How to start meditating

I struggle to find calm in my everyday life. It’s something that’s always been an issue for me, from being a kid with an anxiety disorder to being a full-fledged adult juggling writing contracts, coursework, and doctor’s appointments. So, when I was offered the chance to review the Muse S Headband, I jumped at the opportunity: finally! A product that isn’t just fun to try, but could seriously improve my life!

I like to think that I’m pretty decent at self-soothing techniques, but I came at this review with a cheat code: my partner, who’s been a serious meditator since 2011. I mean serious! The summer after I met him, he disappeared into the open prairies for a week and a half to go to a silent meditation retreat. I’d like to think that that was the first warning sign that he was just as much of an oddball as I am, but let’s be honest … I knew immediately.

So, instead of just approaching the Muse with an open mind and an eager heart, I was able to tackle this review from two perspectives. First, you’ll see how I did with the headband as a novice meditator. Then, I’ll move on to his experiences with it.

Muse S Headband review

What’s in the Box of the Muse S Headband 

In the box of the Muse S Headband, you’ll find three simple components: a dark grey headband, the “mind” of the muse, and a micro USB charging cord. You’ll note that the headband and the device are separate, which I appreciate. It makes it easy to fit the headband on comfortably and then pop the device into place when you’re ready. The two connect using four rounded magnets.

To use the Muse, you’ll need a little bit more than what comes out of the box. The device links easily to your smartphone via a Bluetooth connection, and I’m happy to report that the connection is seamless. (Honestly, if companies like Muse do it so easily, why do others struggle so much?)

Muse biofeedback review

In the Muse app, you’ll find a few basics that are offered for all of their biofeedback devices. These exercises walk you through brain, heart, body, and breath meditation. Each one has its own soundscapes and exercises. Then, as you continue to swipe through the app, you’ll find guided meditation sessions—collections and courses that you access through a paid subscription model. Most sessions are about five minutes long, and cover topics like mindful relationships, changing habits, and meditation essentials.

Finally, you’re able to access Muse’s Go-to-Sleep sessions. These are guidances and soundscapes that help you focus on quieting your mind to fall asleep. When you complete one of these sessions, the Muse automatically turns off.

Muse Headband review, app

The Muse App & Headband Fit

Okay: I’m of two minds on this front. The Muse headband itself is great. It’s comfortable, adjustable, and sits well on both my partner and I. The ear connections are fussy with long hair, but manageable—the original design may be better in this respect.

But the app?

Well … I don’t care for the Muse app. I practice many meditation basics in my daily life to manage sleep and chronic pain, but I’ve always struggled with formalizing that practice. While it’s easy to engage with simple habits like breathwork and mindfulness, it’s harder for me to confront some of my more deeply-rooted anxiety triggers: things like frustration and impatience, which flare-up in your stereotypically slow meditation instructions.

Unfortunately, the Muse app embodies a lot of the things that I dislike about meditation classes. It’s very rigid, with unskippable instructions and quirks that actively limit what you can do with the headband. There are a few screens in the app that make me think it might be slightly inflating your results, like how its “calibration” screens only appear during Mind sessions, even though the app tracks the same mechanics for Go-to-Sleep sessions without any calibration.

When I buy a new piece of tech, I want to feel like I’m in control. I don’t want to be forced to listen to instructions that can’t be sped up, and I don’t want to offer a biofeedback device my location info. (I’m mad about this a lot.) If I’m going to make mistakes and lose my concentration, I want to know about them so that I can better fix them going forward!

Muse app volume controls
My meditation sessions with the instructions and sounds turned on, vs when I figured out how to turn them off.

My Experience with the Muse System

My experiences with the Muse S Headband have been mixed. The headband itself is excellent; it’s plush and comforting. And the Muse itself can do a lot. It offers all of the benefits of the Muse 2, plus responsive sleep journeys and double the battery life. Its connectivity is seamless and stellar, even with multiple users.

After a week of regular use, I find that I’m really eager to meditate with the Muse. My anxiety makes me a little (a lot) unsure of myself, and knowing that I’m meditating “right” makes me a lot more eager to do it on a regular basis. Muse’s biofeedback has had a huge impact on my meditation length and frequency, and now that it exists, I can’t ever imagine trying to learn how to meditate without it.

For me, the trick to the Muse app is to use it in a way that puts me back into control. I use the Go-to-Sleep monitors almost exclusively, as these sessions monitor mind, heart, and body at the same time. My best sessions are always with the Stillness soundscape, with the volume toggled down. It keeps the app just on the periphery of my hearing, so that I’m only roused when each session ends.

With the birds, sounds, feedback, and instructions turned up, I consistently find that I end my sessions more agitated than I started, and I have the biofeedback to prove it. But everyone’s meditation experiences are different, and I like that Muse has found a way to make their app work for both kinds of people!

The Muse App from the Perspective of a Serious Meditator

I finished this review with my partner, who is a long-time meditator and tech geek. He was the one who noted that location services are required for the app to work on Android (I didn’t have the same experience on iOS), and he had the same issues with the Muse app as I did: the headband is great, but the instruction videos are irritating because of their unskippable nature.

Funnily enough, we also had the same reaction to Muse’s bird sounds, which chirp in the app whenever your mind is calm. They were a cause of frustration for both of us at the beginning—but after a few sessions (and volume adjustments), we both came to view them as a helpful tool for staying in the moment. For him, what made the Muse S Headband technology stand out was that it could measure heart rate and brain activity at the same time, which are his two primary biofeedback indicators.

His final words on the device? “I found an active change in my meditating because I was trying to achieve a calm state… And it was a big ego boost.”

Best at home biofeedback device

Final Thoughts

I walked into this review expecting to love the Muse S Headband, and then quickly changed my mind about it. But I think I spoke too soon, because, after a few sessions, I had come right back around. The Muse S seriously enriched my meditation sessions, and its ability to confirm for me that I have been doing it right all along was invaluable.

I taught myself to meditate in order to fall asleep quickly, and was able to modify my technique over the years to help deal with the emotional impacts of being in pain all the time. (Fibromyalgia group, say hey!) So, if you struggle to fall asleep, I think the Muse is worth trying in its headband format. Though I can’t promise that it’ll work for you; learning to meditate helped me turn my entire sleep schedule around—and the Muse confirmed my progress in a way that I think could be very reliable for those who want to do the same.

Find the Muse S Headband online at Best Buy. (Don’t want to fall asleep? Make sure to check out the Muse 2 Brain-Sensing Headband, too!)

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