and sleeping which I now know is called hypnagogic state.

    A good meditation session seems to be where I’m awake, but focused (for example, I know when someone is behind me) and the hypanagogic state where my thoughts are completely untethered (but someone could steal my wallet).

    How would you best describe your meditation experience when your CS was the highest? Was it a hypanagogic state or wakefulness. Secondly, were you feeling at your best when your CS was at it’s highest?

    Thanks again for the great article.