Meditation And Optimizing Your Brain W/ Ariel Garten, Founder Of Muse
This week's episode is a really interesting one, which I'm so happy we did! We are joined by Ariel Garten, a neuroscientist, an innovator, a mother, and an entrepreneur, whose driving purpose is to empower and help others overcome mental obstacles in order to live healthy, happy lives and reach their maximum potential.
What is probably most known about Ariel, is that she is the founder of InteraXon, the makers of the wildly popular device Muse, which is also known as the brain-sensing headband. But, what I didn't realize, is that behind Muse's award-winning wearable technology, there is a lot of neuroscience.
In fact, Ariel herself was a neuroscientific researcher. So, you can just imagine how much we geeked out about the brain, about learning, about health, and about optimizing our lives. You will immediately see why Ariel has been so successful, and you'll be fascinated to go into a side of meditation that we've not covered before, which is the science behind it. How does it actually work, what is going on in your brain and why should everybody, even those of you that think “well, I just can't meditate”, be meditating.
It's a wonderful episode, which I know you folks are really going to enjoy!
In this episode, we discuss:
- Episode start [3:53]
- How did Ariel Garten get into neuroscience and creating Muse? [4:20]
- When did meditation become important in Ariel's life? [5:10]
- Some insights from the research backing meditation [6:00]
- Meditation vs nootropics and brain-related drugs [8:40]
- Why does meditation work? [9:30]
- How does Ariel Garten view meditation? [10:55]
- Meditation and productivity [13:40]
- How can meditation help you with your procrastination? [14:15]
- Meditation is not about removing every thought [15:20]
- What's so special with focusing on your breath? [16:20]
- What is Muse and what does it do? [17:25]
- What is Muse really focusing on? [19:10]
- Things you can do with Muse [21:20]
- Muse helps you bring your attention back faster [22:25]
- Research on meditation and Muse [25:50]
- Using Muse & meditation improves your ability to make decisions with conflicting info [26:20]
- Research on Muse vs regular meditation [28:10]
- Why did Muse do better on the research? [31:00]
- What are some things Ariel does to keep her brain at optimal performance? [32:00]
- You have the option to be in control of your mood [35:35]
- Controlling your mood by knowing how your body works [37:00]
- Health-related products or services that Ariel Garten can't really live without [38:00]
- A few words on Muse Direct [39:35]
- The many factors that influence sleep [40:40]
- Influencing education with research [42:10]
- A piece of homework for you by Ariel [43:40]
- A simple focused attention exercise, live on the episode [44:20]
- What is the meditation dose Ariel recommends? [47:00]
- Where can you find more about Ariel Garten? [48:00]
- How to find time for meditation when you have kids [48:40]
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Muse: The Brain-Sensing Headband
- Our previous episode with Harry Lorayne
- The Muse website
- Ariel Garten's Twitter
- Ariel Garten's Instagram
- Ariel Garten's Facebook
Favorite Quotes from Ariel Garten:
Introduction: Welcome to the Becoming Superhuman Podcast. Where we interview extraordinary people to bring you the skills and strategies to overcome the impossible. And now here's your host, Jonathan Levi.
Jonathan Levi: Before we dive into today's episode, I want to let you guys know about an opportunity to learn some of the most important skills in life, if not the most important skills, and those are the skills of learning and doing so rapidly, effectively and easily. You see guys I'm putting on a completely free 60-minute webinar that you guys can check out where I will be going into my absolute best memory tips, learning tips, and speed reading tips so that you can immediately begin applying them and accelerating your learning of anything and everything.
All you need to do to claim your spot in this free webinar is visit JLE.VI/webinar, we have showings at many different times throughout the days for every time zone, but you have to log in and claim your spot. So that's JLe.vi/webinar and I really look forward to seeing what you guys achieve.
Greeting SuperFriends and welcome, welcome to this week's episode. You know, I was going to take the day off, but then I saw this review from Caposo Reed, from the United States of America, who said with a five-star review, life-changing ideas, rich content. I have learned a truckload from this show. The guests are wide-ranging and topic and aimed at helping you live to a higher potential. You will not be disappointed. Jonathan does an excellent job at interviewing and keeping things on the topic to the point. If you've ever wondered that you don't know what you don't know, this is a great place to start.
Wow. Thank you so much. Caposo Reed. I really, really appreciate that. I hope I'm not butchering your username and if you haven't left a review, please do you know the rules. One review, one more week's episode.
All right. On to today's episode, which I'm really glad we did because today was an interesting one. You guys, we are joined by Ariel Garten. She is a neuroscientist and innovator and entrepreneur, a mother and her driving purpose is to empower and help others overcome mental obstacles in order to live healthy, happy lives and reach their maximum potential. Most known about Ariel is that she is the founder of InteraXon, the makers of the wildly popular device Muse. It's also known as the brain-sensing headband, but what I didn't realize was that behind Muse's award-winning wearable technology. There's a lot of neuroscience.
In fact, Ariel herself was a neuroscientific researcher. So you can just imagine how much we geeked out about the brain, about learning about health and about optimizing our lives. You will immediately see why Ariel has been so successful and you'll be fascinated to go into a side of meditation that we've not covered, which is the science behind it. How does it actually work? What is going on in your brain and why should everybody, even those of you who think, well, I just can't meditate. Everybody should be meditating. So it's a really, really wonderful episode and I know you guys are going to enjoy my conversation with my new SuperFriend, Ariel Garten.
Ariel welcome, welcome, I'm so excited we finally got to connect. How are you today?
Ariel Garten: Phenomenal. How are you?
Jonathan Levi: I'm doing really, really well. I miss my morning meditation I have to admit, but despite that fact, I'm doing quite well.
Ariel Garten: Awesome. Well, maybe we can squeeze a quick meditation into today's talk.
Jonathan Levi: That would be very, very cool. Before we do that, though. I want to ask you, I didn't realize until preparing for this show, this episode that you're a neuroscientist. Tell me about that. Tell me about this whole journey into how you got to be the CEO and founder of Muse.
Ariel Garten: Sure. So my background is in neuroscience and design. So I've been fascinated both by how we work as human beings and from a very technical, scientific perspective and also how we experience the world from this emotional human perspective. I spent time creating lots of art that talks about the human experience and working in research labs, looking at Parkinson's disease, hippocampal, neurogenesis, and tons of hours of micro pipetting cells in a dish.
And between the synergy of the two, I spent Heim about a decade as a psychotherapist, trying to find ways to bridge our human experience of self with what really goes on in the brain and how we can use what goes on in the mind to optimize our life.
Jonathan Levi: Super super interesting. At what point in your life did meditation become an important theme? Was this something that came out of research or out of personal experience?
Ariel Garten: All of the above as a kid, I was fascinated by meditation as something that could allow you to go to some awesome other magical land or so I perceived it when I was a child.
I never really got there despite lots of trying, because I didn't really know what I was doing. As a neuroscientist, I then approached all of the research and meditation and recognize the power that meditation has to really change your brain and then as a psychotherapist, I would try to teach meditation to my patients and encourage them to use this amazing methodology, but was not always very successful at it.
And then it was in building news, which is the product that I now create, that I really was able to dive deeply into meditation and create a tool and technology that really worked for me and works for other people to help them start the practice.
Jonathan Levi: Very, very interesting. So I think what's so interesting for me about your journey and what's interesting to me about meditation as a whole right now is. It's pretty rare for us to find something that the Eastern mystics knew about that is today not just proven, but overwhelmingly, proven, right? Like there's some interesting stuff about massage and healing and pressure points, but there's like an overwhelming amount of research around meditation. I think it's such an interesting and exciting time because we can combine, right? And for all the skeptics out there, like this stuff actually works and you can check a hundred different studies. Tell me about some of the studies that were interesting and stood out to you and said, we need to make meditation a part of everybody's daily life.
Ariel Garten: Sure. So we can dive into the studies that really look directly at how the brain changes under meditation. This is your brain. This is your brain's auto motivation.
Jonathan Levi: Totally. Talk to me, cortical gentrification.
Ariel Garten: Awesome. So one of the first, most impactful studies was a study that I read by Dr. Sarah out of Harvard and she looked at individuals who were long-term meditators and looked at their prefrontal cortex thickness. So the prefrontal cortex is the higher-order processing part of your brain, the part responsible for organization planning and possibly most importantly, inhibition of yourself and your actions.
And as you age, unfortunately, your prefrontal cortex thickness decreases over time. The good news is if you manage to maintain a long-term meditation practice, you can maintain the thickness of your prefrontal cortex as you age in one study, she had, a subject who was 50 years old, who had a prefrontal cortex thickness of a 23-year-old.
So meditation really works your PFC. It really works that your gray matter, and it allows you to both plan and organize and inhibit quite effectively. Another awesome thing that meditation does is it decreases the activity of your amygdala. So for anyone who doesn't know, the amygdala is your fight or flight response. It's that thing that is overwhelmingly screaming at you when there is danger in your environment and quietly naggingly whispering at you when there's no danger in your environment, just because it's trying to look out for something that might be dangerous and this nagging whisper can really kind of take over our lives and make what should be a positive, amazing experience of being human when that's kind of uncomfortable and negative and insecure many times.
And so meditation actually decreases the activity of your amygdala and over time can actually decrease the size of your amygdala. So you're seeing a real, yeah.
Jonathan Levi: That's so interesting. You know, people often ask me one of the first YouTube videos I did was about meditation because being the speed reading and memory guy, what's the number one question I get, what smart drugs are you taking? Right? And I'm a big proponent of, you know, using tea instead of coffee and all kinds of different pills and potions to optimize the brain but the fact of the matter is, all these newer tropics and all of these drugs, and even, you know, the unhealthy Ritalin's in the Adderalls can only change your brain chemistry and meditation as you just said, you pick the perfect two studies can not only change your brain chemistry, but it can also change the structure of your brain permanently, which is huge. There's no drug on the market that can do that.
Ariel Garten: Yeah. Permanently do it in a persistent way.
Jonathan Levi: Right. Do we know why that is? I mean, is it really because I hate to use the analogy of exercise in the brain because the brain is not muscle. The brain is fat and it behaves so differently, but is it really like a muscle that you train. I mean, why do we see these changes?
Ariel Garten: So what you're seeing is the increased usage or decreased usage of a particular area and so we all know the heavy in term neurons that fire together wire together.
Jonathan Levi: Right.
Ariel Garten: Yup. The more that you enact a certain pathway, the more that you send messages down at the more that you practice something, the more that pathway is going to strengthen its existing neural connections and potentially create new ones. So you're having greater and greater relationships being built between areas of your brain. In the case of this prefrontal cortex and medulla relationship. What you also have is often projection that comes from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala that strengthened. So you're seeing a strengthened connection between these two areas that allows the prefrontal cortex as it thickens and strengthens to have the sort of parental oversight or control onto the amygdala and say like, no, no, it's okay we can quiet now. We don't have to do this. So your make is not just rampantly, raging on its own. It's now part of a system where the prefrontal cortex can help to inhibit and manage it.
Jonathan Levi: See, I love this because I'm the learning guy right? And you just reframed meditation for me as a learning thing right it's what are the patterns that I've learned and what are the kind of synaptic patterns that I've learned and how can I relearn them? So tell me a little bit about how you view meditation? I mean, is it really a matter? Well, I'm going to give you a very open-ended question. I'm trying to put a beginner's mind on, but how do you view meditation?
What is meditation to you?
Ariel Garten: So the official definition of American meditation is it's not this weird way with the thing it's a practice or a training that leads you to healthy and positive states of mind. So it's not a weird thing that you do. It's not your mind going blank. It's not going to some altered state.
It is a practice or training that trains you into a healthy state of mind. Meditation builds the skill of mindfulness, many meditations do all of them, and mindfulness is a. Way of being, or practice, or a way of seeing the world where you are non-judgmentally moment to moment aware of your thoughts, feelings, experiences, and bodily sensations.
So in the practice of meditation, we're training our brain to build the skill that we'll then use in our daily life of nonjudgmental awareness in the present moment. And when you do that, Lots of fantastic things start to happen. And again, these aren't magic. This is you train your brain to a different way of seeing the world.
So one is you begin to recognize that you are not your thoughts. So in a basic meditation, often we teach a focused attention meditation at the beginning, and in a focused attention meditation, you focus your attention on your breath. Your mind wanders. You notice that it's wandered and you bring it back.
And it's a very simple action of noticing your wandering and bringing it back and in doing so. You train yourself to be able to disconnect from your thoughts and maintain your focus on a neutral object. As you do this, you recognize that you're not your thoughts and therefore you're not ruled by your thoughts.
You can change your relationship to them. So when you start thinking something that's uncomfortable or not necessarily useful or helpful in the present moment, you can then make the choice about whether you want to continue thinking it or not. Whether you want to follow that thought train or get off of it, you then recognize the same thing happens to your emotions.
That you don't have to be driven by your emotions. You can change the relationship to them, experience them a sensation rather than going on the rollercoaster of your thoughts. You can get off the roller coaster. And so we start to change our relationship with our thoughts and our feelings and our experience.
And as we do, so we begin to choose what we want to be present to, and typically what we choose to be present to the present moment. And as you do that, the aperture of your experience starts to widen. So you're now training your attention, your trenches, like, you know, sharp and honed. You're now applying that trained attention to being in the present moment.
And now you realize you're paying attention to the world around you on the world takes on this far more engaged experience of life than you may have previously had access to.
Jonathan Levi: Right. And for that reason, I mean, kind of the first content I recorded around meditation was as a productivity hack, although that's not doing it justice, but just the idea that the biggest gains you can make to your productivity, whatever that means for you, whether it productivity is spending quality time with your family or writing your book are your ability to focus and the way that I've often explained it to friends is if you can focus on something as banal as your breath, it's going to be really easy to sit down and focus on that novel you've been writing. It's just a master skill.
Ariel Garten: Totally. So it's not simply that you've learned to focus.
So, okay now I can focus on the novel that I'm writing. What you've learned is to notice your distractions. So most of the time, what makes life so hard for us as we're procrastinating, we're procrastinating a thing that we want to do or procrastinating writing that novel or we're procrastinating while we're writing the novel. So if you're about to sit down to write it. You know, your thoughts start wondering, oh, I should clean the microwave. I should do this, I should do that. And so you now notice that your mind is wandering. You notice there's something you want to do, and you can now be, you're trained in making the choice to stick to the task at hand.
And then as you're writing that novel, your mind naturally wanders because you're a little bit hungry or maybe it's Facebook or whatever and now you can notice that wandering and very quickly say nope, bringing it back. Nope bringing it back. So it significantly increases the efficiency of the task at hand, because you're noticing your distractions immediately and immediately coming back. So you're staying in your flow and you're staying in your process, which improves the quality of your work as well as reducing the duration of the time that you have to spend on it.
Jonathan Levi: I'm so glad you clarified that Ariel because I think there's a huge misconception, especially among westerners, that meditation is clearing your mind of thoughts and it's anything, but it's holding one thought and I remember, I, you know, in the super cliche, stereotypical, western or way went to do a meditation retreat and they asked me, you know, what are the things that you're working on in your sitting? And I said, well, I need my mind to stop wandering and this guru who for 30 years, for six hours a day goes, oh no, that's the human condition.
And I go, what do you mean? He goes, yeah, no, you just exactly what you said. And it was this big moment of wait-a-minute meditation is not what I thought and I'd been meditating for six months at that point.
Ariel Garten: Yes, all our minds wander and that's what makes it a human they're supposed to wander it's okay.
What we're now learning is the mastery of that wandering the, changing the relationship to the wandering, the noticing that it wanders and then choosing to do something else when it does, or choosing to stick with the wander, if you like it, and that's where you want to go, but you now have a choice.
Jonathan Levi: Right. So many questions have come up as you were speaking in one of the things that I've always pondered because I'd played around with Trataka meditation. I've played around with chanting. I've played around with the Apasana. What is special about the breath or is there something special about the breath beside the fact that it follows you everywhere?
Ariel Garten: You got it. That's exactly what I was going to say. So the breath is always there with you and so if you want to come to something that is simple, there it is the breath. It is always there. You cannot lose it. Thank God. If you do, you're really in trouble. The other beautiful thing about the breath is it is so connected to the core of our life. You know, our breath is there. Our breath is us to breathe is to be, to be alive, is to be, and so there's a beautiful kind of experiential human aspect to it and then there's also the relationship between the breath and its ability to regulate the rest of your physiology.
So as you change your breathing, you also change your heart rate, change your blood flow, etcetera. And so by modulating your breath or getting in tune with your breath, you start to modulate your, the rest of your physiology.
Jonathan Levi: Right. Right. And so I wanted to ask you, as soon as I started using the Muse, I had an interesting sensation, which was, I began, and I imagine this is a beginner Muse thing, but I began focusing on the birds.
And for anyone who doesn't know what happens is the Muse is giving you feedback rain based on how disorganized your brain was and I started asking myself a question, which is How does this device know that I'm focused on the breath? Or could I kind of trick it by focusing on the birds or does it even matter as long as I'm focused on this one thing?
Ariel Garten: So we should back up from prior listeners who haven't used and explain what Muse is and how it works.
Jonathan Levi: Right.
Ariel Garten: Do you want to do a quick little explanation of your experience?
Jonathan Levi: Yeah absolutely. So Muse is a, let's see how I do and maybe you hire me for marketing, uses a brain-sensing headband that gives you feedback as you, I meditate and helps with that process of alerting you when you become distracted using feedback.
So it connects to your phone. You put in earphones. If you're doing really well, you'll hear silence or birds. If you're not doing as well, you'll start to hear rain and pitter-patter and storm clouds forming.
Ariel Garten: You've totally got it. So Muse is actually clinical grades, EEG. It's a slim little wearable device that you slip on, like a pair of glasses.
It tracks your brain while you meditate and the metaphor we use is your mind is like the weather soon. You're thinking distracting to actually hear it as stormy. You hear the sound of your own mind and as you come to clear focused attention, you then quiet those storms and after you're done, you get points, scores, graph feedback. So you can actually see how your meditation was doing.
And during it, we have a special feature called birds, which you have just pointed out. So when you're really quiet, a bird comes and starts to tweet next to you. So to answer your first question, you can focus on anything. The algorithm that we've created is specifically focused attention on the breath.
And what it knows is when you're focused versus when your mind is wandering. So you can focus on your breath, you could focus on your heart. You could focus on the sensation in your feet so long as it's a single point of focus. Now the birds are there for a kind of secondary experience of this app. So when you're quiet, a bird comes and starts tweeting and people get really excited about their birds.
And if you know another Muser, you'll tell a person how many birds you got and you'll all get excited about birds. Um, but birds are in a way there to undermine the goal-directed nature of the app. So the app has lots of motivational architecture to keep you engaged and going and doing it every day which is in some ways, antithetical to meditation,
Jonathan Levi: I was going to ask.
Ariel Garten: Yeah, totally. So we have all this extrinsic reward to keep you engaged because we're human beings and it's hard to do that and then once you start to use Muse for a long time, you start to recognize the benefit and the external reward.
Falls away you do it because life gets better when you meditate, the birds are there to teach you to not get excited about the rewards. So most people, the first time they get a bird and they know what it is they're like, I got a bird, Oh my God, I was so relaxed. And then it flies away and you very quickly learn that you have to be just as equanimous about your failures as about your rewards.
So we don't get engaged in caring about rewards and we don't get engaged in carrying better failures because we do either. Wind picks up your mind wanders, and then it's your job to be like, Nope, that's okay. I'm okay with who I am, where I am, and what I did, let's bring it back.
Jonathan Levi: Right. And I think I kind of figured out what you were saying about focus, because what happened after two or three days of playing with the app?
I realized that when those birds happen, as long as I stay focused, I'd say those birds are pleasant. I'm enjoying the birds as long as I'm focused on something. I'm good. And I, I mean, I guess it's not tricking the app. That's exactly what the app is trying to get me.
Ariel Garten: Yeah, exactly. Don't be distracted by the birds. Don't be distracted by the wind. Yep.
Jonathan Levi: And I loved it that you said, you know, this whole achievement-based thing is antithetical in some ways to meditation, I love that's designed into the product because as you said, it's not an end justify the means thing. It's a means justify the means thing meditation.
Ariel Garten: Yes.
Jonathan Levi: And, you know, I also love the idea that you can just completely remove away all the voice coaching and just sit and have it be a kind of a Kaizen thing is the way that I plan on using it. It's just every day I want to do a little bit better as opposed to tracking my score and setting goals. And so I love that you guys have engineered that into the products.
Ariel Garten: Yeah, there's lots of different ways that you can use it. So you can turn off the birds. If you find them too distracting, you're not ready for them. You can turn off the real-time feedback. You can turn off the voice guidance, you can turn it all off and just use it to track your meditation. You can not look at the tracking and just hear when your mind is wandering.
So we have people who are beginners, who use all of the sounds and the effects to teach them to meditate the first time with people who are very expert meditators, who turn off all of the guidance and just use it as a way to keep themselves in their practice.
Jonathan Levi: Totally.
Ariel Garten: And see day by day, what the changes are.
Jonathan Levi: Exactly. So I guess I'm, as I'm trying to understand how the product helps meditators, I think there's another thing which is, I kind of see it as if you go to the gym and you have a trainer and the trainer pushes you to do five extra sets that you wouldn't do on your own. So it, it is this, your mind is going to wander and effectively, if muse can get you to catch it twice as much or three times as much, you're essentially having a more productive, I hate to use these words productive and efficient with meditation, but you're having a more productive sit.
Ariel Garten: You've totally got it. So, as we've described in meditation, your mind wanders, your job is to notice that at wanders and then to bring it back in a 10-minute meditation, your mind might have wandered onto the grocery list for two minutes until you've noticed and so maybe you get five recoveries in your 10-minute meditation.
Well, each of the times when you noticed and bring it back, that easier rep at the gym, that is the push-up. That is the thing that builds the muscle of your meditation for a focused attention practice at its core and with Muse, you can know within seconds that your mind has wandered and bring it back. So in a 10-minute meditation, you can get a hundred notifications that you've wandered and brought it back in a hundred opportunities to practice that skill of noticing and returning.
Jonathan Levi: Right. Does that at least in the beginning undermine your own ability to catch it in yourself, or does that skill translate when you take the headphones out?
Ariel Garten: In our experience, the scale totally translates.
Jonathan Levi: That's cool.
Ariel Garten: And we know that based on the fact that 3d studies of people who've meditated with Muse, they've ended up doing better in various aspects of their life that required that skill so.
Jonathan Levi: Very cool.
Ariel Garten: Yep your thoughts and now you're in the park with your kid and you're like, oh, I didn't realize that for all the time in my life when I've been in the car with my kid, I've been thinking about something else.
So I now recognize that my brain is elsewhere. I've recognized what I can do and I can choose to be in the present moment. In a way that some people say they haven't had access to before.
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All right. Back to the show.
I want to pick your brain more because you're both a CEO and a neuroscientist and one of the things that-
Ariel Garten: Former CEO, I stepped down from maternity leave. So now I'm the woman of the park with my kids.
Jonathan Levi: Congratulations.
Ariel Garten: Thank you.
Jonathan Levi: Very exciting. So you are a founder and a neuroscientist, and one of the goals in our company is to lead and fund research into memory and how memory works and more importantly, how we can improve memory.
Can we use memory techniques to stave off the effects of Alzheimer's and stuff like that? So tell me about the studies that you guys are doing, how that works. Do you guys have a whole research branch? What are the things that you guys are learning about musers as you said?
Ariel Garten: Awesome. So we have about 200 different research institutions that use Muse in a wide variety of ways.
Some of them use it as a clinical-grade EEG to neuroscience experiments, EEG based in the wild others use it as a meditation tool. So Mayo clinic, for example, has been using it with breast cancer patients, awaiting surgery. We have about 175 published studies using Muse. Not all of them are good or valid, but yes.
Jonathan Levi: Wow. Okay. We have to rap about that after
Ariel Garten: I was surprised. We just did a count on it and again, you know, I'm not, all of those are in reputable journals or from reputable teams that we support. Um, there are people who've taken muse and done studies with them and publish them, but there are, you know, a fair number of really decent studies published in places like plus one from top tier institutions.
So in that group of studies, we've noticed some really interesting things. So the first one, it was a six-week study done by Bay Crest Hospital in Toronto. They're a geriatric care facility that leads the way in and understanding the brain and they did a study with average users using these for six weeks, for 10 minutes a day.
And what they noticed was a decrease in somatic symptoms. So less self-reported headache, pain, nausea. They saw an increase in calm, and then they saw an increase in response on strip task. So in the Stroop task, you have a word that is a color. So you'd see it, see the word red, R E D and it's in a font color.
And that can be congruous. Red would be in the color red or incongruous. Red would be in the color blue. So in the congruence condition, people who'd mused for 10 minutes a day, saw a 20-millisecond increase in their ability to say that it was red. And in the incongruent condition, they saw a 50-millisecond increase in their ability to say that the color was blue, even though the word was red.
Jonathan Levi: Wow.
Ariel Garten: So your ability to make decisions in stressful situations with conflicting information is improving.
Jonathan Levi: Super interesting.
Ariel Garten: Yeah. So then we had, uh, recently another study come out of a group in Italy, out of the Catholic University in Milan, and they did a side-by-side study of Muse versus regular meditation.
So they had 20 college students learn focused attention on the breath meditation and 20 college students learn focused tension on the breath with Muse and they did it over a four-week study, starting at 10 minutes per day in week one ending at 20 minutes per day in week two. And what they saw was, again, an increase in troop task performance.
They saw an increase in, uh, learning and cognitive tasks. And then they saw really interesting change in persistent brainwave activity in the students who had used Muse, but not the students who've meditated without me. And so, yes. So in the students, who've meditated with Muse, after the meditation, they measured their EEG and they saw that they had a persistent increase in alpha activity.
So alpha is a state that refers both to relaxation. So you have an increase in alpha before you're falling asleep, but it also refers to an increase in internal processing, an internal focus processing. So alpha suggests that you're focused on a task and you're ignoring the external sensory experience.
So these people saw a persistent increase in alpha suggesting a persistent increase in calm and focus. They also saw a change in their ERP.s So ERPs are Event-Related Potentials, and that is an EEG signature that you see when there is an event in the world. So you hear a sharp sound, you see a flashing light and you will have a crawler event in your EEG.
You'll be able to see a little spike relating to the sound or the flashing light and there are a range of different ERPs. In this case, they saw a higher ERP for those who had meditated with Muse versus those who had not and the amplitude of the ERP refers to the amount of attention that you have to that stimulus.
So those who had meditated with Muse potentially, and I mean, there's various ways to interpret these results. As he meditated with Muse, he saw had an increase in their attention, or you can also see it as an increase in efficiency and in sensory processing. So they're able to process that information more efficiently, you know, the jury's out on how you wanna interpret the data, but one way or the other fascinating result.
Jonathan Levi: Super fascinating because in my head I had an admittedly I didn't check out the marketing from Muse or anything like that. You guys were awesome and reached out and we tried the product here, but in my head, it was helping non-meditators meditate. But this is kind of opened up a whole new world of as we said earlier, make your meditation count for more.
Do you think that the reason that the ERP was the response became so much better in those using Muse was because of what we said because of essentially they're 20 minutes a day of meditation was counting for more?
Ariel Garten: So we haven't, you know, at this point, it's only conjectured why that, uh, we saw that result, but the logical explanation is that those we're meditating with Muse, we're doing a more concentrated job meditating that time.
And so that meditation was meaning more from a neural perspective or from a practice perspective.
Jonathan Levi: Super interesting.
Ariel Garten: I should also say, you know, there are lots of different ways to meditate, and meditating with Muse is just one. So there's lots of fantastic ways that you could be using that 20 minutes.
But if you're going to do focused attention on the breath, or you're going to start meditation, or you have a practice, you know, adding a meditation with Muse is a great way to hone in that 20 minutes or 10 minutes and make it meaningful. There are lots of ways to make it meaningful. Muse is a good one.
Jonathan Levi: Totally. So Ariel I want to ask you some other questions outside of meditation and Muse because you are a high-powered entrepreneur, you are a mom getting over all the hormonal changes of motherhood and stuff like that and you are a neuroscientist. So what are the things that you are doing to keep, besides meditation of course, to keep your brain at optimal performance?
Ariel Garten: Oh, man. I love this question. I am a brain geek.
Jonathan Levi: Totally me too.
Ariel Garten: So meditation being an obvious one, sleep being really key, ensuring that I get good sleep and deep sleep. The next one being, I do a lot of various forms of brain training. So if I'm interested in learning a skill or interested in changing my relationship with something, I'll actually spend a lot of time thinking about that thing and talking to myself, talking myself through it. So if there's a thing that I feel fearful towards, I'll talk to my major and be like, nope, we don't need to feel that way. Nope. It's okay. Nope. We'll make doula. We can calm down. So I actively train my amygdala to change my relationship to fears.
I also love supplements. So high DHA fish oils, curcumin either long Vieta commune or thera curcumin. They're the only two forms currently that enter the blood-brain barrier. Managing inflammation because inflammation in the body also can stimulate inflammation in the brain.
Jonathan Levi: Totally.
Ariel Garten: Making sure diet is good and clean and organic and eating things I love and loving when I eat them so that I'm creating a holistic experience between my desire for the food and its relationship to my body. I know it seems real that one could seem kind of flaky.
Jonathan Levi: No, not at all.
Ariel Garten: The theory behind it is as you are preparing to eat your food if you're interested in your food, you're likely to salivate more, you'll create more digestive enzymes and the food will assimilate its nutrition more effectively.
Jonathan Levi: Interesting. I've never heard that one, but I like it and it totally makes sense.
Ariel Garten: And then enjoying life. I mean enjoying life is far and away the most efficient, effective, and enjoyable technique for being healthy and living well, you know, loving what you're doing, loving the people around you and if you don't actively question yourself why, and you're seeking to shift those either within your own, you know, your relationship with yourself, your thoughts about it, or the physical scenario that's causing it.
So I seek to, yeah, I seek to enjoy life every single day and feel the sensation of value and meaning from the work that I do and the people that are around me.
Jonathan Levi: I love that. I recently said to someone, I don't even remember in what context, I think we were talking about exercise. Ah, yeah, I was talking to my fiance.
Who's going to be doing four months of studying for the bar exam, which is going to be massive. And she made some comments like, well, I hope I have time to work out. And I was like, no, no, no, no, you have to work out because dopamine and serotonin and adrenaline are way better stimulants than caffeine and 10 other different chemicals that you could, I mean, nature got it right. And those chemicals are massively influencing the way that your brain functions.
Ariel Garten: Yes.
Jonathan Levi: Obviously right? But more so than having an extra coffee or switching your coffee out for a green tea, it's like have your brain chemistry right? And it's the sleep, it's the diet, it's the exercise, but also mindset.
Ariel Garten: Absolutely. And feeling love and taking time in the day to actually reflect on things that give you sensations of joy and love and fulfillment and taking time to amplify those sensations in your body. That's a great way to enact, to enable your brain to drop some more dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin.
Jonathan Levi: Yeah. So I think you and I do the same thing and I want to ask you, it's a little bit of an embarrassing question, but I tend to look at things as like, um, kind of, if you were like adjusting the levels on a music board. So for example, I'll look at a plate of food and I'll go, oh, I don't have enough healthy fats here like this is going to give me a certain insulin spike. I need to maybe have some cashews with it or I will look at the workout for the day and I'll be like, well, that's not enough cardiovascular. I'm going to need to get my heart rate up because that's the only way I'm going to get the serotonin. Do you tend to look at the world and the things you do and consider to your well, you said, you know, you talked to your amygdala, do you consider, you know, I'm feeling down right now. Maybe I should pick my daughter up and you know, that'll be a great way to boost my mindset
Ariel Garten: Without question. There's a healthy balance between enjoying where I am and where I'm at and sort of micromanaging the optimal, physiological and mental experience of it. But if I'm not feeling well, or my mind is not in, I'm not where I want it to be.
I know every one of those moments I have the choice to bring it somewhere else. I had the choice to just say, well, this sucks in my brain. I don't want to be here right now. I'm just going to choose to take it someplace else. I'm going to choose to think about something else. I'm going to choose to recognize that the past 10 minutes in no way have to determine the next 10 minutes or the rest of life and I can make a very clean break from what I'm doing to where I want to go and what I want to do.
Jonathan Levi: Absolutely. Absolutely. And also just, I think this is one of the benefits about learning or benefits of learning about our bodies is when you understand what's going on in your physiology, you can really design moods, right? And, and, you know, music, for example, has this incredible effect on our brain chemistry and on our hormones. And you can go. The example I think of is when I used to be really, really tired in the middle of a day of lectures or classes, I used to sit there and go, okay, I'm very tired. I have a menu of options.
I can take a 22-minute nap and that's going to alter this, that and the other and it's going to affect the adenosine in my body. But I'm not really feeling that sleep pressure. So I could do caffeine that would also affect the adenosine, or I could get some vitamin D and go outside, you know? And so it's like kind of knowing how the hardware works just well enough to positively influence your experience.
Ariel Garten: Absolutely. And knowing what works for you and starting to create a roster, a library of things that you can draw upon at any moment when you need it.
Jonathan Levi: Absolutely. I really liked that. I really, really liked that. So I want to ask you because you are in the medical devices space or wearables
Ariel Garten: It's not actually a medical device,
Jonathan Levi: I had a feeling that disclaimer is going in the wearables space.
What are some products? They don't have to be electronic products, but what are some products or services health-related that you simply can't live without?
Ariel Garten: Health-related products and services? Um.
Jonathan Levi: I mean, they could be motherhood-related as well.
Ariel Garten: Sure. So I'm going to think for a second, in terms of health-related products and services, I've mentioned my love of supplements possibly even into an unhealthy degree. So I've been fascinated by playing around with literally dozens and dozens of them from the more benign, like, you know, L-theanine to manage anxiety and sensations or Gabba to the more kind of hardcore like alpha lipoic acid and seed glutathione, I mean, I can go like literally on for 20 minutes and I won't.
So supplements currently have been. Supplements currently have been, uh, a pretty fun place for me to play. And another thing that I love is obviously the ability to test, um, whether it's testing through blood work, saliva, urine, to be able to then play and optimize. So in the healthcare space, those would be sort of my favorites currently.
Jonathan Levi: Totally. I have a feeling. I mean, I'll be shocked if the answer is no, I have a feeling that you have access to some different interface that your engineers use, where you've re-rigged a Muse so that you can say, I'm going to wear this around all day and see how L-theanine compares to caffeine, compares to alpha-lipoic acid. Have you played around in that space and actually done the physical measuring of all these different supplements you take?
Ariel Garten: So I haven't done the physical measuring based on E I actually did that like a long time ago when we first started with a muse, I also am very sensitive to the weather. So I did a bunch of experimentation on EEG relative to weather.
I haven't picked that one up for the last little while, but there is an interface that everybody can use. If you want to play that game.
Jonathan Levi: I do want to play that game.
Ariel Garten: Yeah, it's called news direct. You can get it in the app store currently for iOS. I think Android might be coming out very shortly. If it's not there, it will be there soon.
And that gives you your raw EEG. So you can look at band power, alpha-beta Theta, Delta, and you can record periods of time. You can email it to yourself. You can play around with that data.
Jonathan Levi: Cool. And I can kind of manipulate it and tag it and see what did, what in my brain. I love it. This was the missing link because there are too many variables and I was not good in statistics in business school, but I've tried to do regression analysis just around sleep.
So right when you go to sleep and we could geek out, I'm sure on sleep for another hour, but when you go to sleep, there's so many factors, like, did I take valerian route? Did I work out in the morning or did I work out in the evening? How long ago was I on a screen? Was there sexual interaction before bed?
There's like literally a million different variables and therefore a billion different permutations and it is super hard unless you're actually measuring something absolutely objective, like heart rate or brain chemistry. You know, someone can drive by at 3:00 AM on a Harley and your whole data set is screwed for that night.
So I'm really, really interested in this idea of directly measuring from the brain what's going on and how focused am I or how are these things affecting me?
Ariel Garten: No, it shouldn't under call the complexity of that task. Certainly adding EEG into the mix, doesn't reduce the number of variables and still, you know, it's still a ton of data to try to figure out and parse, but it can start to give you some direction and start to give you some interesting hypothesis to play around with and if you have any buddies with a neuroscience lab, you can start to do a large scale experiment with, you know, hundreds of people looking at their data.
Jonathan Levi: That's pretty interesting. I plan on making buddies with people in a neuroscience lab. So if anyone out there is listening and I'm sure you have a lot to say about that as well are like, I'm super interested in this idea of not only doing research, but I think doing research is one of the ways that we influence educational policy.
So Harry Lorraine in the 1950s and '60s went around to schools and said, I have this amazing technique, the Greeks used it, and with it, kids can memorize all the presidents in 10 minutes instead of spending a week on it. And we can memorize the times' table in 45 minutes, you know, and the entire academic institution poo-pooed him because they're like, we don't want memory, we want learning. But at the same time, there is a task of,
Ariel Garten: I don't know how you can uh okay.
Jonathan Levi: Precisely, so anyway, he kind of told me and confided me. He's like, that's not the way going direct to institutions is not the way to do it. I realized after the conversation, the way to do it is to put out enough research that people can't ignore.
And I think that's, what's so interesting in what you're doing with meditation is there's so much research coming out now. That people can't just ignore it. And they can't just say it's woo woo. It's like this stuff actually works. It's clinically proven to work. There are benefits in a hundred percent of people who meditate and I believe the same is true of memory training and relearning how to memorize information so.
Ariel Garten: Without question. Uh, you know, science is king, science is key, and the more we can generate valid data that demonstrates the effects and the more we can have, you know, unbiased, scientific channels through which to disseminate this information, the better off everybody's going to be.
Absolutely. So Ariel I want to be respectful of your time. I know you're on maternity leave. So time is precious.
Ariel Garten: I am back at work now the kid's nap to back.
Jonathan Levi: Congratulations.
Ariel Garten: Thank you.
Jonathan Levi: Very, very exciting but nonetheless, I do want to be respectful of your time. So I want to ask you a few wrap-up questions. The first of which is what homework can we give our audience that they can do while waiting for next week's episode?
Ariel Garten: Okay, well, this should be an incredibly obvious one at this point.
Jonathan Levi: Right.
Ariel Garten: And the answer there is to meditate. And so for those of you who have no idea what to meditate, how to meditate or no idea, what we're talking about, can I actually run everybody through a simple focus attentional breath?
Jonathan Levi: Please, please do.
Ariel Garten: All right. Cause I, I suggested at the beginning, maybe we could meditate in this session.
Jonathan Levi: Let's do it.
Ariel Garten: Um, so for everybody who's been convinced that meditation actually is real and is actually going to help you. And this is a simple, focused attention on the breath practice. So you can close your eyes or keep them open as it's comfortable to you.
And you're going to simply focus your attention on your breath and just take a few minutes now to feel the sensation of breathing and you can focus on the sensation wherever it's most present to you. It could be at the tip of the nose. It could be the rise and fall of the chest, the expansion of the belly. If you want, you can count your breaths in one, out of two.
Now if at any point you notice your mind wandering, which it naturally will away from your breath. Just notice that it's wandered and bring it back to your breath.
Again, if you notice it wanders, just bring it back and keep your attention on your breath.
And when you're ready, open your eyes or return back to the present conversation.
Jonathan Levi: Awesome. Let's hope no one was driving.
Ariel Garten: Yes. So, you know, the kind of point is that's it, that's what meditation is. It's not this weird thing. It's attention training, which over time leads to a whole bunch of benefits and, you know, you may eventually get to enlightenment or Nirvana depending on which school of thought you choose to buy into overtime.
But at its very core, that's what it is.
Jonathan Levi: Absolutely and just then realizing that it's not this I realized early on in my meditation that there's like a hard, like, okay, I'm focused on focused and focused and then there's a calm, oh, there's a thought, it's the latter one, not the former you know?
Ariel Garten: Yep. It's gently placing your attention on your breath.
And then when your mind wanders, non-judgmentally noticing that that's happened. And this nonjudgmental aspect is what creates the equanimity. The ability to neither be too excited, nor too disappointed about anything that happens in life. The ability to rest in non-judgment with the world around you.
Jonathan Levi: And for folks who I know are going, this is going to be the episode that gets them to meditate. What's the recommended dose?
Ariel Garten: So you can start as little as is comfortable for you. For some people, meditation is just terrifying when they sit down and some do two minutes and then do three minutes, the obvious recommendation if you find it hard, Muse makes it easy. It's the thing that kind of spills the silence and shows you what to do and gets you on your practice and gets you doing it every day because meditation's awesome. But it only works if you actually do it and practice it regularly, just like going to the gym, you can't say like, oh yeah, I went to the gym last month. I'm strong now.
Jonathan Levi: Totally in my journey and search, I sat down also with someone in Thailand as part of this whole journey. And within a minute, he goes, you know, more than enough about meditation. What was the last time you sat? And I said, ah, four days ago and he goes, stop reading, start sitting. You know, it's gathering more information will not help in this case, and sharpening the ax before you actually cut down the tree is a great thing, but not in meditation.
Ariel Garten: Very well said, wise one.
Jonathan Levi: Awesome. Awesome. So Ariel where can we send people to learn more about you and what you're doing? Well, obviously give them a link to pick up their very own Muse, but, uh, anywhere else we can send folks?
Ariel Garten: choosemuse.com and then all of my own social feeds, Ariel Garten, ariels_musings on Instagram, uh, Twitter, and Ariele Garten Muse on Facebook.
Jonathan Levi: Wonderful. One question I wanted to ask. In all the craziness of mom and coming back to work. How much time did you have to sit today?
Ariel Garten: I sat for about 15 minutes this morning and I'll do probably 20 minutes tonight.
Jonathan Levi: That is wonderful. I so admire that because I don't even have kids yet and I'm always like, Oh, I don't have five minutes.
Ariel Garten: Okay. So key for people who have kids make your kids part of your meditation. If they're old enough, have them meditate with you. If they're tiny, spend that time when you're cuddling them, holding them, feeding them. Make that your meditation. Focus your attention on their breath.
Spend that time just feeling the sensation of their body and so you can get a real cheaper for really enhancing the experience of being with your kid and being connected to them and get in your meditation practice for the day.
Jonathan Levi: I don't have kids, but that might've been the best tip of the whole podcast episode. Thank you for that.
Ariel Garten: You're so welcome.
Jonathan Levi: Wonderful. Ariel, I've so enjoyed chatting with you. I want to ask you a couple of questions, but first, let me thank you and we'll stop the recording. So thank you so much for spending your time with me today.
Ariel Garten: My pleasure. Awesome to meet you and meet everybody at there.
Jonathan Levi: All right, SuperFriends. That is all we have for you today, but I hope you guys really enjoyed the show and I hope you learned a ton of actionable information tips, advice that will help you go out there and overcome the impossible. If you've enjoyed the show, please take a moment to leave us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, or drop us a quick little note on the Twitter machine @gosuperhuman.
Also, if you have any ideas for anyone out there who you would love to see on the show, we always love to hear your recommendations. You can submit on our website or you can just drop us an email and let us know that's all for today, guys. Thanks for tuning in.
Closing: Thanks for tuning in to the Becoming SuperHuman Podcast. For more great skills and strategies or for links to any of the resources mentioned in this episode, visit www.becomingasuperhuman.com/podcast.
We'll see you next time.