July 27, 2023
From podcast: https://bengreenfieldlife.com/podcast/musepodcast/
[00:01:18] The Muse and its creator Ariel Garten
[00:08:05] How does meditation help with highly active brain?
[00:18:00] The amygdala and prefrontal cortex
[00:26:25] What does meditation really do?
[00:39:36] The impact of meditation on the hippocampus and other benefits
[00:44:36] How does Muse work?
[00:58:12] Supplements, smart drugs, nootropics, adaptogens and meditation
[01:01:04] The Mind Monitor app
[01:02:47] Future plans
[01:06:43] Closing the Podcast
[01:09:30] End of podcast
Ben: My name is Ben Greenfield. And, on this episode of the Ben Greenfield Life Podcast.
Ariel: When you have a longer-term meditation process, what the research is looking like is that the prefrontal cortex is better able to downregulate the amygdala. So, the prefrontal cortex has projections to the amygdala and the projections go both ways for most of us, but in many of us, the amygdala screams more loudly than the prefrontal cortex can control. But, long-term meditators seem to have greater projections from their prefrontal cortex to the amygdala. And so, when a scary situation arises and the amygdala kind of wakes up and goes, “Oh, no, something might be going on here,” meditators seem to be better able to take a metacognitive approach to be able to look at the scenario and to actively downregulate that amygdala, to be able to look around and say, “Nah, it's okay, I've got this. Yeah, it's just a shadow on the wall, don't worry about it.”
Ben: Faith, family, fitness, health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking, and a whole lot more. Welcome to the show.
Well, folks, if you are a biohacker or like to call yourself one, or you're in a meditation, or you've studied up at all, or listen to podcasts I've done about neurofeedback or you just like to play with cool new devices that could help you with recovery or with sleep or just stepping away from all the madness of the day, then you might have stumbled across the company called Muse, M-U-S-E. It's basically this headband that senses your brain and then uses biofeedback to help you focus during the day or sleep better at night. And, it has all these different things like digital sleeping pills and guided meditation and ways that you can track what's going on in your brain with your heart rate, et cetera, while you are simultaneously meditating. So, it's like meditation meets technology.
So, I don't really understand how it works. I don't really understand how to use it. I have one and I have all sorts of stupid questions about it. And, I've gotten lots of questions from you guys too about this intersection between biofeedback and meditation and whether we need fancy devices or not to actually empty our heads and whether we need to be emptying our heads in the first place, all sorts of crazy questions. So, I decided to get probably one of the world's leading experts on biofeedback meets meditation on my podcast. She's the founder of InteraXon. InteraXon is a company that makes Muse, but she also has a background in neuroscience at the University of Toronto, where she spent time researching Parkinson's disease and hippocampal neurogenesis. And, she's not only a science nerd, but she's also a fashion designer who had clothing featured in Toronto Fashion Week and has her work displayed at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
So, this is an interesting person in terms of their combination background of science and art. Her name is Ariel Garten. And, she has been the mastermind behind bringing neurofeedback meditation and this whole idea of using technology in a smart way to relax and sleep better to the world. So, we're super privileged to have her on and everything you hear today, you can find at BenGreenfieldLife.com/MusePodcast. That's BenGreenfieldLife.com/M-U-S-E-Podcast where somewhere I'll hunt down some kind of a deal or a discount for you guys on the Muse as well if you want to mess around with this thing.
So, Ariel, first of all, welcome to the show. And, should I be saying you like The Little Mermaid, Ariel or is it Ariel?
Ariel: You got it. Bang on, Ariel. Rarely does someone nail it the first try. Ben, you're awesome.
Ben: Isn't The Little Mermaid Ariel I think is how–
Ariel: If Sebastian says her name, it's Ariel.
Ben: Ariel, under the sea.
Okay. So anyways, now that we've got the Disney cartoons out of our system, tell me about this weird background you have in neuroscience and fashion. That seems kind of unique.
Ariel: So, I was always been fascinated by how you make stuff, and so I started by creating physical things and objects, art, design. But, I was really interested in the understanding of why we perceive the stuff the way we perceive the stuff. Creating a physical thing is really interesting, but creating a better human is far more fascinating. So, I went to school for neuroscience and then began working in neuroscience research labs. At the same time, I was really good at making stuff and creating stuff people love to wear and experience. So, I had clothing line that I sold. The store is in Toronto, then New York, and then really merged. The clothing line fell away after. It's not a great business model, let me tell you.
Ben: I would imagine it's a tough industry. My kids have a Threadless account and it's funny that we're talking about this because literally just before I came into the office, my son was showing me a new hoodie he designed with a fart on the front of it. So, they might have an uphill battle. I'm not banking on that paying the bills but we'll see.
Ariel: So, I veered into something that I thought was going to move the needle for humanity a little bit more than fart shirts, no disrespect to your son, and really went down the path of creating tools in neuroscience that served the same things that fashion did that were easy to wear, that people loved wearing with great cuts, great fabrics. But did the far more important thing with my neuroscience training and then my training as a psychotherapist, which was make tools that really help you change who you are. First, understand who you are, how your brain and body works, and then help you shift that to your ultimate overtime.
Ben: So, during that time that you were either going to school or developing and finding out maybe fashion wasn't the best industry for you to be in, were you yourself in the meditation?
Ariel: So, I was somebody who always thought that meditation was great and from a very young age tried to do it but I sucked at it. So, as someone trained in neuroscience, I knew all the studies. At that point, there were not only a thousand of them, now there's over 10,000 of them that demonstrate the impact of meditation on the brain and the body. I then trained as a therapist and had a private practice for a decade where I was teaching people to meditate my patients. Yet, I was somebody who always wanted to do everything and always wanted to do it very well. And, that doesn't lead to a great meditation practice because you have the frustration of like, “Oh, my god, I can't actually do this thing. I'm not good at it. I don't want to do it.”
Ariel: And, it was until I started building Muse that I actually was able to use the tool to build my own practice and then, of course, build the better mouse trap.
Ben: What do you mean you were able to use the tool to build your own practice? You mean you relied upon it as a way to brainstorm or creatively bring new ideas to life, shift your brain in certain ways or what's that mean exactly?
Ariel: What it specifically means is I used it to finally teach me to meditate. I knew what meditation was, I knew how to do it, but I sucked at it. And, it was through finally using Muse that my mind would wander off as it always did. The Muse would tell me my mind had wandered off and bring me back to my focused attention practice. And then, I could go, “Oh, this is what I'm supposed to be doing.” And then, it will keep me in my focused attention practice and reward my brain, and then my brain would go, “Oh, right, this is what I'm supposed to be doing.” And then, all of a sudden, I actually became a decent meditator.
Ben: Okay, okay, that makes sense.
And, I guess what I meant by my question was, did you find that by enabling yourself to be able to meditate with the Muse that that then spilled into other areas of your life as far as creativity or new ideas or things like that? And, the reason I ask this is I always carve out some kind of quiet time in the morning where I'm sitting with a journal cross-legged, no distractions. It's one of the reasons I get up so early in the morning is so that I have that quiet time and I know nobody's going to be bugging me. And, I generate new ideas during that time that are far different than I might have generated in any other space than say if I were to, I don't know, take a heroic dose of psilocybin or go do plant medicine or some other kind of massive mind-shifting activity. It's just simply sitting quiet in the morning that I personally have developed a ton of ideas for my business, my personal life, et cetera. Do you find that meditation has worked for you in terms of developing ideas for the company?
Ariel: Yes, but in a completely different way. So, I was somebody who had too many ideas. My brain was always going ping, ping, ping, and then I could never focus on any of them and just drive the one idea forward. And so, the first thing that I noticed in my meditation practice was that I actually became more focused and actually was able to focus. The actual very, very, very first memory I have of being like, “Oh, my god, meditation works” was after using Muse for a few weeks; I was working on a long-form document, which would normally take hours because people would come up to my desk, they'd ask me things, the fire, I'd see a light. It's just distracted all over the place.
And, I actually got through this document in 45 minutes and I didn't know what happened to me because it turned out, I later realized that in Muse and meditation, what you're trained to do is your mind wanders, you notice your return, your mind wanders you notice you return. So, I was able to take that skill of noticing and returning during my meditation and apply it immediately to being far more productive at work, being able to observe my mind, bring it back when it was wandering all over the place, and actually get through a single task. So, to me, that was step one before I could open the ideas back up again.
Ben: Yeah, it sounds to me basically where it served you was taming the wandering mind so that in other applications you could actually apply focus. And, that's something that, I guess, I've kind of experienced, Ariel, meaning that I tend to have like it sounds like you do a highly active mind. I can't shut it off. I, sometimes, envy my wife who will just sit out on the porch and drink a glass of wine and stare off into the sunset for an hour or get into bed and fall asleep without having me to jot all of her racing thoughts down in a journal before she goes to bed. My mind just doesn't shut off or at least that's the story I tell myself.
And, I have found that if I do not carve out either meditation or some type of neurofeedback with meditation or biofeedback of meditation which we'll talk about or some kind of sitting and journaling or moving meditation AKA exercise, my entire day falls into almost like this ADD/ADHD-esque highly distractible, “Hey, look, there's a squirrel car pileup.” And so, for me, it feels as though, two things, particularly meditation/quiet time and exercise somehow trained down my brain's distractibility. Meaning that I almost feel as though it seems you could address things like ADD, ADHD, not that I'm forcing you to make medical claims here, increase propensity for distractibility and actually change the brain somehow with this type of practice because I found it for myself, again, from exercising, meditating, et cetera, I'm able to focus a lot better in every other aspect of life.
Ariel: Yeah. Do you want me to dive into the neuroscience of why that's the case? I'm itching to jump into the brain here.
Ben: I want you to explain what I'm thinking is happening to me in highly scientific neuroscience geek speak. Yeah.
Ariel: Alright. So, first of all, you're right, that is very much what happens when you meditate. And, why it happens is let's look into the brain, your prefrontal cortex. So, the prefrontal cortex is the executive control center of your brain. It's the part that's responsible for attention, not attention-switching. That's a different part of your brain, but it's also associated with your inhibition. So, if you're somebody with, for example, ADD or just the propensity to have your brain bounce all over the place, you probably have poor attention poor inhibition, and hyperactive attention switching. What meditation allows you to do is to literally strengthen the meat of your prefrontal cortex. It improves the function of that organ of your brain itself, that part of your brain.
So, there's a great study by Dr. Sara Lazar and she looks at long-term meditators and what happens to their brain. And, she was able to demonstrate that the brain of a long-term meditator has a prefrontal cortex that is maintained or even enhanced. And, the brain of a long-term meditator looks much more like a young person. So, bad news, as you age, your prefrontal cortex actually thins and its function decreases, which is why older individuals can feel a little bit more confused. They can have difficulty in inhibiting themselves, inhibiting their emotions. They say things maybe they shouldn't. They're not able to attend as effectively. It's because the organ doesn't work as well as it ages with a long-term meditation practice. You can maintain the function and the volume like the meat of the prefrontal cortex as you age.
Now, this is key because you end up training yourself in meditation to have better attention. And, whether you're talking about ADD, whether you're talking about focus, the ability to manage your ideas and put them in one place, this is all the superpower of attention that is able to allow you to do these things. I can go further but take it from here.
Ben: Okay. No, that makes really good sense. Is that different though in terms of almost the effect on keeping the brain young than what we'd be doing by playing brain games? There's things like Lumosity and Brainscape and N-Back training and Brain Aerobics, are those affecting a different part of the brain than meditation or are they all acting on the same spot in terms of the age reversal effect?
Ariel: So, brain training games work on very specific parts of the brain. You might be playing a reaction time game or you might be playing a noticing game or you might be playing memory short-term memory game. So, brain training is very specific workout for very specific parts and functions of the brain. Meditation training is really a global workout for the brain that really has been demonstrated to improve multiple areas. And, by the way, brain training, brain games has not really been demonstrated to have a great effect in the real world. So, what they've demonstrated is playing a reaction time game. Yeah. So, you get really good at the game. You're improving. You're doing better. You're doing better. But, when you get into the real world, it doesn't translate. The only thing that's been shown to translate is the N-Back and the double N-Back, which is essentially a memory retrieval game.
Ben: I've heard the same thing, by the way. That's why the only game I've had my sons play is N-Back. And then, for me, when I do brain training, I use N-Back. But, for me, I'd rather my brain training just be highly practical. So, my top three methods are essentially instrumentation and learning songs primarily on the guitar, cooking and learning new recipes and experimenting with the kitchen in a multi-sensory format, and then language learning usually with Duolingo. So, for me, those are my brain games if you want to call them that.
Ariel: Totally well said. In each of those, you are training new skills. You're actually training new skills in anything you do. You're increasing your neuroplasticity because you increase your neuroplasticity and anything that you do, but you're doing it in a thing that you care about that's translated into the real world, which will then deliver a good meal or a beautiful song to someone you love.
So, back to meditation and its impact on the brain. It is different than brain games. So, in meditation, we have seen an increase in prefrontal cortex thickness, which is really important because as we talked about it's your higher-order planning center, your attention, your inhibition. We've also seen a downregulation in the amygdala. So, the amygdala is the fear center of your brain. Anytime you look around the world and something slightly scary arises, your amygdala fires. Yeah, the thought of something scary will fire your amygdala. The image of something scary will fire your amygdala. So, the amygdala really rules us because those firings then generate scary thoughts, scary feelings, cortisol, arousal, et cetera.
Long-term meditators have been shown to have a decrease in their level of activity of the amygdala and some long-term meditators have even been shown to the decrease in the size of the amygdala. So, you're dropping down your fear response, you're dropping down your cortisol reactions, you're generally improving your sympathetic and parasympathetic tone.
The next brain thing that happens is very cool.
Ben: Hey, can I ask you a quick question and derail you briefly?
Ariel: Jump in.
Ariel: All the time.
Ben: Sometimes I have some podcast guests who I know if I derail them, they won't jump back on, but it sounds to me probably based on your meditation skills you'll remember that point two that you left off on.
You're talking about the amygdala and downregulation of that fear-based response. It kind of makes me wonder about guys like Alex Honnold, that rock climber who I think in the documentary about him they said had a really significantly lower fear response, almost didn't display fear in the amygdala-related sections of the brain, which was what enabled him to be able to climb to these massive heights without ropes and things like that. And, it kind of makes me wonder and this might be a two-part question to derail you even more, if that's a chicken or egg question, meaning did the long amounts of time he spent meditating with what you might call moving meditation staring at a rock wall, et cetera, from a very young age somehow change his amygdala in such a way that he downregulated fear responses. And, that's kind of a two-part question because I'm also curious if the moving meditation thing is even a thing. If I'm, say, a trail runner going for long periods of time on the trail, if I'm activating some of those same areas of the brain to get activated with meditation. I asked that just because I have so many friends who say I don't meditate but I go to the gym and I run and that's moving meditation. So, two questions.
Ariel: Cool, love it. Question one, I love the analogy. And basically, what you've said is as your fear decreases, you can reach higher heights in your life. And, that's in anything. So, probably he had a pretty low amygdala response, to begin with, to allow him to actually do a thing that was so scary for other people. And then, the doing of the thing proved to his brain that it didn't need to be afraid. And so, as he built confidence in it, his fear response decreased, decreased, decreased, as he had agency and control over his actions, so he didn't need to be afraid. And then, the need to be so intensely attended to every rock, every nook, every cranny so you don't die, then further strengthened his attention and his ability to downregulate his emotional response. Because we all know if you're a key athlete, if you're at the peak of your performance, there's nothing that derails you more than nerves. And so, we all work very hard to be able to manage our nerves.
Let's dive into the science a little further because it's really cool. So, the prefrontal cortex has a projection to the amygdala and it's kind of the prefrontal cortex is the parent, the rational part of your brain that can see what's going on and understand and know, “Okay, I've got this,” and the amygdala is the child, the little kid who is freaking out because there's a shadow on the wall and it might be scary. And, sometimes the things that scared of are real dangerous like falling off a rock phase and sometimes they're really fake dangers like “I don't want to email this person because they might not respond to me and they might not like me,” these kinds of fears that we all have that just keep us from moving ahead in life in basic ways.
Ben: Right. “A zit that just sprouted on my nose might get me cast out from the tribe and I'm going to die alone in the wilderness now.”
Ariel: Exactly. That's why all should meditate.
Ariel: To make better social connections and ignore the zits.
So, going back to the brain. When you have a longer-term meditation process, what the research is looking like is that the prefrontal cortex is better able to downregulate the amygdala. So, the prefrontal cortex has projections to the amygdala and the projections go both ways for most of us. But, in many of us, the amygdala screams more loudly than the prefrontal cortex can control. But, long-term meditators seem to have greater projections from their prefrontal cortex to the amygdala. And so, when a scary situation arises and the amygdala kind of wakes up and goes, “Oh no, something might be going on here,” meditators seem to be better able to take a metacognitive approach to be able to look at the scenario and to actively downregulate that amygdala, to be able to look around and say, “Nah, it's okay, I've got this. Ah, it's just a shadow on the wall. Don't worry about it.”
Ben: Okay, that's fascinating. By the way, opening the kimono and when people see me riding on this little green pad, if you're watching the video version of this podcast, sometimes it's for title ideas for the show and the phrase “fear proof your brain” is what I just wrote down as part of the title of today's episode. So, I love this. Keep going.
Ariel: Oh, god, we can just dive into fear if you want to. It's one of my favorite subjects. So, if I had a motto for life, it was “Feel the fear and do it anyways.” Our physiology gives us all of this stuff that we can either be freaked out by or we can just sit and observe.
And, moving out of the brain and into the body for a minute in a meditation practice and I will get to your walking meditation question. In a meditation practice, what we learn to do is to observe the sensations in our body. So, most people go through life with a bunch of feeling and are simply overwhelmed with it. And, that feeling stimulates thoughts about that feeling which then enhance the feeling. I see something scary, it gives me a jolt of fear, which then triggers my brain to give me thoughts about that because the amygdala's job is to pay attention to things that thinks is really important, the threatening things, zits or fires, or whatever. And then, it creates more emotional arousal, more thought, more emotional arousal in this spin-up.
In a meditation practice, what you learn to do is to observe your thoughts and not buy into them and observe your feelings. So, a meditator might have the same experience and see something scary. The arousal begins, the fear feelings come up in your body, but as a meditator you don't go, “I'm afraid, this is awful,” you go, “Hey, I'm feeling some sensation.” You simply label it as sensation. The sensation is arising. I feel a tightening in my chest. I feel a tingling in my fingers, whatever it is. And, when you do that, you take the power out of it. You're no longer on the emotional roller coaster, you are simply observing that something's happened and you can make a different rational choice about it. And, there's a phrase which I absolutely love which is those who are able to succeed in life are those who are able to sit through discomfort and meditation is essentially that.
Ben: I absolutely agree. I'd be curious to hear if you do this, but I think one of the absolute best ways to induce fear inoculation in a human is to combine long slow deep breathing some form of meditation, and cold water immersion. And, I literally have a cold tub that I keep at 33 degrees 10 feet away from us outside my office. And, that is I think one of the most powerful things I do every day to allow me to handle just about any other stress or fear-based activity that might get thrown at me the rest of the day.
Ariel: I completely agree and I challenge everyone out there to as soon as you feel afraid of something, make that be the thing that you're drawn towards.
Ariel: I feel afraid of that. I feel a little aversion. And, fear shows up in different ways. It might just be this feeling of aversion or procrastination or I don't feel like it. All of those are just different labels for fear. And, as soon as you feel that because meditation helps you really observe the sensations in your body and emotions and what they might be, dive into the thing. Say F you to that fear and dive into it because that's the way we break it. That's the way we reduce all of its power and can climb to whatever height we want when we get the fear to stop. Or, not care if it was there. You can stop or not stop.
Ben: Yeah, exactly. I would like for people to jot down or note an idea for a book to read related to this fantastic book that I just finished reading about embracing discomfort and running towards fear. I'm straining my neck because it's literally on the top shelf of my bookshelf where I've got a label that says books to read again. I've got one shelf that's devoted to all the books to read again that I'd come back to about every year. It's called “Stop Living Your Life on Autopilot.” I'm not big into self-improvement books because I think mostly they're just an echo chamber but this one was amazing and visits some of the practical applications behind what you just said about running towards fear, about embracing discomfort and using that not only to grow as a person but also as a stress inoculation strategy or fear inoculation strategy.
So, I am going to have a whole lot of questions regarding the practical ins and outs of meditation, but back to the moving meditation piece, the second part of that question. Is that a thing? Does that count when my friends tell me that they go to the gym or go on a run and therefore they meditate?
Ariel: So, it depends what your mind is doing during the practice. So, meditation is not about your mind going blank, meditation is about being able to observe your mental space or observe one task very wholly and very fully, be able to be really absorbed into it. So, if you're going for a run and you're daydreaming–
Ben: Wait, wait, wait, it's not about your mind being blank? Because so many people have told me like, “Empty your head.” Wait, okay, I got to ask you this. Let's say some thought comes into my head like a discussion that I want to have with my wife during a meditation session about us trying to figure out a way to where we don't each drink all the coffee in the morning and get mad at each other because somebody drank a cup and a half and then the other person because they woke up late only gets a half cup of coffee. Let's say that that enters my mind during a meditation session and I just start focusing on that and finding a solution to that and dwelling on that for the next 20 minutes. Are you suggesting that that would actually be a form of meditation focusing on that one single specific thing for 20 minutes?
Ariel: So, let me clarify a little bit.
Ariel: So, meditation is not simply having no thoughts, it's very difficult to have no thoughts. There are many different forms of meditation. The one I'm going to describe is focused attention meditation, which encompasses mantra meditation focused attention on the breath even walking meditations where you are fully engaged in one thing but that thing is not your thoughts but that thing could be the observation of your thoughts.
So, in the situation that you just described, you're sitting there meditating, your mind wanders off onto a thought, at that moment, this is the real work of the meditation that is called the attentional loop. You notice that your mind has wandered onto a thought, the thought of your wife, and you have the opportunity at that moment to either let your attention move away from the thought and back to the object of your attention which could be a mantra, which is just some words; a mantra, a light, a feeling, a sound, something tangible and concrete or continue on and think about your wife. If you continue on and think about your wife, you're no longer meditating. If you've noticed you had the thought and then move your mind away from it and back to your breath, you have just done a stellar meditation. That is the thing that strengthens your attention. That's the bench press rep at the gym, the noticing and returning because it's unrealistic to have no thoughts. Our brains don't do that. What we're doing is we're building our metacognition, the awareness that our mind wanders, and then the choice to move your attention elsewhere.
Ben: That's kind of TM because I actually took a whole transcendental meditation course. I did a whole podcast on it. I'll hunt it down and link to this one. Again, the shownotes are at BenGreenfieldLife.com/MusePodcast. And, there were certain elements of TM that I thought were kind of woo like having to offer gifts to the flowers and some shrine or whatever before you go meditate, and certain things that just felt a little bit weird to me. But then, the idea of being given a mantra that's your special mantra that you return to whenever your mind begins to wander during the TM session wound up being something that made a lot of sense. And, it was the first time I personally had been able to sit twice a day for 20 minutes and not have my head explode with flames because I had this little thing I could keep going back to that was my special little place during meditation, that mantra. So, is that kind of why TM seems to be so effective or at least one of the reasons?
Ariel: Totally. And, that is just another version of focused attention meditation. And so, that mantra, that special little thing in meditation speak, we call it the object of your attention. And, the object of your attention could be on your breath for breath-focused meditation. It could be on a candle. It could be on a mantra. It is the thing that you return back to to anchor your attention on. And, it's going back to the gym analogy, you are working so hard to just stay on this thing to just keep the bike moving, keep the bike moving, keep the bike moving, which is staring at your candle or listening to your mantra in your head. And, sometimes you go off the rails a little bit and then you just have to, know this, gather yourself in return.
Now, this is a very, very simple activity, simply focusing on one thing, paying attention to one thing and it leads to incredible transformation. And, I want to kind of just walk you through the steps a little bit if that's okay.
Ben: Yeah, sure, go ahead.
Ariel: Okay. So, when you focus your attention on your breath, the object of your meditation, and then your mind wanders off into thought and you notice that your mind is wandered into thought and you choose to instead bring your attention back to your breath, that little action leads to tremendous transformation. So, most of us just go through our life on autopilot like the title of the book, your mind just wanders away, you have thoughts in your mind and they're there so you assume you're supposed to think them. My brain's filled with stuff, I think that's how it works, isn't it? But, as soon as you make the action of noticing your mind is wandered onto a thought and then choosing to bring it elsewhere, that is the moment when you have changed your relationship with your thinking. That is the moment where you have liberated yourself from this endless stream of thought controlling your life. That is the moment when you have become the master of your thinking rather than subject to it. And, it is building what we call metacognition. You can see your thoughts.
And now, when you go into the real world, you can–
Ben: That's what metacognition means, you can see your thoughts?
Ariel: Yup. The awareness of your thinking.
Ben: I've never understood that term but that makes perfect sense. So, I'm just aware of what I'm thinking and observing it and actually able to identify it so to speak as a skill.
Ariel: Exactly. You're not caught up in the thought, you're seeing that you're having the thought. You're one level up. And, when you do that, you can then start to make choices about your thoughts. Do I want to be thinking this thought or not? And, the answer much of the time is actually no. And, it may be a lovely thought that you want to have or a problem you want to work on or it may be that this problem has returned to you seven times and you don't have a solution and you're just going to say no, I want to move my mind onto something that's more important for me. I want to get my work done. I want to pay attention to the person in front of me. I want to have choice and agency over my life and my mind.
And so, that is why meditation is so key. And then, once you do that, you move your mind out of thoughts that are stressful. It ends up downregulating all of your anxiety and fear systems because you don't have to think about these stressful thoughts, you eventually create the same mastery over your body as you had over your mind. You have tons of strong emotions that come up. You can simply label them a sensation and make better choices around them. And, you are now the master of your own domain rather than just subject to the whims and vagaries of your mind and body.
Ben: Okay, that makes really good sense. I'm curious what you do, Ariel, when a thought enters your head, you observe it, you identify it, you're in that state of metacognition and then you move on and return to your mantra, your breath, et cetera. But, if that thought is something that you know is a total breakthrough, you're all of a sudden, the genius and you thought of something that you've solved a solution to the world's problems or at least perhaps some business issue related to copy on a website or something like that. You know you want to remember it, but if you don't somehow get that out of your head, it's going to drive you nuts for the rest of the meditation.
Now, I'm curious what you do about this. What I do is for longer periods of meditation and I use massage, for example, as an example, I'll often meditate during a massage and I'll just be in and on my breath the whole time. I have a digital voice recorder under the table and I'll literally speak that thought that I know I don't want to dwell upon or ruminate on for the rest of the session and then I play or upload that into Otter AI transcription afterwards, so I've got any of those thoughts that I can return to so I don't have to worry about remembering them later. For shorter sessions, I use something very similar to the memory palace technique where if I remember during a meditation session that I forgot to ask my wife to pick up bananas on our way home from the grocery store, I will picture at my desk my wife's sitting there holding a banana sitting atop my keyboard. And so, I generally remember those really insane visualizations when I come back to the world. I walk into my office, I'm like, “Oh, my wife's sitting there holding bananas on my keyboard. I got to remember to text her about grabbing bananas.”
And so, those are two examples for me of how I handle those thoughts that seem kind of important when you're meditating that you don't want to forget to address later. Do you have any solutions that you use for scenarios like that?
Ariel: I'm laughing because I use basically the same ones. So, sometimes I'll have a piece of paper next to me and I'll just jot down if something comes up just one word that's really hard for me to read afterwards but enough to kind of trigger what I was thinking or I'll give it a number. So, if I have a thought that comes up that seems important, I will number it. And, during a session, I might have two or three of them and then all I have to do at the end is remember that there were three things and then that was enough of a cue to get me to go back into my memory.
A lot of the time though, I just don't worry about it–
Ben: So, you trust yourself to get back into the memory and you're like, “Hey, my brain is totally capable of remembering this. All I need to do is give it a number.”
Ariel: Yeah. And, it's something that I use in my life as well. If I'm going somewhere and I need to remember the things I need to bring or–even things that don't have steps, if I put numbers to them, I know that I'll remember. Right, there were four things and then I recall them. And, if I only get to three, I have to search really hard for the fourth. But, I've also noticed, so I used to really do the writing it down on paper, and what I realized was most of the things that I wrote down really weren't that profound. And so, I'm now much more able to just be like, I'll let it go and if it was really important, it'll come back to me later or doesn't really matter.
Ben: I developed a voice recorder idea back when I don't really do this anymore but I got into journeying with plant medicines for a while and you'd be deep in Ayahuasca or psilocybin or something like that and you know that you're not going to remember that or it's not going to make any sense later on so you just have a digital voice recorder there for the whole session and you speak it. And so, that became something that I would use during massage sessions. I developed the Memory Palace one when I used to be an open water swimmer and I'd have these long forays in the open water staring at blackness and thoughts would come into my head. And, I obviously couldn't write them down so I had to figure something other than writing to remember these later. And, that's where I developed the Memory Palace technique where I'd come up to the beach, I'd dry myself off with a towel and they're sitting next to, who would be, my assistant reminding me to set up that functional movement screen assessment for a client. And, then, of course, maybe the bananas or the oranges or the grapes or if you're ketogenic, the coconut oil. But anyways, that was how I kind of developed that.
Now, I started asking about the moving meditation and to put a bow on that, Ariel, it sounds to me it could count if you're having one singular thing such as your breath or your steps or something like that that you're focusing on.
Ariel: Precisely. So, in a traditional walking meditation, for example, and walking meditation is a real thing, you are feeling the sensation of your foot on the ground. So, every step you take, very mindful and very aware of the foot on the ground. So, this is actually a good point to bring in the idea of mindfulness. People are always like, “What's mindfulness? What's meditation?” So, meditation is the practice that you do, the sitting, the going to the gym that builds the skill of mindfulness. And, mindfulness is the present-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, environment in a intentional and non-judgmental manner.
So, a moving meditation is a great mindfulness meditation if you're doing it mindfully, that is paying very close attention, pouring all your attention into the sensation of your foot moving, or pouring all of your attention into the beauty of the world around you and intentionally staying with that experience. But, if your mind is just wandering and dreaming, you're not meditating anymore.
Ben: Okay, okay, got it.
Now, before I asked you a couple of derailing questions and that led us to end us delving into the neuroscience of meditation, amygdala, fear-based responses, then moving meditation and mantras and metacognition, you had explained point number one and then you were about to delve into point number two. Remind the listeners in case they can't track what that point number one was and then what that point number two is that you were about to delve into.
So, point number one was about the prefrontal cortex and its ability to downregulate the amygdala and how in a long-term meditation practice you can maintain the thickness of your prefrontal cortex. Point number two, we hadn't started it yet, was going to be the impact of meditation on the hippocampus. This is very ironic that I can actually remember what you were trying to get me to talk about, what point number two was, because meditation can help your prefrontal. Sorry, meditation can help your hippocampus. So, hippocampus the part of your brain associated with learning and memory. As you age, it also shrinks and it shrinks in large part because the hippocampus is highly sensitive to cortisol. And, cortisol can cause shrinkage of the hippocampus. A long-term meditation practice, however, can significantly reduce your cortisol levels, and in doing so, preserve the function and the form, the meat of your hippocampus. So, that's also work that's been demonstrated by Sara Lazar and others.
So, meditation also has impact on your corpus callosum, which is the part of your brain that connects your left and right hemisphere. Meditation can improve the density of your gray matter. So, the gray matter is the number of neural connections that you have in your brain. Dr. Lazar demonstrated that simply eight weeks of meditation, so a short-term meditation intervention, was able to improve the density and the volume of the gray matter of average novice everyday individuals. So, just a little bit of meditation goes a long way to strengthening your brain.
Ariel: And, meditations also been demonstrated to increase the activity in the TPJ, the temporal parietal junction. And, that's the part of your brain that's associated with compassion, empathy, and perspective taking. So, the ability to switch points of view from you to somebody else.
Ben: I've experienced firsthand some of the quantified benefits of something similar to meditation on the brain when I visited a place called Peak Brain, LA, about gosh six or seven years ago, I think, along with my sons, were very young at the time. We got a pre-qEEG, electroencephalogram of the brain which from what I understand is kind of similar to the type of measurements that the Muse headband is taking and it showed particularly me and my son, Terran, areas of ADD, ADHD tendencies, and areas of improper or at least skewed beta to alpha brainwave ratios. So, we had an Airbnb down in LA. We stayed in the Airbnb. We'd go to Peak Brain for about 30 to 60 minutes twice a day during the week and we'd all sit there with electrodes attached to our head collecting our brain data and we'd be staring at a screen. In this case, it was a spaceship. And, when your brain would subconsciously air into those brainwave patterns that needed to be downregulated or adjusted for you to have kind of, I guess, the perfect EEG or at least to downregulate areas of distractibility or ADD or ADHD tendencies, the smoke would stop coming out of the back of the spaceship and it'd start to fly a little bit more slowly and the music would begin to fade and we just sat there and kind of played that game with our minds for a couple hours a day for a week and then we did a post-EEG and it showed in both my son and I a near absence of any of those areas of distractibility elimination of some of those ADD or ADHD-like symptoms at least from a brainwave standpoint.
And, the very first thing I noticed, Ariel, was I found myself at a cocktail party about a week later after returning from that trip. I'm sure other people have this issue. I was standing in the cocktail party and normally I would have been distracted by 20 other conversations going on around me and totally unable to focus on that person right in front of me who I was speaking with. I was able to focus with laser-like intensity on that one conversation while being aware of but not distracted by all the other conversations going on around me. And, that's when I realized like, “Oh, you can actually train the brain,” using this thing called biofeedback and change it remarkably as far as its application into everyday life for focus, decreased distractibility. I also experienced more rapid sleep onset, et cetera.
Now, fast forward, about seven years, it's my understanding that this little headband that I've been actually playing around with especially for the past week or so leading up to this podcast to see more of what the Muse is capable of is kind of doing that same thing via headband and my phone in my pocket. Is that basically the idea behind the Muse is you're doing the same type of biofeedback you might have had to go to a lab 10 years ago to do but now you're doing it in your home?
Ariel: You've got it. So, Muse is a clinical grade EEG, the same kind of sensors and EEG sensing capability that you would have had in a lab with lots of goop on your head and lots of electrodes but in a really slim little form factor, just a little headband. The sensors are clinical grade. They're used by probably a thousand different research labs with 200 published papers. So, really clinical grade. And, what Muse allows you to do if you're using our Muse meditation app, get real-time neurofeedback on your mind during meditation, and the neurofeedback there is very specific to reinforcing your brain to stay in focused attention. And, when your mind wanders, you get an audio cue that your mind is wandered which brings your attention back. And then, there's data that shows you what your brain was doing during the course of your meditation. There's also sensors for your heart, your breath, and your body. And, it really effectively trains the brain and this focused attention that we've been talking about the superpower.
Ben: Okay. So, the headband, by the way, you said heart, breath, body, and brain waves. Those all make sense to me except the body part. Is the body just movement?
Ariel: Yeah. So, the Muse has EEG sensors on your forehead and behind the ears to track your brain. It has a PPG sensor to track your heart rate and then it has movement sensors that together with the heart rate track your breath, and then the movement sensors are tracking your body position orientation, gyroscope, et cetera. And, those are also helpful in the meditations that we do to help you find stillness in your body.
Ben: But, I'm not having to look at the screen and do this whole fly the spaceship with your mind thing; instead, I'm passively laying back or sitting with my eyes closed and it's measuring heart, breath, body, and brain waves, and then kind of giving me that subconscious slap on the wrist I might have seen by the spaceship slowing down by instead giving me a little beep or audio cue, and then that returns me back to that enhanced state of metacognition or meditation or not allowing my brain to wander. That's kind of the idea?
Ariel: That's exactly the idea. That's precisely what's happening. So, we have beautiful audio programs that have been created to really ensconce your brain in an audio experience. It's not like there's a little beep going on that's distracting, it really feels like it's your mind. And so, when your mind wanders, you hear it and then you come back to focused attention.
Ben: You were explaining how the app works and how it's not just a beep, “Hey, get back in the action, kid,” it's kind of subtle. I was doing one of the sessions yesterday, it was the raindrops combined with a 30-minute relaxation session. I kind of like the longer sessions, ones that are 20, 30, I think you have a 39-minute long one in there. I was actually in the hyperbaric chamber doing a Muse session. And, what I notice, I want to ask you about this was the raindrops seem to fluctuate a little bit and the voice would kick in at certain points. I could have sworn to the lady's voice was telling me to return to my breath or return to the raindrops nearly at the same time that my thoughts were starting to turn towards upstairs and not to kick this horse to death, bananas and the coffee and everything. And so, was it actually detecting what my brain was doing and then rather than beeping actually changing what the lady was saying and what to focus on?
Ariel: Yeah. So, with Muse, we've been able to come a really long way in the way that we give audio feedback and bio neurofeedback. So, the rain that you're talking about, so that's a direct correlation of your state of focused attention. When the rain gets louder, it means your mind is wandered. When you bring it back, the rain gets quieter. When you're really focused, you hear little birds chirping, and that becomes a reinforcement for your brain to be like, “Yup, you're doing it right, you're doing it right.” It's also gamification that keeps people attached to this.
The audio that goes along with it, you wave hundreds of different guided audios that you can choose from. You could do it with guided audio, without guided audio, with all the sounds turned off so it's very customizable for your experience. The audio that it goes along to in some of the experiences may actually be cued to your brain. Sometimes it's just pure guided and sometimes it's actually responsive. But, the sounds that you're hearing are always responding to your brain.
Ben: But, there's two different kind of tiles in the app, there's the meditation section and then there's a sleep session. The sleep session didn't seem to have any of the bird sounds or anything like that. What's going on with the sleep section?
Ariel: Yup. So, what we've been talking about up until now was meditation, so neuro and biofeedback for your meditation where you can see what your brain was doing and really hone your meditation practice. We also have another area of focus in the app which is sleep. So, we realized once we have a clinical grade EEG on people's heads, we could not only track meditation really effectively but we could really brilliantly track sleep. So, our latest device the Muse S and the Muse S Gen 2 really is a little sleep lab in your own bed. It has clinical-grade EEG sensors and its ability to track your sleep is basically as effective as going to a sleep lab like a real polysomnography system.
Ben: How do you know that?
Ariel: Because we've done tests, there's hundreds of studies written with Muse. We have our partners at University of Ottawa and Rural Mental Health Center who have used Muse alongside a PSG to demonstrate these things.
Ben: So, when people are saying the Whoop or the Oura or wearables like that come decently close but not super close to a sleep lab and those are some of the best ways to measure sleep or maybe one of those eight sleep mattresses, it sounds to me like they're not yet looking at an EEG-based analysis or a headband-based system to do this. Because from what you've just described, this might be even more accurate than some of these wearables and mattresses.
Ariel: Yes, it is significantly more accurate. So, we compare to an expert with basically an 88% agreement to expert rating on five stages of sleep. So, enter expert rating how one expert will compare to another is not even as good as the Muse compared to an aggregate of experts.
Ariel: So, we've gotten really, really good at staging not just sleep overall but specifically your stage one sleep, stage two deep sleep. Only EEG can show you your true deep sleep. And, we're able to even show you your depth of your deep sleep. So, it's not just how long did you do but how deep was your deep sleep. Have you been able to get the level of delta that you need throughout?
Ariel: And then, from there, since we're able to actually track your sleep really, really, really effectively, best on the market, hands down, we can then create cool interventions to help you fall asleep. So, as you're using the Muse at bedtime, you slip the Muse on and you can listen to guided audio that is then shifting and changing actually based on your brain, heart, breath, and body in ways that walk your brain into sleep. So, we call it the digital sleeping pill and it is literally giving your brain the exact feedback that it needs to know that now is the time when you can let go and fall asleep. So, you're listening to audio a sleep story or a meditation, or just a soundtrack. Some people just want to listen to thunder or waves. And, as you do, the Muse is tracking your level of sleep. And, as it sees you begin to enter into N1 sleep, the first stages of sleep, it starts to change the audio in a way that's designed to help you fall asleep faster. And then, once you're asleep, the audio shuts off. So, it's not listening to a podcast where you wake up and it's still playing and you fall asleep and it's still playing. No, it actually responds to you.
And then, as you wear the Muse throughout the night tracking your sleep, if you happen to wake up in the middle of the night, then Muse waits a few minutes for you to fall asleep on your own. And, if you don't, it automatically brings in the same audio cue, the same intervention, the same digital sleeping pill that helped you fall asleep in the first place to help you fall back asleep. And, studies have demonstrated this is remarkably effective. Dr. Adrian Owen, an amazing British neuroscientist, showed that using Muse to help you fall asleep improve sleep quality by 20% relative to the gold standard PSQI, Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, proves falling to sleep falling back asleep, and even can improve nightmares.
Ben: Oh, this is incredible. What I want to clarify for people is the headband itself isn't playing noise. You use your own set of headphones. I know that you guys at Muse, you have the dream light or whatever it's called which you can get separately. It's a Bluetooth-enabled over-the-ear eye mask meets headphones type of thing, which I actually for airplanes, by the way. I don't like to sleep the whole night with that thing in my head, but you bring to the technology, correct me if I'm wrong, your own set of headphones that you have plugged into your device that has the Muse app running. And, Muse is measuring your brainwave activity and adjusting the audio in the way that you've just described but you're using your own headphones, right?
Ariel: Precisely. So, the Muse is gathering brain data, sending it to the phone, which is doing the processing, and then you just plug your own headphones into the phone or you just listen to the audio off the speaker on your phone if you don't have a bed partner. And then, you continue the experience from there. So, the Muse is tracking and then you can hear it from the phone.
Ben: Okay. This is good to know. So, the audio isn't so special or engineered in such a way that you have to have headphones in. It could be played next to the bed?
Ariel: No. Exactly.
Ben: Okay, okay. That's helpful. If I did want to use headphones because maybe my partner doesn't want to listen to noise or I like the audio to be a little bit more intimate in my ears, do you have any recommendations for or do you particularly choose a specific set of headphones for side sleepers or for people who don't like too much in their ears when they're asleep?
Ariel: So, I have very, very small ear canals so I have a shitty pair of headphones that I use which basically no name just because they're comfortable for me to sleep with. I know other people like to sleep with AirPods or Bose makes a really comfortable pair of sleep phones. So, a lot of people already sleep with something in their ear to fall asleep to a dumb podcast not that the podcast is dumb but that it doesn't have any features or functionality you're just listening. And so, you can use your [00:55:19] _____–
Ben: People like those voices, by the way. Okay, yeah, people like those voices. They like to fall asleep. I tell people don't do the podcast because occasionally you're going to find something super interesting and you won't be able to fall asleep and you'll ruminate on that, but I first kind of came across this whole concept of the same thing you guys have built into Muse, the idea of sleep stories. When Oura Ring launched sleep stories and I listen to them sometimes when I travel because at home I just snuggle up to my wife and I'm pretty good. My thoughts don't race that much. When I travel, I'm alone in the hotel room is just like, “I don't have anybody to talk to and I want to fall asleep but I'm lonely in here” and I'll put on the sleep story. These things are so boring. It's like, “So then, he went along the beach for another 500 meters and stopped at the tea shop to have a bite of crumpets and stare over the seagulls.” I don't think I've ever actually finished a full sleep story but they actually work to lull you to sleep. I haven't even downloaded any of the new sleep stories yet. I've just used those ones on the Oura, but the question that I have for you because the headphone piece makes sense.
And, I actually have a pair of those sleep phones. They're like the wraparound sleep phones. I think that's actually what they're called Sleep Phones for side sleepers and a dedicated app or I'm sorry dedicated phone, it's my non-phone phone that all I have on it are apps that I use for sleep and it's just got all the sessions downloaded for NuCalm, for BrainTap. I'm in the process this week of downloading all the Muse sessions to it. So, that just sits by the bed attached to the sleep phones and I'm good to go. I pull that thing off and I can forget about my actual working phone, which is a great tip for those of you who might have an old phone that you want to convert into your app-only phone. You don't need a cell phone plan, you can just connect it to Wi-Fi wherever you happen to be, download all your stuff, and then flip it into offline. So, free tip for you guys.
But, the thing with the headband is I struggle a little bit with keeping it in place. Do you have any tips for keeping it in place especially for guys who are side sleepers or women who are side sleepers like me?
Ariel: Yeah, totally. So, you want to have it down over the back bulb of your head. So, here is a Muse. When you slip it on, most people just assume it's supposed to go straight across your head like this.
Ariel: So, here are the sensors on the ear. You need them to touch your ear, you just move your hair out of the way. And so, rather than going straight across your head, which still leaves it a little bit loose, if you pull it down at the back and particularly if you have hair, you can flop your hair over it, then that stays down at night. And, you can pull it a little snug just so it is uncomfortable in any way but a little bit snug and that keeps it in regardless of where you move.
Ben: For people listening, you can watch the video demo if you go to BenGreenfieldLife.com/MusePodcast.
A couple other just weird, hopefully not too stupid questions for you, Ariel. A lot of people these days, especially my listeners, they're into supplements, smart drugs, nootropics, adaptogens, things like that. Is there anything out there not that you could pop a pill to get yourself into a state of meditation, but are there certain compounds that have been studied to when stacked with meditation increase the efficacy or ease of meditation?
Ariel: It's a great question. So, I don't know the studies on stacking with meditation but things that help you downregulate like l-theanine is a nice one to take with meditation if you tend to be very ramped and you need to calm yourself down in order to do it. Then, all of the substances that increase your attention even as simple as caffeine are very effective to help you hone in, anything that's going to increase your acetylcholine, choline, citicoline, all the cholinergic stuff off the GPC. These ones are also great to help you increase your attention and your focus, which can help you sustain your meditation longer.
You want to stay away from things that tend to make you jittery. For some people, that can be the racetams. You make it too much. And, anything you might take that would help your ADD for anybody who actually takes ADD medication on or off label. Those are also likely to increase your level of attention. If you take modafinil for narcolepsy or off label not that I'm recommending that, that can also increase your vigilance but that one gets hard because you start to become too attentive to everything around you. So, you want a supplement that's going to increase your level of attention but without pulling your attention from place to place where highly norepinephrine things like modafinil will do. You're like the deer, ho, ho, ho, here, there, here, there.
Ben: Okay, got it. Yeah, one of my friends, Andrew Huberman, I think just this week, did a whole podcast episode about different supplements and medications for ADD and ADHD. I'll hunt it down and put a link to it in the shownotes because I think it addresses a lot of those things you were talking about; Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, I think it's called Vyvanse or Vyvanse, modafinil, et cetera. But, that's interesting you say that about theanine. And, I think theacrine acts similarly. I do know studies have been done on that to show a significant shift in brainwave towards what I believe is more of an alpha-focused brainwave state, which is why a lot of people do like to combine it with coffee, which is also why you'll find it in many sleep-enhancing supplements. So, that one really stands out as one for me that comes to mind that I know actually has some studies behind it.
But, from a kind of a self-experimentation standpoint, you emailed me a couple days ago and told me that I think it's an InteraXon, not a Muse app but your company InteraXon has this thing called the Mind Monitor, which if you really want to delve into seeing the exact amplitude of the brain waves and have them broken down really, really specifically if you want kind of your own brain lab to dialogue with the Muse, you can use this Mind Monitor thing. Am I correct and that that's a separate standalone app but would allow me to take a deeper dive into what's going on?
Ariel: So, the Muse meditation app is going to show your level of meditation as well as what's going on in your heart, breath, and your body, so you're able to see all of those bio signals. The sleep section of the meditation app is going to show you your brain during sleep. You can see the asleep hypnogram, your depth of deep sleep, and other cool statistics. And then, if you want to just look at your brain waves and do the, what happens with my brain when experiments, you'll want to download, it's actually a third-party app called Mind Monitor made by James not made by us, and that is able to give you all the raw Muse data. So, you can see your raw brain waves, it then does the FFT, the fast Fourier transform to show your level of alpha, beta, theta and delta brain waves. It can show you your heart rate alongside of it. So, it shows you all the other sensors that are in the Muse. And, it's a great tool for biohacking play and experimentation to just say what happens to my brain when filling the blank.
Ben: That's fascinating. I love to mess around these third-party tools. I looked at, it's like 14, 15 bucks in the App Store.
Ben: Okay, cool. Cool.
Now, just related to this because if InteraXon has this Mind Monitor app, you have the Muse, are you guys kind of getting into anything else? Are you going to compete with Elon Musk on Neuralink or any other kind of cool things behind the scenes that you could give us the inside baseball story on?
Ariel: That's a great question. So, there's a lot of people that have been using Muse headbands for VR. So, Muse has been actually in market since 2014. It's been a long time. So, we have developers that have created amazing VR apps. We are going deeper and deeper into the VR space. We have lots of studies that have been done with Muse, so Mayo Clinic has used Muse for breast cancer patients with men and women with fibromyalgia, Cushing syndrome, a stress-related syndrome with their own doctors. So, we have another area of Muse that's very focused on bringing Muse in meditation and the device into the medical sphere properly and having it being used by hospitals and hospital systems. We have programs for clinicians, so whether you're a chiropractor, psychotherapist, psychiatrist, you can bring the Muse into your practice and we have a dashboard called Muse Connect that lets you actually track each of your patients. That also gets used in corporations. So, if you want to bring in a meditation intervention or a meditation program into your court company, you can then use Music Connect to track how the folks are doing [01:04:20] _____–
Ben: That's cool. That's good to know actually. That's super good to know because we're really trying to stay on the cutting edge with our Ben Greenfield Life Corporate Wellness program. So, possibly a little bit of a usage question here for you. With that Muse Connect, we currently use Heads Up Health for all of our coaching to draw in the blood work and the biomappers, and the Oura ring data or the Withings body fat scale or whatever else. Do you happen to know if Heads Up Health has an integration with Muse Connect if I wanted to look at my client's meditation data?
Ariel: That I don't know, but together, we can explore the API.
Ben: That would be cool. Yeah, check it out. It's called Heads Up Health. They might, I just haven't really, really looked that far but I'm increasingly trying to help a lot of my clients who just think it's all about working out and diet to connect with their families, build their relationship, do gratitude-based journaling, do red light therapy and cold baths and meditation, something I'm constantly encouraging people to do. So, that would be kind of cool if there's an integration with Heads Up Health. Certainly, it'll make my job easier and give me one less website to have to track people on. But, we can maybe talk about that after the show or look into it.
One other thing that comes to mind is back to Elon Musk and Neuralink. Do you think that this kind of stuff is ever going to be developed into something like an implantable chip, whatever you put it in the occipital lobe or between the eyebrows or whatever, and actually have a built-in meditation enhancement chip technology?
Ariel: Not in the short term. Certainly, a technology that is able to be implanted has been used for folks with epilepsy or with ALS. And, that's been sort of used for the last 10 years taking that to a consumer thing that can actually directly interface with your brain in any meaningful way for the average consumer is many, many years away. So, it's something we may see at the end of our lifetime since I'm pretty sure we all aim to live to 120 or longer. At that point, we may well get there. Until then, it's our job to learn to meditate and train ourselves. And, that is the cyborg upgrade. That is the technology.
Ben: Yeah. My standard answer to that question is, you first. I'm definitely not going to be in front of line or in the front of the line for any implantable chip technology.
So anyways, this is all fascinating and this went by super quickly. I've been really enjoying experimenting with the Muse. I actually emailed you a couple of days ago because I was scrambling to find my headband, I found it yesterday and I spent two hours playing with the Muse in the app and downloading sessions. And, I went to sleep with it last night. And so, it's kind of my new little favorite toy right now. And, I'm glad about that because I'm headed off to Seaside Oregon on a family vacation where I'll be living in a small three bedroom two bathroom apartment on the beach with four different large families and all the nieces and nephews and cousins and in-laws and everything. So, I'm pretty sure I'm going to need a meditation app while I'm down there. So, this thing's going in my bag and I'm taking along with me.
And, what I'll do is in the shownotes, if you want to experiment with this also or if you want to ask me or Ariel follow-up questions, comments, questions, feedback, anything like that, I'm going to put all the shownotes at BenGreenfieldLife.com/MusePodcast. And, if you go to BenGreenfieldLife.com/MusePodcast, that's M-U-S-E, I'm going to also put some helpful links to podcasts I've done with people like meditation expert Emily Fletcher, the story I did on transcendental meditation, my discussion with Rick Rubin about meditation. I've got about probably eight or nine other podcasts on meditation if you want to take the deep dive, but this one has been super fun, Ariel. I'm really glad you're able to join me.
Ariel: Such a pleasure to do this today. It's my mission in life to help people understand that meditation is not a weird or woo-woo thing, it actually makes real incredibly powerful change in your brain and your body, as well as your relationships and life overall, and to create actionable tools that let you actually see what's going on and track your meditation so that you can really improve your life.
Ben: One other thing folks, we do have–Ariel, you might have to remind me, we have some kind of a discount for people who want to try the Muse, right?
Ariel: Yup, you have a discount link. It's choosemuse.com/BenGreenfield.
Ariel: 20% off and one free year free app access.
Ben: Oh, for a year? Wow. And, by the way for those of you who are tin foil hat wearing EMF mitigation freaks, all the sessions are downloadable, which is kind of my first requirement when I saw the app was I had to be able to download the sessions. And, you can, so if you want to use that extra phone or extra iTouch to use your Muse, that's the way you can do it or should I say choose your Muse, choosemuse.com/BenGreenfield, 20% off, year of free access to the app.
Ariel, thanks so much.
Ariel: Thank you.
Ben: More than ever these days, people like you and me need a fresh entertaining, well-informed, and often outside-the-box approach to discovering the health, and happiness, and hope that we all crave. So, I hope I've been able to do that for you on this episode today. And, if you liked it or if you love what I'm up to, then please leave me a review on your preferred podcast listening channel wherever that might be, and just find the Ben Greenfield Life episode. Say something nice. Thanks so much. It means a lot.
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“A calmer, more relaxed version of you awaits.”
That's what the makers of my Muse, my favorite new toy, claim on their website – and I have to say, Muse delivers.
Muse is a “brain-sensing” headband that uses real-time biofeedback to help you refocus during the day and recover overnight. It doesn't merely soothe with nature sounds; it redefines mindfulness by responding to changes in your brain and body activity in real time. At the heart of this revolutionary device is an app that provides in-depth insights into your progress, offering tangible evidence of your journey toward mental mastery.
So how does Muse work?
Here's the basic rundown: Muse connects to your mobile device via Bluetooth. Once connected, you simply start up the Muse Meditation app, put on your headphones, and close your eyes. Once your session is complete, you can review your results and track your progress.
Ariel and her team are merging technology, neuroscience, art, and design. Ariel and Muse are regularly lauded in global media: CNN, Forbes, Popular Science, CNET, CNBC, VentureBeat, TechCrunch, Wall Street Journal Tech. The Huffington Post calls it “the beautiful headband that will make you smarter.”
During my discussion with Ariel today, we'll dive deep into the world of meditation, dissecting how it can bring serenity to an active mind, and exploring its tangible effects on your overall wellbeing. Ariel will help me unravel the mysteries of how Muse works, turning the complex science of brain activity into a device you can hold in your hand. Lastly, we'll venture into the synergy of meditation with supplements, smart drugs, nootropics, and adaptogens—exploring the exciting possibilities of enhancing mental performance. Trust me, this episode is packed with insights you won't want to miss.
During our discussion, you'll discover:
–Muse and its creator Ariel Garten…01:18
- Muse (use code BENGREENFIELD to save 20%)
- Headband that senses your brain and provides biofeedback
- Different features:
- Digital sleeping pills
- Guided meditation
- Track what's going on in your brain
- Intersection between biofeedback and meditation
- Ariel Garten
- Ariel has also been into fashion design
- Clothing line that was sold to stores in Toronto and New York
- Help people understand who they are, how their brain and body work
- Thousands of studies demonstrate the impact of meditation on the brain and the body
- Trained as a therapist and had a private practice for a decade
- Teaching people to meditate
- Sucked at meditation herself
- Decided to build a tool that will help her meditate
-How meditation helps with a highly active brain…08:05
- Ben developed most of his ideas by sitting quietly in the morning
- Ariel had problems with focusing, her mind wandered
- Meditation enabled her to bring her mind back from wandering
- Meditation or quiet time and exercise – trains Ben’s brain’s distractibility
- Prefrontal cortex is the executive control center of your brain
- Responsible for attention and inhibition
- The brain that bounces all over the place
- Meditation improves the function of that part of the brain
- Problems with poor attention, poor inhibition, and hyperactive attention switching
- Dr. Sarah Lazar study – looks at long-term meditators and what happens to their brain
- As you age, the prefrontal cortex thins and its function decreases
- Meditation makes the brain younger and helps with attention and focus
- Meditation vs. brain training games
- Brain training is a very specific workout for very specific parts and functions of the brain
- Meditation training is like a global workout for the brain
- The effects of brain games in the real world
- Brain games
- Training new skills in anything you do increases neuroplasticity
- Meditation is different than brain games
- The downregulation in the amygdala
- Long-term meditators show a decrease in the level of activity and the size of the amygdala
-More about meditation's effects on the amygdala and prefrontal cortex…18:00
- Alex Honnold, rock climber
- Low fear response
- The downregulation in the amygdala
- Long-term meditators show a decrease in the level of activity and the size of the amygdala
- Dropping down your fear response, dropping down your cortisol reactions
- Generally improving your sympathetic and parasympathetic tone
- The amygdala is the fear center of the brain
- As your fear decreases, you can reach higher heights in your life
- The prefrontal cortex has a projection to the amygdala
- The prefrontal cortex is the parent and the amygdala is the child
- With longer-term meditation process, the prefrontal cortex is able to better down-regulate the amygdala
- In meditation practice, what we learn to do is to observe the sensations in our body
- As a meditator you don't go, “I'm afraid, this is awful,” – you go, “Hey, I'm feeling some sensation.”
- People are often overwhelmed with feelings that stimulate thoughts about feelings
- Thoughts cause more emotional arousal
- In meditation, you learn to observe your thoughts and not buy into them
- If Ariel had a motto for life, it would be “Feel the fear and do it anyway”
- Those who are able to succeed in life are those who are able to sit through discomfort
- Breathing and cold tub
- As soon as you feel afraid of something dive into that thing
- That’s the way to break it
- Stop Living on Autopilot by Anthony Neves
-What does meditation really do?…26:25
- Meditation is not simply having no thoughts
- Is a moving meditation a thing?
- Depends what your mind is doing during the practice
- Meditation is not about the mind going blank
- It’s about being able to observe your mental space and focus on one thing
- There are many different forms of meditation
- Focused attention meditation
- Moving meditation
- In meditation, you are fully engaged in one thing
- But that thing is not your thoughts
- Move your mind away from it and back to your breath
- Building our metacognition
- The awareness that your mind wanders, and then the choice to move attention elsewhere
- Ben’s experience with Transcendental Meditation (TM)
- Podcast with Philip Land:
- The object of your attention – thing you return back to, to anchor your attention on
- Mantra, candle, breathing
- Meditation is simple activity that leads to incredible transformation
- Most of us just go through our life on autopilot
- The action of noticing your mind has wandered onto a thought and choosing to bring it back
- Liberating yourself from this endless stream of thought controlling your life
- Becoming the master of your thinking rather than subjected to it
- It is building what we call metacognition, seeing your thoughts – the awareness of your thinking
- What does Ben do with thoughts he wants to remember during meditation?
- Voice recording and visualization
- Memory palace technique
- Ariel writes it down or gives it a number
- Walking meditation
- Taking every step mindfully, feeling every step
- Meditation is the practice that you do, the sitting, the going to the gym that builds the skill of mindfulness
- Mindfulness is the present-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, environment
-The impact of meditation on the hippocampus and other benefits…39:36
- Hippocampus is the part of your brain associated with learning and memory
- As you age, it shrinks
- Cortisol causes shrinkage of the hippocampus
- Impact of meditation
- Can reduce your cortisol levels
- Corpus callosum, the part of your brain that connects your left and right hemisphere
- Improve the density of your gray matter
- Increase the activity in the temporal parietal junction
- Ben and his sons visited the Peak Brain Institute
- Sessions 30 to 60 minutes, twice a day during the week
- Then did EEG
- Noticed positive changes – realized that you can actually train the brain
- Podcast with Dr. Andrew Hill of the Peak Brain Institute
-How does Muse work?…44:36
- Muse (use code BENGREENFIELD to save 20%)
- A clinical-grade EEG in a little headband
- Gives real-time neurofeedback on your mind during meditation
- Used by probably a thousand different research labs with 200 published papers
- When using the Muse meditation app, get real-time neurofeedback on your mind during meditation
- When your mind wanders, you get an audio cue that your mind has wandered
- Data shows you what your brain was doing during the course of your meditation
- Photoplethysmography (PPG) sensor for the heart
- Movement sensors for your breath
- Movement sensors are tracking your body position orientation, gyroscope
- Ben’s experience with Muse
- Muse gives audio feedback and bio neurofeedback
- The sounds you are hearing are always responding to your brain
- The sleep session and the meditation session
- Tracking not only meditation but also sleep
- Muse S and Muse S Gen 2 is like there is a sleep lab in your own bed
- Have the ability to track sleep as effective as going to a sleep lab with real polysomnography system
- Oura ring
- Muse has partners at the University of Ottawa and Rural Mental Health Center who have used Muse alongside a PSG to demonstrate the accuracy of data
- Muse as a digital sleeping pill
- Tracking your level of sleep
- Guided audio changes based on your brain, heart, breath, and body
- As it sees you begin to enter into first stage of sleep, it starts to change the audio
- Once you're asleep, the audio shuts off
- Throughout the night, it’s tracking your sleep
- If you wake up, waits a few minutes for you to fall asleep again on your own
- If you don't, it automatically brings in the same audio cue
- Tracking your level of sleep
- Improves sleep quality by 20%
- Muse is gathering brain data, it's sending it to the phone, which is doing the processing
- Plug your own headphones into the phone or listen to the audio off the speaker
- Keeping the headband in place
– Stacking with supplements, smart drugs, nootropics, adaptogens…58:12
- L-Theanine is good to take when meditating (use code GREENFIELD15 to save 15%)
- Substances that increase attention
- Modafinil can also increase your vigilance
- But you start to become too attentive to everything around you
- Andrew Huberman podcast – Adderall, Stimulants & Modafinil for ADHD: Short- & Long-Term Effects
- Podcast with Andrew Huberman:
-The Mind Monitor app…1:01:04
- Mind Monitor – a third-party app
- If you want to just look at your brain waves and see what happens with your brain
- Shows your level of alpha, beta, theta, and delta brain waves
- Gives you all the raw Muse data so you can see your raw brainwave
- Great tool for biohacking play and experimentation
-Future plans for Muse…1:02:47
- A lot of people that have been using Muse headbands for VR
- Developers have created amazing VR apps
- Lots of studies have been done with Muse
- Mayo Clinic
- Bringing meditation and the device into the medical sphere properly
- Muse Connect
- Programs for clinicians
- Programs for companies
- Heads Up
- Meditation enhancement chip technology
- Muse is Ben’s new favorite toy
-And much more…
- Walk For Water: August 8th, 2023
The team and I here at Ben Greenfield Life will be participating in a special Walk For Water event this year. Around the world, 2.2 billion people lack access to safe water. Millions of women and children walk more than three miles to collect water for their families every day. Often this water is not safe to drink, resulting in illness and even death, but we have the power to change this. I invite you to join us by walking for water yourself. Just $50 can provide clean water for one person for life. Learn more here.
- Disrupt Healthcare: September 28 – September 30, 2023
Join me for the Disrupt 2023 Event in Atlanta, Georgia between September 28th – September 30th. This highly practical and immersive workshop will feature live Q&As, my top secrets for career success, and much more! Head to bengreenfieldlife.com/disrupt2023 to claim your spot today.
- Couples Collective: October 25 – 29, 2023
Join Jessa and me for an exclusive and immersive way to explore health, wellness, and mindset with your significant other in Napa, California October 25th – 29th. Head over to ownitcoaching.com/couples-collective to apply.
- Keep up on Ben's LIVE appearances by following bengreenfieldfitness.com/calendar!
Resources from this episode:
– Ariel Garten:
- Transcendental Meditation: Cult, Quackery, or Science?
- Ben Got COVID (& What He Did About It), How To Fix Issues With Your Brain, The “God Cap” For Neurofeedback, Do Home Neurofeedback Devices Work & More With Dr. Andrew Hill.
- The Man Who Is Curing Blindness And Alzheimers, Growing New Brain Cells & Elegantly Fabricating Some Of The Most Powerful Nootropics Known To Humankind.
– Other Resources:
- Stop Living on Autopilot by Anthony Neves
- N-Back training
- Peak Brain Institute
- Oura ring
- Mind Monitor
- Heads Up
- Andrew Huberman Podcast
- Dr. Sarah Lazar
- Alex Honnold
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Do you have questions, thoughts, or feedback for Ariel Garten or me? Leave your comments below and one of us will reply!