Digital wellness: how to meditate
Meditation, schmeditation, I’ve never really been down with it. I’m a restless soul, not to mention information-hungry and FOMO-driven and I don’t really like sitting around doing nothing. But something’s been bugging me lately. I find myself increasingly distracted, unable to focus and I’m envious of those people who seem to crack on through their to-do lists with zealous intent. How are they doing it? It turns out they meditate.
I guess this meditation thing was on my mind (lol) but I hadn’t consciously addressed it until, you could say, the universe brought it to me. I was invited to the launch of a meditation tech device, which began with an 8.30am guided meditation session (note: I’m not a morning person). Do I need more tech devices in my life? I thought not, but curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to go along and suss out the deal. The 8.30am start didn’t kill me. The guided meditation was actually rather pleasant. And the talk from the CTO of the gizmo company was equal parts soothing and enlightening. Crikey, who have I become?
Here’s the techy bit. The Muse 2 meditation band (gifted*) is made by a Canadian firm called Interaxon. It’s a plastic headband that sits across your forehead, with the arms resting behind your ears. Once adjusted to fit perfectly, a stripe of EEG electrodes makes contact with your forehead to track your brain and heart activity while you meditate. So this is the part I was curious to try.
First though, the annoying bit. You have to make sure your phone and the headset are charged, download the Muse app, activate your Bluetooth, and if you’re wearing AirPods, make sure those are charged as well. Then you have to make sure the headset is perfectly positioned. No sweat, make-up or hair must obstruct the electrodes so it can ‘speak’ to the app. On the first couple of attempts I found my meditation interrupted by the anxiety-inducing message of, “calibration has been paused due to a drop in signal quality” and instructions to adjust the device. My instant reaction: “Fuck this shit!” But after a few tries, I got to grips with it all and it worked surprisingly seamlessly.
Once the Muse app is downloaded, you make an account and choose your meditation. You can pick from mind, heart, body and breath meditations of different lengths depending on how much time you have. The app gently trains you to focus by playing soothing nature sounds or drumbeats and birdsong. These escalate to dramatic rainfall if your attention wanders, prompting you to refocus.
Post-meditation, the device sends your body, brain and heart activity data to the app, which relays it back to you in a personalised graph. It shows you how many times your focus drifted, how quickly you recovered and awards points and rewards. You can also set challenges or streaks to keep up the routine of daily meditations, so there’s a kind of ‘gamification’ at play if you’re the competitive type.
As I said, my motivation for meditation was training myself to focus and if that’s your goal, this is a pretty good shout. As Muse CTO Chris Aimone explained, “research shows that training your attention through meditation can help you stay on task and be more effective with your time. With Muse, focused attention training is enhanced by guiding your mental activity from active (wandering mind, scattered unstable attention) to calm. The real time feedback on the mind’s activity helps you make the best use of your time by helping you practice the right thing; stabilised attention.” So if you’re easily distracted or prone to procrastination (ahem), this can help develop the ability to quickly come back to your main focus and stay there.
Admittedly, the first time I used my headset, I then followed with a solid 20 minutes scrolling through Instagram. Old habits die hard and I guess that’s the downside of having the app on your phone. But the ritual of putting the headset on, even if only for three minutes (the shortest meditation) seems to genuinely help you to stick to the routine.
Once in the groove of meditating and not feeling embarrassingly woo woo about it all, you do find yourself feeling more ‘present’. As we’re in the midst of something of an anxiety epidemic, there’s a huge rise in self-care interest, not to mention a burgeoning mindfulness economy, which is almost certainly a reaction to digital over-stimulation.
The good news is that mindful meditation has been proven to help with stress relief. A recent study from Carnegie Mellon University shows that meditation reduces blood levels of Interleukin-6 (an inflammatory biomarker) in people under stress. This Net-a-Porter article also points to research from the Brain, Belief and Behaviour lab at Coventry University on the positive psychobiological effects of meditation. For me, the combined pleasures of a clearer mind, a sheepskin swaddled hot water bottle and an all-enveloping Pendleton blanket are enough to keep me practicing this meditation lark. (Is there such a thing as a mediation poncho? Because I think a Pendleton one would vastly improve my performance.)
The downsides of the Muse 2 come down to practicality and cost. It can’t be used on the go because the band is sensitive to movement and any disruption in signal. You also have to make sure several components are charged. So far I haven’t had a problem, but I just know there will come a time when one part of the chain runs out of juice at the crucial moment (most likely my AirPods).
Cost-wise, you’re looking at £239 (from Selfridges, Amazon, and ChooseMuse.com). It’s a lot but I think it’s worth it if you have the disposable income and have tried but failed meditation before. The personalisation aspect seems to compel you to use it, as do the gamification rewards – silly though that sounds. I imagine the technology doesn’t come cheap but if there was a more accessible version, £50 say, I think that would be an instant hit. It feels like the public is ready for it if reports of urban drop-in meditation spaces like 3DEN are anything to go by.
So far though, I’m loving the simple challenge of training my brain to focus. Not something I ever thought I’d say admittedly, but it feels like I’m learning something new that should have long-term benefits. As long as I can keep it up…
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WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
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23 March, 2019 @ 10:53 am
“You have to make sure your phone and the headset are charged, download the Muse app, activate your Bluetooth, and if you’re wearing AirPods, make sure those are charged as well.”
Blimey! I don’t even know what half of those things are; let alone know how to charge them.
I’m sure it was easier back in the days of the Maharishi :-)
23 March, 2019 @ 11:07 pm
It’s all new to me, Martin! Half of me hates technology (so much faff, ‘callibrating’ nonsense etc, not very Zen) and the other half is curious and likes new toys :/
23 March, 2019 @ 8:23 pm
Scented candles have been proven to be carcinogenic, even soy wax.
We need to be discerning , it’s easy to swallow the whole package but not healthy.
23 March, 2019 @ 11:07 pm
Thanks Suzannah for your comment, I’m looking into it