Do You Struggle To Meditate? Muse Can Fix That with Ariel Garten

Content By: Ari Whitten

In this episode, I’m speaking with Ariel Garten, a neuroscientist, artist, and entrepreneur who revolutionized the world of meditation with her award-winning Muse headband, a brain-sensing device praised by everyone from the Mayo Clinic to NASA!

Table of Contents

In this podcast, Ariel and I discuss:

  • 2 major benefits of meditation you might not know and the science of how it influences your brain and whole-body health
  • The fascinating connection between aging, mitochondria, and your prefrontal cortex
  • The top forms of meditation you should practice to keep your prefrontal cortex healthy and high-functioning 
  • The crucial differences (and added benefits!) between meditation and other focused activities, such as journaling, deep conversation, or relaxation techniques
  • The physical positives of meditation and the biochemistry behind how our brain influences our body…learn how meditation affects our telomeres!
  • The science and innovation behind Muse—published in scientific journals like Nature and Frontiers in Neuroscience—and how it helps with so much more than meditation…like sleep, heart rate variability, adrenal balance, anxiety and depression, and even quality of life in cancer patients
  • How Muse helps you use glucose more efficiently (equaling optimized energy!) and what the research says about how long you should meditate each day

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Ari Whitten: Hey, this is Ari. Welcome back to The Energy Blueprint Podcast. With me in this episode is Ariel Garten, who blends her expertise in neuroscience and psychotherapy and shares insights on happiness, meditation, brain function, and women’s empowerment. She’s the founder of InteraXon, a Silicon Valley-backed brain-computer interface tech startup that birthed the award-winning Muse headband, which is what we’re going to be talking about in this episode, which is hailed by the Mayo Clinic and NASA and many other leading institutions. It merges neuroscience, technology around neuroscience, with meditation, aiding hundreds of thousands of people in tracking their brain activity during meditation itself and leveling up the many, many, many science-backed benefits of meditation. I think you’re going to get a lot of insight, a lot of value from this podcast. I think you’re going to be very impressed by what Ariel has to say. With no further ado, enjoy this podcast with Ariel Garten. Ariel, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for coming.

Ariel Garten: Ari, it’s my joy and pleasure. I’m happy to be here.

What is MUSE?

Ari: Let’s talk about what you do, which is Muse. Tell everybody listening what Muse is and a little bit of background of how you came to develop it.

Ariel: Sure. Muse is a brain-sensing headband that helps you meditate and sleep. For those of you on the video, I’ve got a Muse here. It is a clinical-grade EEG, meaning it tracks your brain activity, and it has sensors on the forehead and behind the ears. It tracks your brain in real time and then is able to give you feedback when you are trying to meditate.

In the meditation experience, it’s tracking your brain while you’re meditating and letting when you’re doing it right. It’s giving you audio feedback to know when you’re focused and when your mind is wandering. In the sleep iteration of Muse, it gives you amazing biofeedback experiences that help you fall asleep, and then it can track your sleep basically as effectively as a sleep lab. You have an incredibly powerful EEG tool in your hands, on your head, to improve your brain health, your meditation, and your sleep.

Ari: Very nice succinct summary. Let’s maybe zoom out, and we’ll eventually circle back to the Muse device, but let’s zoom out and talk meditation. Obviously, everybody listening to this has heard of meditation before, probably experimented at one time or another with it. I think the experience of the vast majority of people is to try it and sort of dabble for a while and maybe give up after a period of time. Some people listening to this may be experienced meditators doing it for years or decades.

In terms of the actual science of meditation, what is it that we are doing when we’re meditating? Granted, we’re going to generalize because there’s lots of types and schools of thought around meditation. In broad brushstrokes, what is it that we are doing in terms of the neuroscience, in terms of what’s going on in the brain when we are meditating? What’s the goal of it, speaking in terms of the neurology?

Ariel: This is one of my favorite questions. As it turns out, when we meditate, meditation makes real change in the brain. You can see lots of things tangibly happening in the brain during a meditation practice and after the fact. One of the first obvious things you see from a brainwave perspective is that as you meditate, your brainwaves slow down and they become more coherent.

As we go through daily life, our neurons are firing and they’re sending electrochemical signals. That electrical part of that signal can be read on the surface of the head. The sum total of that electrical signal is our brainwaves. We have different brainwaves coming from different areas of the head. Strong alpha waves come occipitally. You might see a lot of frontal beta when you’re thinking and cogitating. Your thalamus produces brainwaves. Your whole brain can be mapped in terms of brainwaves.

Now, when our brainwaves are all over the place, you’re having a lot of conflicting brainwave activity, that can lead to a sensation or experience of confusion, feeling like things are overwhelmed. When you focus and meditate, you are synchronizing your brain activity, having a large, beautiful peak of alpha that comes out and a little bit of an increase in theta and an increase in coherence. As you do that, it becomes a very healthy, restful state for the brain to be in. One in which you are decreasing external and internal noise. You’re increasing your focus, you’re increasing your calm, and you’re better able to then have thoughts afterwards and increase the wellness of your brain and body. I’ll dive into more detail on exactly why in a couple of minutes.

Number one, brainwave synchronization. Number two, there are parts of your brain that come online more effectively when you start to meditate. One is the prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain responsible for thinking, planning, higher order organization, attention, inhibition. Bad news, as you age, your prefrontal cortex thins. Just like the rest of your body, stuff starts to kind of crenate, to get smaller and thinner.

Good news, if you’re able to maintain a long-term meditation practice, you can maintain the thickness of your prefrontal cortex even as you age. There’s a study from Dr. Sara Lazar at Harvard. She put individuals in an MRI machine, looked at their prefrontal cortices, and in long-term meditators, there was one gentleman who had a prefrontal cortex thickness of a 25-year-old when he was 50. Meditation really thickens and strengthens that PFC. At the same time–

Ari: Let’s go. Yes. Sorry, so go ahead.

Ariel: Go, go, go. So many places to go.

How meditation impacts the prefrontal cortex

Ari: Okay. Let’s go deeper into the prefrontal cortex piece. Can you say exactly what the prefrontal cortex does and why it is that it thins and why it is that meditation counteracts that?

Ariel: Sure. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for many things in our brain. It’s a large area behind your forehead. It’s the forebrain, the front of your brain, the part that evolved latest. Down in the brainstem, in the hindbrain and the midbrain, you have more of our automatic nervous responses, breathing, seeing, et cetera. All those things quite complex. You have a lot of cortical involvement in seeing. Then towards the front, you have planning. You have organization. You have thinking about the future, all of these higher order human activities that we do. As well, you have attention. There are attention networks throughout your brain, but the frontal cortex is particularly involved in attention. Inhibition, the ability to stop yourself from doing things you probably shouldn’t do.

It’s like the prefrontal cortex is the parent of the brain. It’s the thing that even when you’re being driven to do something that’s not that great for you, the prefrontal cortex is able to step in and say, no, even though that felt like an urge or a drive, we can override it and do the right thing.

As you age, you have a decrease in nutrients that are brought to the brain. Your mitochondrial function decreases, which your audience may be familiar with if they’ve listened to a lot of The Energy podcasts. You have a [unintelligible 00:08:01] area. Again, less nutrients coming there.

Start at the beginning. When your brain ages, it begins to thin. Why does that happen? The same reason that the rest of your body, your skin becomes thinner, your muscles are less able to maintain their thickness and volume. You have to exercise more in order to keep the same muscle mass. It’s because the cells are getting old. The mitochondria are not functioning as effectively. You have a lot of oxidative damage that’s happening. You have less blood flow and nutrients going to the brain, less ability to carry that and utilize it effectively. All of this leads to a thinning of the brain, a decrease in volume.

Now, just like any muscle in your body, as you work it, you’re able to maintain its functioning over time. Meditation really works, quote unquote, in the same way that your working a muscle works the prefrontal cortex. It’s a targeted focused exercise that you do for 5 to 20 minutes or more per day. It is like going to the gym for your attention. It is enabling the engagement of your prefrontal cortex repeatedly, which then allows it to function better over time. We’ve all heard what you don’t use it, you lose it. In this case, if you do use it, you maintain it. Meditation maintains the thickness of your prefrontal cortex.

The most effective types of meditation

Ari: With that in mind, are there particular types of meditation that are more effective or that you would suspect would be more effective if it hasn’t actually been tested in maintaining prefrontal cortex thickness?

Ariel: Sure. You’ve all heard of various forms of meditation. A lot of them at their core come down to the idea of a focused attention meditation. In a focused attention meditation, you’re putting your attention on one thing, and that can be your breath, that could be a mantra, a word that you repeat over and over in your head, it could be staring at a candle. In any of these cases, meditation practice is put your attention on that one thing. When your mind wanders away from that one object, you then notice that your mind has wandered and choose to bring your attention back. That is the basis of a focused attention meditation. You may be counting your breaths, you’re counting your breaths, eventually your mind wanders away onto a thought. You start thinking that thought, you realize, oh, right, I’m supposed to be meditating. You then bring your attention back to your breath, you come back to counting.

That is an example of incredible use of your prefrontal cortex, because you are using your attention. When your mind wanders away, you have to use your metacognition, your ability to observe your own mind, observe your own thinking, which is a prefrontal cortex function. Then you need to inhibit the thinking of the thought that you don’t want to be having. Then you have to choose to bring your attention back to your breath and maintain your attention on your breath. All of that is prefrontal cortex all over the place.

There are other areas of the brain that also get involved in meditation. For example, in body focused meditation where you’re maybe doing a body scan, which is another form of focused attention because you’re moving your attention throughout your body. Even when you’re focused on your breath, there’s a part of your brain called the insula. That’s responsible for many things, including internal sensory processing and experience. That also strengthens in a meditation practice.

Ari: This might seem like an obvious question, but I’m curious from a neuroscience perspective what the answer would be. Let’s contrast what you were just describing with meditation, let’s say focused on a particular object or mantra or something like that. How would that period of focus, let’s say you did that for half an hour or an hour, how would that differ from let’s say what you and I are doing right now in this moment of being focused on this exchange of ideas, and the brain has to maintain attention on this particular thing to continue the conversation, to do what we’re doing in this moment, playing off each other’s expression of ideas.

Or let’s say sitting and reading a book or being immersed in– I write books, for example, writing a book and sometimes I might spend 6 or 8 or 10 hours a day immersed in a very deep state of focus in that writing. How does the effect differ or the activation of the brain differ in those kinds of contexts versus in the context of closing your eyes and focusing on a mantra?

Ariel: Brain activity is going to be different in each of those contexts, although you’re going to be using a lot of the same networks and certainly using and strengthening your prefrontal cortex during those activities as well. However, when you meditate, there is the experience of a few other things that happen, which I can go through in a minute.

One is as you are focusing your attention, you are reducing your brainwave activity down to this nice, coherent alpha. You’re really peaking on that alpha activity. Some ways to think about alpha are like it’s the refresh rate of your brain. As you age, the alpha peak frequency tends to decrease. It’s like your brain’s not refreshing as quickly. When you’re in meditation and closing your eyes and focusing on one thing and maintaining that internal sensory focused attention or external focused attention, you are bringing your brain into coherence. It’s all beating and moving more or less in the same rhythm. That’s why sleep is such an effective tool because in sleep all of your brain activity when you’re in deep sleep moves down to delta. You have just this one pulsing, beautiful, deep delta rhythm. The deeper your delta, the greater amplitude of delta that you have, the more of your brain that’s recruited into this one activity of being coherent, the better the refreshing outcomes of sleep seem to be, the more rejuvenative and the better effects for your brain and body. When you get more deep sleep, your sleep outcomes are better.

There seems to be something that’s fundamentally different about the act of meditating than the act of talking to somebody else or the act of even writing a book. Although writing certainly is also a deeply meditative state and a lot of people say, yes, I meditate, I drive and my mind wanders and that’s my meditation. When you’re mind wandering, that is not meditating. When you’re just sort of sitting there daydreaming, letting your mind go, that is a different activity and doesn’t have the same cognitive benefits that meditation does, even though there may be the relaxation benefits, it doesn’t have the same kind of brain training.

Ari: On a practical level, so apart from the neuroscience aspects that you just described, but on a practical sort of subjective experience level of life, what are the benefits of meditation?

Ariel: There are so many, it’s quite phenomenal. At this point, there’s over 10,000 scientific articles published on meditation and its benefits and they range from decreasing one’s stress and I can get into– [inaudible 00:16:07] focused attention to improving your scores at math or GRE.

The benefits of meditation

Ari: Ariel, one more time. Okay, well, that’s what we got. Okay, so on a subjective level, what are the benefits of meditation?

Ariel: There are so many benefits of meditation. By now, there are over 10,000 published scientific studies demonstrating the benefits of meditation to decrease your stress, improve your attention, improve your physical health, decrease pain sensation, to improve your length of your telomeres, to decrease the aging of the brain, to improve your scores in standardized tests like the GRE, to improve relationships and on and on and on. Because it turns out that this one tiny little activity actually has tremendous impact in our minds and bodies and our lives. Can I take you a little bit deeper into why this is so effective?

Ari: Please.

Ariel: Remember I described a basic focused attention meditation. In the focused attention meditation, you’re putting your attention on your breath, your mind wanders away, you notice it, and then you bring your attention back to your breath. In those moments, you are doing something that is quite unique. You’re observing your own thinking. Instead of simply following the thoughts that are in your head, which is what most of us do. You have a thought, it’s in your head, so you think it, it’s supposed to be there. I have a million thoughts, thousands of thoughts every day. Many of them are repetitive, not particularly helpful, annoying, anxiety provoking. Some of them are lovely. Most of us don’t really think about the thoughts in our head, we simply have them go through our mind.

In meditation, you’re asked to make a different choice about the contents of your own mind. You observe a thought that comes up, and instead of just thinking it, you choose to bring your attention elsewhere. You’re essentially saying, I am choosing the contents of my own mind and my own brain. When you do that, what you end up really doing is curating the content in your own mind, which means that those thoughts that are stressful, negative, repetitive, are things you can choose to not have again.

Now, there might be the same thought that comes up 12, 15, 20 times, but over time, as you teach yourself, hey, I don’t need to have that thought, the thoughts begin to move away. This changes not only your relationship to your thinking, but it ends up changing your relationship to a lot of the things that you’ve connected to yourself. As you grow up, people might’ve told you you’re not good enough, you’re not capable. As you begin to let go of the thoughts in your mind, you begin to make choices, you start to realize that many of those thoughts that you have may not be even true in the first place. This tremendously shifts your sense of identity and also tremendously decreases your stress and actually has real physiological response in the body.

When we have a stressful thought, that thought actually triggers a neurochemical cascade from our hypothalamus to our pituitary gland, down to our adrenal glands. It triggers cortisol to move throughout the body and it really changes our chemical milieu. There’s a very famous study done by Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn. She is a Nobel Prize winning scientist. What she identified was when we have negative thoughts, it actually has a real physiological chemical effect in our body. She demonstrated this using telomeres, which are the little caps on the end of your DNA. It’s the little bit of DNA at the end that can degrade before you get to the actual DNA that matters.

She was able to demonstrate that moms who had chronic negative thinking had shorter telomeres, and those who took on a meditation practice that shifted their thinking from negative to positive actually were able to lengthen their telomeres, because there was real chemical change that was going on in their bodies with this type of thinking. Positive thinking versus negative thinking.

That’s part of the reason why meditation has such a tremendous effect in our minds and bodies, because it’s changing your thoughts, it’s changing your relationship to yourself, and it’s actually improving your physiology, improving your body.

How MUSE works for meditation

Ari: Okay, great stuff. Let’s talk about the Muse device now. How does Muse fit into this meditation picture?

Ariel: Everybody hearing this, by this point knows that meditation is good for you. Meditation is a thing that you should be doing. Yet, most people when they sit down to meditate, and certainly I had this experience, you sit down, close your eyes, your brains starts to wander all over the place. You’re like, “What am I supposed to be doing?” It doesn’t necessarily feel good because it feels like you’re not good at it, and then you just get up and you’re like, “I can’t meditate.”

I tried to meditate so many times. I was at therapist in clinical practice, teaching my patients to meditate, and I myself couldn’t really do it. This solves that problem. It tracks your brain during meditation, and it gives you real-time feedback to know when you’re actually focused. You’re hearing an audio landscape that’s actually modulated by your own brain, by your state of meditation. When your mind is wandering, you hear it as stormy, and that becomes your cue to be like, “Oh right, my mind is wandering,” bring it back.

Then that quiets the storm. We have little birds that chirp when you’re really in focused attention, so that reinforces to your brain that yes, you’re doing it right. You’re doing it right. It’s a neural feedback, and when your mind wanders again, the sound picks up, that’s your cue to bring your attention back. It’s like having a little coach or a guru in your own head letting you know when you’re doing it right, and reinforcing you to keep you on track.

Then gives you a ton of data after the fact about what your brain was doing moment to moment during your meditation, as well as your heart, your breath, your body, in order to really dial in and enhance your meditation practice.

Heart biofeedback

Ari: Okay, there’s a number of pieces I want to get into here. Why don’t we go here? You just mentioned the heart and the breath. How do those fit into this picture of what’s going on in the heart, let’s start there. There’s another type of neurofeedback, or biofeedback, that’s been out there called HeartMath, that some people might be familiar with.

There’s certain ideas that have, I think, floated around for many years now, around the electrical field of the heart and the idea of the heart and the brain’s electrical field being in some kind of coherence or synchrony. I’m curious what you think of those ideas, or what you feel is the scientific basis, or the lack of scientific basis for them. Is there some kind of relationship between the heart of the electrical fields of the heart and what’s going on in the brain?

Ariel: Sure. A couple of things to break down. One, when we talk about the electrical fields of the heart, it’s a not a weird notion. Just like your brain communicates electrically, neurons send electrical pulses from one to the other, and that sum total is read outside your head. Your heart also communicates electrically, as does every muscle in your body. When your nerves send a signal to your muscle, any muscle, your heart is a big muscle, when your nerves send a signal to any muscle, that is an electrical pulse that then tells them to contract. Then there’s more electrical information to muscles right around it that tell them to release.

You actually have a very clear electrical signal that comes from your heart. I don’t really think so much about the electrical signal from the heart interacting with the electrical signal from the brain in the way that magnets might interact and shift one another.

Instead, there is a very direct connection between your brain, the nerves that come down, particularly the Vagus nerve that comes down from the brain, down your neck, innervates around the heart. It innervates around the gut, and it is sending signals from the brain to the heart and vice versa. There’s innervations that come from the heart to the brain.Yes, here is a very tight correlation between the movement of the two and a lot of electrical signaling that goes back and forth.

When I think about the impact of meditation, it’s less about the relationship between the brain and the heart and more about the relationship between the heart and the breath that really leads to significant change in the body. Let’s go back for a second. I talked about the brain sending signals to the heart via the Vagus nerve. The Vagus nerve is the nerve that really regulates your parasympathetic response, the rest and digest response.

When your mind is calm and your body is calm, it’s the Vagus nerve sending signals back and forth saying, “Everything’s chill here.” It is reducing the rate of your heart. When you slow down and relax, and your heart is beginning to beat more slowly and your blood vessels are dilating, that’s a result of the signaling from the brain to the heart through the Vagus nerve, as well as a result of the signaling of cortisol or the decrease of cortisol that releases from your hypothalamus in your brain down to your adrenals. An increase in cortisol quickens your heart rate, increases what we talk about as stress, contracts your blood vessels. A decrease in cortisol triggered from your brain and your Vagus nerve decreases your heart rate and your cortisol, gives us a sensation of relaxing.

There’s a second phenomenon that’s really cool, and it’s called your– I’m going to say this, I’m wrong, so I won’t say– there’s a second signal that’s really cool. It’s the interaction between your heart and your breath. It is the respiratory sinusoidal arrhythmia. When you breathe in, your heart rate actually increases. When you breathe out, your heart rate decreases.

When you’re breathing in and your breath is at its highest like you’re holding in the top of your end breath, your heart is going faster and faster and faster. Then as you breathe out, it starts to slow down, down, down. That’s why extended exhales like you would do in a meditation or relaxation practice actually slow down your heartbeat. The more you extend your your breath, the more at the bottom of that heartbeat it’s going to go slower and slower. When we talk about HRV, Heart Rate Variability, something which you’ve all heard about, what we’re actually talking about is the difference between your fastest heartbeats at the top of your in breath and your slowest heartbeats at the bottom of your outbreath.

When you’re able to have really nice inhales and then slow exhales and then inhales and slow exhales, what you end up getting is a beautiful sinusoidal rhythmic pattern. If anybody’s done HeartMath, that’s exactly what you’re looking at. That’s the rhythmic pattern of your HRV. It turns out that when you relax your body and slow down and increase your HRV with more slowing down on your out breath, you’re in a healthier state.

People who are depressed or stressed have lower HRV Heart Rate Variability. People who are healthy, young, athletic, have higher HRV. In the Muse we have a heart sensor. Every meditation you do, you actually see the movement of your heart, and you can start to see when you’re stressed and the line is small and squiggly. When you’re nice and relaxed and then your HRV starts to have big, beautiful rolling waves.

Ari: Very nice.

Ariel: That was a lot of information. [laughs]

The science on MUSE

Ari: No, that was great. I’m loving your answers to these questions actually. What is the scientific basis for Muse and has meditation with using Muse been compared to meditation without?

Ariel: We’ve had, at this point, over 200 third party published studies.

Ari: Wow.

Ariel: Some of them in Nature and Frontiers in Neuroscience and top tier journals. They have demonstrated amazing benefits of Muse. There’s quite a number of studies that have shown that Muse is as effective as regular meditation, if not more. There’s one study by the Catholic University of Milan. They looked at Muse relative to a standard meditation practice, and they showed that they both show improvements in stress and relaxation, but with Muse those participants that used Muse had an increased change in their brain activity that showed that throughout the day they were in a better state of focused and calm.

Ari: Let me ask you real quick, sorry to interrupt, but just to clarify. This was comparing a particular type of meditation versus the same type of meditation with the addition of Muse or Muse being a different type of meditation, essentially, is it focusing on the feedback of the different sounds that you’re getting?

Ariel: In this study, what they looked at was meditating with a soundscape, just listening to the soundscape, versus the meditation with Muse. It was as close as they could get to really compare the two and see the difference that the actual neurofeedback made.

Ari: The meditation with the soundscape is essentially the same noises that are in the Muse-

Ariel: Yes, similar noises.

Ari: -but not connected to the brainwave, the actual brainwave patterns?

Ariel: Exactly. What they found was significant improvement in brain states and the brain states associated with focus and relaxation and improved performance on cognitive tasks.

Ari: Very nice. What have some of the other studies shown?

Ariel: There’ve been a lot of them. The Mayo Clinic, for example, has used Muse in many studies. The first one they did starting in 2014, they gave Muse to breast cancer patients awaiting surgery. The Mayo Clinic has also done quite a number of studies with Muse. In the first one in 2014, they had women awaiting breast cancer surgery and they gave them a Muse, told them to use it for three minutes a day. Many of them used it much more than that, but with that instruction, they were able to see decrease in their stress and fatigue during their cancer care process and an overall improvement in quality of life.

Mayo was then so excited about Muse, they started to do studies in fibromyalgia, in Cushing syndrome, in cancer, and even studies in burnout with their own doctors. During the pandemic, they gave their doctors on the front line Muses to help with their stress and their sleep. What they saw was these super crazy busy doctors in the pandemic decreased their burnout by 54% compared to controls when using the Muse. They saw improvements in cognition, decreases in stress, improvements in resilience. From there, they started studies in long COVID, using Muse for long COVID, which is coming out shortly. Apparently the results there look really good. There’s many more institutions that have done studies as well. We could keep going all day, but suffice it to say, the science has pointed very nicely to what we’re doing.

MUSE technology

Ari: Excellent. When you– Forgive me for not having the personal experience with it. If I can be very, totally honest here for a second, I’ve known about Muse for many years, and I’ve been interested in it. I’ve been very close to buying it. What dissuaded me was seeing reviews that talk about the technical issues with wearing it. That like physical problems, if I’m remembering correctly, this was like over a year ago, but physical problems with the headband itself or not syncing properly with the software or things to those effects that there were technical issues.

Then I think there was a second or third edition of the Muse that was created that tried to solve a lot of those problems. I’m coming to this interview with a lot of interest and also with some skepticisms and basically with an energy of saying, convince me to buy this and try this. I want to be convinced because I think it’s an extremely compelling idea. As you said, there seems to be quite a bit of research, a shocking amount of research actually showing benefits. Maybe it’s worth speaking to that a bit to talk about some of those technical issues with wearing it. I know this has been around for several years now. Have you guys ironed out those technical issues that some people were reporting?

Ariel: Sure, and this is a great thing to talk about. Thank you for bringing it up. Muse first came out in 2014, that’s nine years ago. In 2014, there was a brain sensing headband that could help you meditate that at that point you could even buy in Best Buy. We’re a little bit ahead of the curve and the technology wasn’t necessarily ready for what we were doing. The iPhone only came out in 2010.

It definitely took a few years for us to refine the technology, refine Bluetooth connection. Bluetooth is the worst. They keep changing the Bluetooth protocols, and it was actually very hard to find Bluetooth experts that could keep something connected for that long. Luckily over a decade of doing this, nine years, we’ve been able to iron very, very much of that out. At its core, EEG is a very finicky thing, so if you go to a hospital or a neurofeedback clinic and you go to get an EEG taken, it’ll take them about half an hour to put an EEG on your head to get every little point gelled up, “Don’t move your body, just move your hair,” to finally get connection.

With Muse, you’ll slip this clinical grade EEG used for research all over the world, you’ll slip it on your head with no gel, and in about two minutes you’ll get good connection. For some people, you might need to wait for two or three or four minutes to get good connection because this is clinical grade EEG, and EEG is finicky, but it is nothing compared to being in a clinic with a clinical EEG on your head with goop.

A lot of what people are mentioning are either technical issues that we’ve overcome over a decade because technology really changes in a decade, the other is that it may take three or four minutes for your headset to connect. That’s okay, and the benefit that you get from it is absolutely worth it. We don’t want to give you fake measures that lie and say, oh yes, you’re connected after a minute, when you’re not, because this is real scientific technology and we have to be honest.

After three or four minutes, when you’re connected, which really wasn’t so long to begin with, you’re going to get an amazing experience of actually being able to read your own brain, which frankly you shouldn’t expect to be simple, you shouldn’t expect to be just like that. You’re able to read your own brain, you’re able to get sleep data as effectively as a sleep lab, so there’s many, many, researchers, Harvard and the like that actually use Muse to do real sleep studies in home instead of bringing people into a sleep lab, the quality is that good. When they talk to us, they say, “Wow. We’ve never seen any at-home device with this signal quality and this ease of use.” Bottom line, it’s totally worth it.

Ari: How is that possible? I’ve done some neurofeedback in a neurofeedback clinic, and as you said, they get the goo on there, they hook the electrodes up to your scalp in multiple different spots. How can it be that you can get high quality EEG without doing that? It looks like from the headband, it’s mainly just one sensor in the front, is that correct? Or there are multiple sensors in the back as well?

Ariel: Yes. It’s actually four channels, so there’s two sensors on the forehead, two sensors behind the ears, and then the reference sensor in the center. It’s a four channel EEG with one additional channel is the reference. How do we do it? Magic. Technological innovation, so as I said, it’s been years of us really working hard and refining this. We have over 140 patents on Muse. This is very high level technology and we’ve been able to create a system with very sensitive electronics that don’t require gel and are able to get good connection on every head pretty quickly, so it’s just technological innovation.

How to use MUSE

Ari: Wow. Let’s go back to talking about benefits. Now we’re talking about essentially combining Muse with meditation to get benefits superior to meditation alone. How does this play into things like sleep? It sounds like you have a specific version of Muse that’s for sleep and how does Muse also influence things like energy? This is The Energy Blueprint podcast, lots of people are interested in optimizing their energy levels or overcoming fatigue. How does this relate to those variables?

Ariel: Sure. Muse as a meditation device in relation to energy. Remember we talked about synchronizing of the brain activity. That synchronized brain activity is a state in which your brain is using less glucose than a disorganized brain. You’re using your glucose stores more efficiently which [inaudible 00:39:51] the same glucose, so that’s a different way of saying more efficient energy usage in the brain leads to generally more energy overall.

As far as sleep goes, we have these amazing interventions with something that we call the digital sleeping pill. The digital sleeping pill is an audio-biofeedback experience that actually trains the brain to fall asleep. Research by Dr. Adrian Owen, a famous British neuroscientist, demonstrated that using Muse’s go to sleep experience and meditation people improved their sleep quality by 20%. So better sleep equals more energy during the day. We all know that, both empirically and intuitively, that when you sleep better, your energy increases. So meditation and sleep ultimately allows your mind and body to be more efficient, more productive, freeing up additional energy for the things that you want in the rest of your life.

Ari: Do you wear the headband all night while you sleep? Do you fall asleep with it on, or is it something that you do prior to bed, you take it off, then you fall asleep.

Ariel: Some people wear it to bed all night long, and if you do, actually, if you wake up in the middle of the night, since Muse is tracking your states of wakefulness, then Muse will know that you’ve woken up and then bring in the same audio intervention that helped you fall asleep the first time. So it’ll bring back the experience that walked your brain into sleep and help you fall back asleep. Other people do the intervention to help them fall asleep in the first place, and then just take the Muse off and don’t track throughout the night. It’s your choice which you’d prefer to do. When you’re wearing it as a meditation tool, you’re just wearing it during the daytime for your 5 or 10 minutes of meditation.

Ari: How long do you use it for?

Ariel: It’s an interesting question. People are always asking me, “How long should I meditate for? When’s the best time of the day to meditate?” First of all, the most important thing for meditation is to do it regularly, in the same way as going to the gym. Going to the gym once is great, but you really want to be going to the gym regularly each week to maintain and grow the benefits. The same with meditation. The amount of time is actually less important, because over time you’re going to build your practice.

Some people start with even just three minutes or five minutes a day, and if you can do that, then you start to extend the window up to 10 minutes, and if you’re doing 10 minutes of mediation with Muse regularly, many of our studies have demonstrated significant benefit even from that chunk. You don’t have to meditate for an hour. If you like it and you want to do it for 20 minutes, even better, but don’t feel intimidated. Starting at three minutes every day is just fine, and then just work your way up from there.

Ari: Is there a known point where the benefits plateau after a period of time? With other things like, let’s say, exercise, there’s actually a U-curve where going beyond a certain level not only causes the benefits to plateau, but you actually start to generate more harms to cancel out some of the benefits, or for things to start to weigh in the favor the negative. With meditation I would imagine that’s probably not the case, but I’m sure it plateaus at a certain point. It’s not like, well, if doing one hour of meditation per day is good, then doing six hours is six times better. You know what I mean?

Ariel: I know exactly what you mean.

Ari: Is that point where it plateaus 10 minutes? Is it 30 minutes? Is it two hours? Do you have any insight into that from the research?

Ariel: First of all, nobody knows. Typically in the research, without Muse, in a standard, old-school meditation practice, they tend to look at 20 minutes a day of meditation as having benefit. With Muse we’ve looked at 10 minutes and have seen benefit, 20 minutes you also see benefit. There haven’t been any studies that compare the two. Then in terms of where’s the cut off, [inaudible 00:44:12] monks or people who go away to meditation retreat meditate for hours on end, and you learn different lessons along the way.

If you’re meditating for 5 minutes or 10 minutes, you’re learning to take a quick break and calm your mind and body. If you’re meditating for two or four or six hours, you’re learning to overcome a lot of the physiological and psychological challenges that your body will bring up during that time and you are able to get to different states of awareness and understanding of yourself and your body and the world with those kinds of seriously extended meditation practices. They take commitment, not for everyone, just in the same way that I’m probably not going to go bike the Tour de France, but I’m happy to jump on my bike and go around with my kids or bike to work. There’s interesting things to discover at the end of every road in our life, and you choose what makes sense for your lifestyle.

Ari: What’s your personal favorite style of meditation or way of using the Muse?

Ariel: Mind meditation is our focused attention meditation, and that’s kind of our classic one. Then we have a ton of different guided meditations for whatever comes up in your life. I find if I’m– we have a meditation for standing in line, so I was even frustrated standing in line. I opened the Muse app and I played the meditation. I was like, “Oh, I guess standing in line is not so bad. This allowed me to see it in a new perspective.”

I might start my day with a morning energy meditation, and that kicks it off right. Before you go to bed, we have letting go of anger before sleep and all sorts of interesting meditations there. We also have beautiful underwater-themed biofeedback journeys. There’s so many ways to do it and to play with it. We also have a neurofeedback app that’s made by a company called Myndlift. I also use the third-party Myndlift’s neurofeedback app.

Ari: What’s the purpose of that?

Ariel: You’ve gone through neurofeedback, some conventional neurofeedback. You go in and they read your brainwaves from different parts of your head and then assess if it is how your brainwaves are looking relative to normal, relative to a standard database. Myndlift, M-Y-N-D-L-I-F-T, does the same thing with an extra electrode that you plug into the Muse and you can move it around your head and it’s able to diagnose your brainwave activity and how it looks relative to the norm, and then give you neurofeedback training protocols to do throughout the day. There’s lots of different ways to use it, which are a lot of fun and can really change your life.

Ari: Very interesting. Let’s say you’re doing a guided meditation, like one of the ones you just described. How does that actually work in terms of the experience of using it? You’re getting feedback, audio feedback at the same time that’s basically letting you know is your mind wandering or are you focused, but are you focused on what? Are you focused on listening to the guided meditation, and it can differentiate between whether your attention is on that or it’s drifting to other thoughts?

Ariel: What it’s looking at is if you’re focused in general, so it doesn’t know if you’re focused on your breath or on the audio, but it is looking at focus versus mind wandering. Are you staying with the content or with your breath? Whichever you’re choosing. It can’t tell what it is, but it knows that you are focused. Then at the same time, you’re getting data at the end on your heart rate, on your stillness, and so you’re getting a complete picture of your mind and body as you are guided through a journey with a professional teacher.

Ari: Beautiful. Ariel, last question to you. Is there any research that exists on this in relationship to mood issues, anxiety, depression, things like that?

Ariel: Yes. Meditation is really a frontline recommendation for those with anxious thoughts or depressive states. What I described when you’re noticing your mind and then choosing to follow a thought or not, is one of the key interventions in anxiety or depression. In anxiety, you might feel a sense of anxiousness and an intense sensation, and it is triggering thoughts and the thoughts are triggering sensation.

With a meditation practice, you intervene by breathing deeply and calming your body and also by observing your thoughts and then saying, “Hey, I’m having this repeated thought that the floor might fall in.” I once as a therapist had a patient who truly was afraid the floor was going to fall in. You believe those thoughts because they create the sense of anxiety in your body, the sense of the feeling that something must be wrong. Oh, no. That thought must be really bad. The thing’s going to be bad because I feel it in my body.

With meditation, you learn to separate the feeling from the thoughts. You learn to calm the feeling, and you learn to be able to look at those thoughts and say, is this really true? Is this really something that matters that’s going on, and to move your mind away from those thoughts and not reinforce them? Meditation can be key for anxious thinking, and in the same way, depressive thoughts take the same approach when you’re able to shift your relationship to your depressive feeling and your depressive thoughts, you start to move your mind and body out of that state. Now, it’s not like a magic cure-all, but it can lead to significant improvement.

Final thoughts

Ari: Do you have any final thoughts or tips that you want to leave people with, or even letting people– giving maybe a pitch to why they should go start using the Muse? I have to say, personally, I’m very impressed by your answers here. I’m very impressed by how much research has been done on this. I come into this, as I said, where I was on the fence, I was close to buying this at one time, but very intrigued by it. Now I think this has pushed me over the fence where I’m going, “Okay, I actually need to try this at this point, this is very compelling.” I was very impressed by your answers. This is something that I actually want to do now. Let people know why they should make that decision as well.

Ariel: Sure. First of all, there’s a money-back guarantee. If you try it, you don’t like it, you can always just send it back. [laughs] That’s the first thing, no risk to trying. To me the most important thing is to understand that the thoughts that you have in your head don’t need to define the way you live your life. With tools like Muse you’re able [inaudible 00:51:32] relationship to your thinking, to really learn how your brain functions and make better choices with that information that really let you live a happier life, that you improve your cognitive function, decrease your stress, improve your overall brain health and improve your sleep. It’s like, why wouldn’t you want to make your life better in all of those ways?

Ari: Absolutely. I think that you guys, from what I understand, from talking to your assistant, Brianna, that she mentioned that you guys might be able to set a special discount out for my audience?

Ariel: Yes. For your audience, we have a special gift of 20% off. You can get that by going to, so its

Ari: Wonderful, thank you so much for doing that. I’m going to go grab one myself. There’s one device that’s the main device and there’s another one for sleep. Is that correct?

Ariel: Yes. There’s two devices. One is the Muse 2, this is the Muse 2 right here. It’s one that’s good for meditation. Then the next device is the Muse S, and the Muse S is for meditation, everything that Muse 2 does, as well as for sleep, S includes sleep.

Ari: Is there a reason to buy Muse 2 over Muse S, or wouldn’t make sense– I mean, is it other than maybe a price difference?

Ariel: There’s a price difference. The Muse 2 is around 250, and the Muse S is around 399, plus, you get your 20% discount on top of that. You can choose whichever makes the most sense for your own lifestyle. Also multiple people can use the Muse so you can bring it, buy one for the whole household, and soon everybody starts meditating.

Show Notes

00:00 – Intro
00:38 – Guest Intro
01:51 – What is MUSE?
06:54 –  How meditation impacts the prefrontal cortex
09:41 –  The most effective types of meditation
15:31 – The benefits of meditation
20:05 – How MUSE works for meditation
21:50 – Heart biofeedback
27:58 – The science on MUSE
31:40 – MUSE technology
37:46 – How to use MUSE
49:00 – Final thoughts


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