The rise and rise of meditation has been one of the stories of the decade, with apps such as Headspace and Mindworks being downloaded by tens of millions of people around the globe. Statistics gathered in America suggest the proportion of the population who practise meditation has risen threefold since 2012 to over 14 per cent, while studies argue it not only improves mental and physical health but can also boost cognitive function. Meditation apps, however, have the limitation that they cannot offer feedback on how effective they have been in helping you still your busy mind. That was why the Muse meditation headset I reviewed last April was such a breakthrough. Coming out of research from the University of Toronto’s neuroscience programme, it had electroencephalography (EEG) sensors that could read brainwaves and translate them into symbolic sound effects: so you would hear heavy rain when your mind was too active, tapering off as you relaxed and turning to birdsong as you reached a state of deep calm.
The new Muse 2 looks almost exactly like the original, and had I not learnt it was newly out at the exact time that I had a day to kill in Toronto, I might have skipped reviewing it. But since I was in town, I dropped by Muse HQ to try it. It turned out to be a good call. Muse 2 is a substantial step up from the original. Not only is it slimmer and lighter, but in addition to the EEG sensors, it also has an accelerometer and a gyroscope to keep tabs on your bodily stillness or otherwise during meditation, and a photoplethysmography (PPG) optical heart rate monitor to pick up your pulse. The upshot is that along with EEG-based exercises to control brain activity, Muse 2 offers complementary exercises that help you control your heart rate, breathing, stillness and posture.
An expanded Muse app now offers Muse 2 users a panic-inducing (not really, just my little joke) choice of modes and functions. The best thing for me is that it takes a realistic view of beginners’ perseverance, with rookie sessions starting at just one minute.