After two years of having a daily meditation and breathing practice, I decided to buy the Muse 2. The idea of having real-time feedback guiding me deeper appealed to me. That was 3 months ago and the reality is the Muse 2 has more than failed to meet those expectations.
From their website:
Muse 2 is a multi-sensor meditation device that provides real-time feedback on your brain activity, heart rate, breathing, and body movements to help you build a consistent meditation practice.
Quick App Overview
The Muse 2 app has 6 different meditation groups:
- Mind Meditation
- Heart Meditation
- Body Meditation
- Breath Meditation
- Guided Meditation
Although each meditation type has its benefits, the reason one drops $250 on a Muse 2 is for the Mind Meditation. This is what you are paying for. A device that can read your brain waves and guide you in real-time to a calmer state.
The Heart Meditation helps you learn how to reduce your heart rate. Spoiler alert: make you exhale longer than your inhale and your heart rate drops. I already knew this and found no use in this meditation.
The Body Meditation might be helpful if you wiggle a lot and want to learn to control your body better during meditation. I used this a few times early on and then didn’t revisit.
The Breath Meditation has an excellent Box Breathing module that I find very helpful. But, do I need a $250 gadget to do box breathing? No.
The Guided Meditation section recently added some short free meditations, but to access their 500 meditation library requires a paid subscription to access. No thanks. I’ll use Insight Timer with has 80,000 free meditations.
The timer is just a timer and can be used by anyone with the mobile app, even if you don’t buy the hardware. Pretty much every meditation app has one as well.
This post is mostly about my experience with the Mind Meditation, although some of my issues extend to the Breath Meditation.
In order for the sensors to do their job, there is a calibration phase at the start of each meditation. The calibration has been a constant pain-in-the-ass for me since I got the device. I use their advice of adding a small amount of water and applying it to the sensors prior to the calibration. I push my hair out the way.
Then I try and calibrate. And like a gambler staring at a roulette table to see if red or black lands, I wait to see if the calibration succeeds on the first try. It does about 50% of the time. If it fails, I adjust the headset and try again. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it takes minutes. Sometimes I give up on the Mind Meditation which has the strictest calibration and use the Breath Meditation, which often has a tricky calibration itself.
I figured over time I’d get better at calibrating, but I haven’t. Sometimes I have to kill the app, power the device down, and then start again. This is frustrating. Not exactly the best frame of mind to go into a meditation with.
Bad Data Part 1 (Accidently Cheating)
When you listen to a Mind Meditation and your mind is not focused, you will hear storm clouds, which is a reminder to focus on your breath. If you are focused on your breath, you will hear birds chirping. At least that is how is supposed to work.
After a month or so, I noticed a pattern. The more I struggled with the calibration, the better my score was (more birds, less storm). And on the times the calibration went perfectly my score was worse.
It didn’t take me long to learn that during the calibration Muse is getting a baseline and it grades you in your meditation by how much you improve from that baseline. Muse also asks you to close your eyes during the calibration. Doing this calms brainwave activity because the visual portion of your mind is not active. That is great in theory, but if you’ve been trained not to trust the calibration, you end up looking at your phone to see if the calibration will take.
It is possible (likely) that a lower score during a perfect calibration is actually better than a high score during a difficult calibration. How does one know if they are improving?
Muse 2 starting a calibration.
Bad Data Part 2 (Design Issues)
I heard a podcast interview with a neuroscientist that described how labs measure brainwaves. It is a lot more involved than a simple headset. It involves a lot of tight-fitting equipment that covers the head. Listening to and accurately measuring the different brainwave signals through cranial bone is difficult.
Then I found this video on YouTube: This Muse Headband Sensor Could Give You Bad Data. Jump to 8:15 for an explanation on why the Muse 2 doesn’t provide the quality data they get in the lab or the newer Muse S model.
This Isn’t Helping
There have been many sessions when the focus on my breath was deep and intense and I heard storms telling me I was failing. And there have been many times when my mind was wandering – sometimes even thinking about how to solve a programming issue – when I heard birds telling me I was in deep meditation.
I have no confidence in the feedback I am getting from my Muse 2.
Not For Me
I’m closing in on a 100-day streak with my Muse. After I hit that target, I’ll put the device away. I do like the Box Breathing Meditation part, but I can probably find alternate audio on Insight Timer without having to deal with the calibration issues.
Had I did better research prior to purchase, I would have got the Muse S. But because of my experience with the Muse 2, I’m not going to make any new meditation device purchases for a while.
During the last 3 months, I continued using Insight Timer in addition to the Muse. I always look forward to using Insight Timer, whereas I gradually began feeling more and more dread before using the Muse, not knowing how long it would take to calibrate or even if the data was valid.
Most of the reviews you see online tend to be positive towards the Muse 2. You’ll also notice many of them have (or had) an affiliate relationship where the reviewer was getting a kickback. I have no affiliate relationship with Muse.
Maybe the Muse S is fine, but I’d avoid the Muse 2.