For those unaware, I’m a big fan of relaxation. Because of this, I found myself exploring meditation and yoga for a few years through my whistleblowing journey.
It’s difficult explaining what it feels like reaching a level of transcendence to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but it took me several months of dedicated daily practice to finally drop the load from my mind and wash my brain.
That was back in 2012, and between then and now, marijuana and meditation have outlasted my yoga practice. So when I had an opportunity to try out a couple of technologies I saw at CES 2016, I was more than happy to put them through the test for the holiday season.
It sounds a little scary using tech that can monitor and even change your brainwaves, but it’s a lot less scary (and more effective) than you’d think at first glance.
Instead of giving you the generic tech explanations you’ll get from the kids at the major gadget magazines, I’ll explain to you how these gadgets fit into my actual meditation and medication practices.
Muse: The Brain-Sensing Headband ($249.99 at ChooseMuse.com)
The Muse meditation headband by Gaiam is the first gadget I started using. While this headband promises to monitor your brainwaves, it’s not doing it in the way the Riddler’s TV boxes did in those shitty Batman movies from the 90s.
Instead, Muse uses the same electroencephalography (EEG) sensors used in hospitals to measure electrical activity in the brain. When paired with the app on your phone through bluetooth, Muse not only measures your brainwaves, but provides guided meditations as well.
The combination of these guided meditations and the sensors providing quantifiable data to backup your feelings was actually quite a boon. What seemed like little more to a novelty on the surface turned out to be quite the useful tool over time.
Fitness trackers are everywhere these days, and we’ve been testing Fitbit, Android Wear, iHealth, and other platforms, which all measure both activity and sleep, but none of them really dive into brain activity to help deal with stress. Muse is the perfect solution for this, and with mindful use will easily appeal to anyone who already has a meditation practice.
Now there’s nothing that Muse accomplishes that I couldn’t accomplish on my own or with other guided meditation solutions. It’s simply a state-of-the-art tool to quantify your meditation results. Don’t expect it to be some kind of performance-enhancing drug, which I’ll discuss more in the next section.
Muse is useful in that it helps gather data about your brain’s health in with the calories, BMI, steps, and other measurements you get from activity trackers, scales, and other tracking platforms.
After using it for several weeks, I have only a couple of problems with Muse. First, the carrying case barely fits the device and doesn’t protect it at all. I work mostly from home these days, so meditation is easy for me on the fly, but if you threw it in a bag or purse, you may lose it.
Also, it’s a bit flimsy, like headphones from the 80s. I was constantly afraid of breaking it. Other than that, Muse is the perfect tech gift for the yogi, fitness, or meditation junkie in your life.
Available in black and white, Muse recharges with micro-USB and is fully reusable until the battery dies (at which point, DIYers can easily replace the battery).
I was originally planning on giving it away, but it bridges the gap between my love of graphs and meditation, so this is staying in my personal stash of toys, as is the next item I got to try that takes things a step further.
Thync ($199.99 at Thync.com)
Thync doesn’t just monitor your brainwaves (in fact it doesn’t monitor them at all). Instead, it works like those old ab-workout pads that send electrical impulses through your brain in targeted areas to help calm and energize you (depending on the band).
Unlikc Muse, Thync uses sticky pads to attach to your temple and key areas behind your ear or neck to connect the right parts of your brain when sending these impulses.
As a kid, we played with a lot of electric shock toys, so I’m familiar with the concept, and the pedigree of the designers (coming from the country’s best universities) made me and my roommate trust it enough to give it a shot.
Thync is a little uncomfortable, and taking it off is like ripping off a Band-Aid (be sure not to get any hair in the way), but other than those minor issues, it turns out to actually be an interesting and effective product.
Our first few sessions were a little uncomfortable as we figured out placements, power, and worked our way through the app’s installation and setup. Once things got going, you really just feel an uncomfortable pinch in the areas it’s shocking. Beyond that, you don’t get that rush you do from smoking weed.
Upon seeing energizing and calming strips, my immediate comparison was to sativas and indicas in marijuana. These all-natural drugs are my favorite way to achieve those sensations, and Thync doesn’t do that to you.
What Thync does do, however, is replicate those meditation and yoga sessions I remember fondly from my days in Florida. You’re not only having impulses sent through your brain, you’re also focusing on your phone and meditating in a way.
A few minutes after removing the strips from a session, I did feel more relaxed or energized, and the sensation lasted for several hours. It’s not as accentuated as drugs, but it’s as noticeable as it was with transcendental meditation.
Of course, Thync still looks like a mind-control device (which it is, although not in the science fictiony way you’re thinking), and it’ll eventually catch up to (and surpass) Muse in price when used over time.
We were able to get 4-5 solid uses out of each strip (provided no hair, makeup, etc.) got on them, but they eventually need to be replaced, and replacements cost $19.99 on Amazon.
Still, Thync does work, and if you’re looking for a natural way to replace whatever substances you’re into, it’s a great way to start and end your day in a meditative state.
It’s not often I find technology that does what it says (and does it well), but Thync and Muse have replaced the yoga mat as my favorite health and wellness accessory. Although they can’t be used together, they’re both very useful for the modern yogi to have.
While Muse tracks your brain activity, Thync can be used as a booster to one side or another as needed to help keep your energy exactly where you want it.
We’ve come a long way since I started whistleblowing in 2011, and thanks to technologies like Thync and Muse, we may stay calm and live on long enough to see so much more.
Final Grade: A