Meditation Feedback Devices are one of the most popular meditation tools of 2023. And taken at face-value they seem to be incredibly helpful. They offer insight into your brain, they help you to focus on breathing, and most of them are very well designed. However, if you want to meditate properly and to advance in your practice, you simply cannot afford to use one of these devices. Here’s why.
What Are Meditation Feedback Devices?
Meditation Feedback Devices are electronic wearable devices that sense the electrical rhythms of the brain (EEG) and use that information to provide you with feedback during your meditation session, such as by telling you when you your mind is wandering.
Most devices come with a smartphone app and some have partnered up with the bigger app developers. For instance, the Muse Headband is partnered with the meditation app Calm, which is one of the most popular meditation apps in the world. By using an app, you can various details about your meditation session ion your phone / tablet. Most devices also use audio feedback so they can provide you with insightful information while your eyes are closed, and this is usually done with traditional relaxing sounds such as Tibetan Singing Bowls. Supposedly, using such devices will improve your mood and mental health over time (but meditation does that anyway whether or not you use a device).
The Pros Of Meditation Feedback Devices
Now, I don’t want to be overly negative about these devices so let me share some of my positive experiences with them. I’ve used a number of them and in general they are very comfortable. Omnifit, for instance, is just a light headband that is comfortable and does not distract me during meditation. It’s also very easy to use and even if you are a complete technophobe, you will probably find it accessible.
Most meditation feedback devices have pleasant visuals too. For instance, I really like NeoRhythm’s fresh cool blue visuals in its app. It looks very healthy and relaxing, and honestly, just looking at that app makes me feel more relaxed and kind of more in control of my mind. Muse also has neat visuals with wind and water themes. The sounds are all very pleasant too, and overall, I have to say that the production values on these devices are absolutely top notch.
The information they provide is also very interesting, although it is not altogether that useful as I will explain in a moment. But yes, it is definitely interesting. Most of the devices show you a graphical depiction of the EEG results that it recorded during your meditation session, and some, like Muse, then show you how much time you were “Calm” for, how much time you were “Neutral” for, and how long your brain was “Active” for. All of this information is then used to provide you with ideas and challenges for your next meditation session.
It is worth noting that the science around these devices is questionable. Firstly, there is no universal agreement about which EEG rhythms are most therapeutic. Secondly, the neurofeedback techniques that these devices use has never been fully tested in psychiatric conditions. And finally, neurofeedback treatment is not FDA approved for the treatment of many mental health conditions (although many clinics do use them).
However, there is another, perhaps more important reason why I recommend against using these products. So, let’s discuss that now.
Why Meditation Feedback Devices Will Make Your Meditation Practice Worse, Not Better
The truth about meditation feedback devices is that they are made by companies who are amazing at building tech but know little about meditation. And that’s a problem because these feedback devices are actually against the very nature of meditation. Just as meditation apps don’t work for genuine meditation sessions, neither do feedback devices.
Let me say that again. Meditation feedback devices are against the very nature of meditation. But to understand why, we need to delve a little bit deeper into the true nature of meditation.
So, what is meditation? Many people incorrectly believe that meditation is entirely about observing the breath in order to calm the mind. This is massively misguided because a) not all meditations are breath-based, and b) not all meditations are used for calmness. If this were the entire point of meditation then these feedback devices would indeed be helpful because they do tell you when your mind is wandering and remind you to return your mind to your breath. However, that is not what meditation is about. Even at the absolute most basic level of meditation that is not what meditation is about.
The fundamental practise in meditation is Anapanasati (mindful breathing). And perhaps the most important part of Anapanasati is noticing for yourself when your mind is wandering and consciously returning your mind to your breath. It’s about remembering to bring your mind back to the present moment. Please do not underestimate how important the remembering part is. It is critical. Indeed, the very word Mindfulness, translated from Sanskrit, means “to remember”. In meditation we train ourselves to remember to bring the mind back to the present moment.
So, what does that have to do with meditation feedback devices? Simple. These devices do the remembering for you, so you don’t have to remember. And if you don’t have to remember, then by definition you do not have to be mindful.
Now here is a real-life example of why that matters. Let’s say that you always meditate with a headband. Your headband tells you when your mind is overactive, so you don’t have to be mindful of your emotional state during your meditation practice. Then one day you’re at work, obviously without your headband, and your stress levels start rising. Had you been meditating traditionally without a headband, you would quickly become aware of your rising stress levels and take preventative steps to calm. But you always meditated with a headband that provided that insight for you, and now you don’t have that headband. Because of that, you’re not aware of your rising stress levels until it’s too late and you either a) experience extreme stress because you weren’t aware enough to take preventative measures, or b) you act out on your stress and do something you regret. All of that would not happen if you had been meditating traditionally without using a device.
This difference really strikes at the heart of what meditation is and what people misunderstand. Too many people think that meditation is about relaxing when you are meditating. But that is not what it’s about. Meditation is about training yourself to be mindful so that you are aware of your mental state when you are not meditating. And that is precisely what these devices stop you from doing.
These devices prevent you from advancing in your meditation practice. Traditionally, after Anapanasati (mindful breathing) we would come to Vipassana (insight). Vipassana is all about observing the nature of phenomena (such as thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations). But these feedback devices again prevent you from doing that because they make you focus on the device’s insights rather than your own. And so they inhibit the mind training that meditation is supposed to be.
Can you see how these “tools” actually inhibit your meditation practice? Meditation is all about using your own mind to remember to be present and to be insightful. These devices prevent you from doing that, and so they prevent you from meditating. So while they can be useful for calmness, they are not useful for a genuine meditation practice.
Meditation feedback devices are a cool little gadget. I find the information they provide truly fascinating. They are comfortable, easy to use, and offer fascinating insight. They will also help you to calm, and if all you want from meditation is to calm your mind a little, then sure, use one. However, they also do the “mind training” part of meditation for you, and so, ironically, prevent you from training your mind. If you are a serious meditator and you want to meditate properly and advance in your practice, I recommend not using a meditation feedback device.
Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison