I never know quite what to make of meditation, mindfulness and all such modish contemplative pursuits. My sceptical side says the lot of them are just a fancy rebranding of that old palliative, a nice little nap. And yet two friends of mine, one a worldly-wise former foreign correspondent, the other a no-nonsense business guy, swear by such practices. I find it difficult to simply sit and “be”, however. My restless inner toddler takes over. I have to concede, though, that on the rare occasions I can zone out, it is refreshing and I can see how, perhaps paradoxically, it could make you more productive.
Well, there’s nothing more likely to persuade me towards a new thing than a finely hewn gadget, so respect to Toronto company, Interaxon, for this electronic headband, Muse, which monitors your brain activity and, in combination with the inevitable smartphone app – and a very good one it is too – trains you to get better and better at doing nothing. I did not expect to love Muse as I do.
The quick start guide quotes Plutarch and Ralph Waldo Emerson, which could be regarded as a tad pretentious, and has too many photos of blissed-out beautiful people and waterfalls. Also, I normally find brain-sensing products don’t work well on me. But I am pretty sure that Muse, which is reasonably comfortable and fits even my enormous head, got my cranial activity spot-on. Interaxon seem to have got the skin connections better than any other similar product I’ve tried. The “Be-ing” lessons are well scripted and designed and conducted by a lady with a cool Canadian accent. What made Muse work for me is that it gives you the chance to control the intensity, so to speak, of your nothingness. When the sensors can tell that you are not relaxing sufficiently, you hear the sound of rain; as you calm your mind, birdsong rises up. The app keeps a record of your relaxation metrics, so you can tell over time how you are improving.
The sensation Muse sessions left me with was more like a mental reset than a snooze. There are some hokey products in this brain-sensing category, but I think this one is pukka. Indeed, Interaxon’s advisory board includes some impressive electronic and psychology names.
Muse is a worryingly delicate little apparatus. To be fair, it didn’t get damaged when I took it around for a few weeks in my travel bag, but while too many products have a hard case when it’s unnecessary, Muse could do with something more robust than the soft bag it comes with. Best to use with in-ear headphones, by the way.