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320. Meditation Meets Tech: A Journey Inside Muse with Ariel Garten

the daily helping podcast Jul 30, 2023

In this episode of The Daily Helping, we’re honored to welcome Ariel Garten, co-founder of Muse, a leading player in the field of consumer neurotechnology and meditation. With her remarkable background blending neuroscience, psychotherapy, and art, Ariel has found a unique way to bridge the gap between technology and mindfulness.

As well as providing an innovative aid to meditation, Ariel delves into the nuanced difference between a meditative state and a flow state. She describes meditation as observing one’s mind and body to learn about our physiology and thoughts and then shifting them. A flow state, on the other hand, is marked by high creativity, engagement, and a sense of passionate oneness with the task at hand.

The work of Muse doesn’t stop at meditation and sleep. They’re currently working on a project for women experiencing menopause and have conducted various studies with Mayo Clinic, demonstrating positive impacts across numerous applications. The company is also expanding to address specific user issues like pain and sleep difficulties.

Ariel’s vision for her work’s legacy is a world where individuals have the power to escape the “prisons of their own minds.” She encourages listeners to harness the power of meditation and change the conversation in their heads, leading to reduced stress levels and improved quality of life.


The Biggest Helping: Today’s Most Important Takeaway

“You are a capable, powerful human being, and nothing that your mind is telling you should take you away from that. By engaging a simple practice like meditation, you can learn to shift your relationship with your thoughts and be the person that you really are and feel the person that you really are and accomplish all that you actually can.”



Thank you for joining us on The Daily Helping with Dr. Shuster. Subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Google Podcasts to download more food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, and tools to win at life.




Produced by NOVA Media



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The Daily Helping Episode 320: Ariel Garten

Ariel Garten: [00:00:00] By engaging a simple practice like meditation, you can learn to shift your relationship with your thoughts and be the person that you really are and feel the person that you really are and accomplish all that you actually can.

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:00:22] Hello and welcome to The Daily Helping with Dr. Richard Shuster, food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, tools to win at life. I'm your host, Dr. Richard. Whoever you are, wherever you're from and whatever you do, this is the show that is going to help you become the best version of yourself. Each episode you will hear from some of the most amazing, talented and successful people on the planet who followed their passions and strive to help others. Join our movement to get a million people each day to commit acts of kindness for others. Together, we're going to make the world a better place. Are you ready? Because it's time for your daily helping. Thanks for tuning in to this episode of The Daily Helping podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Richard, and I am really excited to bring you Ariel Garten today. She is the co-founder of Muse, a leading consumer neurotechnology and meditation company. She's got a background in neuroscience, psychotherapy and art, which we're going to talk about those. But she is dedicated to bringing easy to use and accessible tools for well-being to the masses. Her unique background has taken her from working in neuroscience research labs, to owning a fashion label, to being the female founder and CEO of a Silicon Valley backed brain training interface tech startup which sparked the creation of Muse. There are so much more we can talk about, but she has been everywhere, and I mean everywhere. She has done over a thousand media appearances for sites like CNN, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes. And now she is here to talk to us today. Ariel, welcome to The Daily Helping. It is awesome to have you with us today.

Ariel Garten: [00:02:09] Oh, Dr. Richard, it is awesome to be here and awesome to be helping.

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:02:13] Well, that is literally the name of the game. So I want to pop in the Ariel time machine. Let's go back. I love to do this with people. I know, right? We have like no low budget sound effects. I think we need some. Right? So let's go back in time. What puts you on the path you're on today?

Ariel Garten: [00:02:35] Well, the first thing that put me on the path I'm on today was the desire to figure out how things work. I really wanted to know how stuff worked. Why are tables hard? Why do we see apples as red? Like, why? And then from there, I got fascinated by the brain and really wanted to know why the brain worked and why we were the people that we were, why we thought the things we did, move, spoke, danced. Why? And so I studied neuroscience and then became trained as a psychotherapist and then had a private practice for a decade. That was another way of figuring out why we humans work in helping people to make their lives work better. And along the way began collaborating with a man called Dr. Steve Mann. He's one of the inventors of the wearable computer, and he had an early brain computer interface system. And we were able to use that system to track people's shifts in brain state. So by focusing or relaxing, you would change your brainwave activity and we could program that to then make a sound or make a light get brighter. And what we recognized was that we were really being able to give people feedback on their own brain state. You could see when you were focused, you could hear when you were relaxed. We were translating your brain activity into guiding sounds. And I stood back and said, this is incredible. The world needs to know about this. And this was like in the early 2000s, before there was the wearables explosion. And we then took the technology out of the lab and started to create what now has become the Muse with it. And we were trying to figure out what is the best way to really use this technology to help people. And we realized that as we were training them to focus and relax and see and hear what was going on in their mind, what we were really doing at the core was helping them meditate. We're actually using the same mechanics of meditation, teaching people when they were focused and giving them cues when they were no longer focused, and that we could use this technology to do something that's actually really hard, which is learn to meditate. And with my training in neuroscience, I knew all of the scientific background that meditation is so good for your brain and body. With my training in psychotherapy, I knew how frustrating it was to teach and learn meditation because I would be teaching my clients to meditate, and they would be having a tough time of it. And frankly, I was having a tough time as a meditator too. And through building Muse, we recognized that we could actually make that process of meditation much easier with real time feedback from your brain. So you know what you're supposed to be doing and "when you're doing it right". So that's how it went from inspiration to a thing that now hundreds of thousands of people use to help with their meditation practice.

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:05:36] I love this. One of the things that's so interesting and we've talked meditation over the years countless times on this show. There's data going back decades that it transcends cultures. It transcends parts of the world. Like there is no question that when you meditate, it's good for your brain, it's good for your body. What's fascinating about what you've created is it's a neuro feedback device that we can download. There are 500 apps on Google and Apple stores that are meditation apps. But Muse actually tells you if you're doing it right or wrong, which is interesting. So tell us a little bit more. Let's do bio/neurofeedback 101. Talk to us a little bit about how it does that and why that's so critical.

Ariel Garten: [00:06:28] Sure. So in your brain, you have little neurons communicating electrochemically to one another. As they do that, they sum total of that communication, creates your brainwaves. So most people have heard of the idea of brainwaves. It's the electrical activity that comes off your head. And when you think or do anything, your brainwaves change. And so using EEG, electroencephalograph, the same things that you see in a hospital with wires on your head, safe, non-invasive, it's just a wire picking up that electrical activity, with that technology, you're able to read brainwave activity and then understand something about the state of the brain. So you can't see specific information, but you can see state changes. So with Muse, what we're doing is we have a clinical grade EEG like you'd have in a lab, but in a tiny, slim little form factor. And actually, thousands of research labs use Muse for real research. So you have this slim little wearable and it's tracking your brain state to know when you're focused, which is the core of a meditation practice, a focused attention practice. And then it knows when your mind is wandering. And what it does is it translates that into guiding sounds. So when you're focused, the sound is quiet. And then as your mind begins to wander off into a thought, you hear the sound of rain pick up and that sound of rain is your cue, oh, your mind is wandering, you're no longer meditating. And then it's your cue to bring your attention back to your breath. So with one thing that you're focused on and then the sound quiets and then you hear a little chirping birds that reinforce to your brain. Yep, you're doing it right. You're doing it right. And then after the fact, after your practice, you get charts and data and scores, things that show you what your brain, your heart, your breath, your body were doing during the course of that meditation. So it's kind of like having a little coach or a guru sitting next to you when they say, oh, mind wandering, come on back, stay focused, stay focused. And so it's like having a coach that's really guiding you to the state of meditation, reinforcing you for being there, and then helping you understand what it is that tends to take you off course and how to meditate better. So it can become a very effective tool both for starting your practice. If you've never meditated before, it like shows you what to do, guides you. And if you are a long-term meditator, it gives you a whole new lens into your practice, letting you really understand and see your mind's activities from a totally new side.

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:09:03] So it's interesting. I have never really been good at just sitting there cross-legged, Zen like pose and silencing my mind. But for me, like my Zen is cooking, like when I'm chopping vegetables in the states. So if you were to put Muse on doing activities you love, what kind of feedback would it give you? Would you be able to pop into the app and say, oh, I really am in a quasi-kind of meditative state when I'm journaling or when I'm cooking or whatever the activities are that a person may really love.

Ariel Garten: [00:09:37] Sure. So let's step back for a moment and talk about meditation a little bit, because it's not just about an activity that you really love. It's about what your attention is doing during that activity. So there's lots of different forms of meditation. The most common form of meditation is focused attention meditation. That's what most of the studies are based on. And in focused attention meditation, you're focusing your mind fully on something, and that can be something outside of you, like a candle, or it could be something inside of you, like a word in your head that you repeat over and over, essentially a mantra or your breath or sensation. And so you're choosing that one thing to intentionally focus on. And when your mind wanders away from that thing onto a thought about the grocery list or whatever it is, you then notice that your mind has wandered and then you bring your attention back to your chosen object like your breath. So if you are chopping your vegetables and doing it oh so mindfully, truly in meditation, really focus on nothing else but that vegetable, the feeling of the knife going through it, the color of it, the movement of your hand, one slice after the next, dude, you're meditating. That's awesome. If you're chopping your vegetables and you're thinking about your grocery list, that is no longer meditation. So would the Muse pick up when you are in deep, focused attention on something in a truly mindful state? Yes. If you are mind wandering while you were chopping those vegetables, you're not meditating, and the Muse is going to tell you that. Although, it's mainly built for sitting eyes closed because that's when you have the best signal quality.

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:11:24] What about sleep with this thing? Tell us about what how it can work with your sleep to give some data there.

Ariel Garten: [00:11:32] Sure. So we initially built Muse as a meditation tool. And then when we went and we asked our users what they were using it for, it turned out that a lot of people were using right before they went to bed because it helps them sleep better. They said things like, I have less anxiety, I wake up less in the night, I sleep more deeply. And so what we built was a new device called the Muse S, and it is able to track your stages of sleep as effectively as a sleep lab. So instead of going into a sleep lab with lots of wires all over your head, the Muse is able to detect when you're falling asleep and track your sleep. Staging, light sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep, et cetera. And it's probably the most accurate thing that you as a consumer can buy. It not only tells you how deep your deep sleep is or how long your deep sleep is, but like how high the amplitude of your delta waves in your deep sleep is. So it gives you a lot of information. And then we have a beautiful experience called the digital sleeping pill that actually helps you fall asleep. And in a recent study by Dr. Adrian Owen's lab, it showed that people were falling asleep faster and staying asleep more effectively and improving sleep quality by over 20 percent. So it is this beautiful biofeedback experience that guides your brain and your body into sleep in a wonderful way.

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:13:01] I love that. That's so important. One of the things that people don't realize is quality of sleep really sets the stage for everything. If you're not sleeping well, you're obviously not going to be as productive as you would normally be. But there's other issues that creep in. There's weight gain. There's your immune system is lower. There's all the myriad of things that kind of happen when you're not sleeping. So this is cool. That's something that I'd like to try. That's really cool. I'd like to ask you and shift gears a little bit, because one of the kind of the buzzwords in the last especially the last five years, but I've heard it from around ten or so, is everybody's talking about flow state, flow state, flow state, right, productivity. And so the first question I want to ask you is how would you differentiate a meditative state from flow state?

Ariel Garten: [00:13:56] Sure. So meditation state and flow state are very similar, but they are not the same. So when you're in this focused attention on your breath or chopping your vegetables, you're fully consumed and absorbed by the thoughts, feelings and sensations of that thing, but you're not necessarily in a flow state, which is a generative state. Meditation is great to get you into flow state because within flow state, you are so engaged in the thing that you're doing. You're loving it. You are productive in it. You're feeling great in it. You're just like rushing through it. It's like time is standing still. In order to get to that state, you need to have some creative input and you need to downregulate all your distractions, get rid of the distractions that are around you and really zone in and hone in on the thing that you want to do deeply. So meditation is great to get you into that state. The difference between meditation and flow state is that meditation is, and again, there are many forms of meditation, but generally speaking, in meditation what you're doing is you are observing your mind and your body, and you are learning about your physiology and your thoughts and learning about how to shift and overcome them and repattern your mind and body through the process of meditation. Whereas in flow state, you are highly creative, you're generating things, you're doing something, and you're engaged in a passionate feeling of oneness with the thing. So there's a lot of similarities, but some differences, and they can certainly complement one another.

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:15:31] With Muse, you go through the program, you do a meditation session, you downregulated everything, you're ready to be focused. And if you get into this state of flow where you're creative and you're focused and time flies by like nothing because you're really enjoying what you do from a data perspective, what does that look like in the device? Does it track that? Does it just see it as focus? What does that look like in Muse?

Ariel Garten: [00:15:59] Sure. So there's several different things you can do with Muse. So there's the Muse app. And in the Muse app you have meditation with biofeedback, so forms of meditation for your brain, your heart, your breath, your body. And then you also have a lot of guided content. And if you've got Muse S, then you also have all of the sleep tracking and the go to sleep experiences. Then if you want to do cool biohacker things and see what happens to my brain, when, there are lots of other apps that have been built for Muse, one of the coolest ones is Mind Monitor. And so you can open the Mind Monitor app and use that to track your brainwave activity, your alpha, delta, theta, beta activity along with your heart rate, your movement, and then see how all of that is changing from one activity to the next. So we have lots of biohackers who spend their day with Muse on, with Mind Monitor tracking and learning from themselves in that way. And then we have often the same people and or the same plus different people using the Muse app specifically for the meditation training.

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:17:08] What's coming down the pipe? Can you pull back the curtain a little bit and tease us with some cool things that you guys are working on in the lab?

Ariel Garten: [00:17:17] Oh, sure. There are so many fun things. So delighted to have the job that I like. It's the best. So one of the things that we're really focused on is how we build content and experiences that help people in the things that they're really dealing with in their life right now. So we have hundreds of different kinds of guided meditations, and some of them are specific for kids in college dealing with that. Some of them are specific to performance and leadership.  And so what we're really doing now is understanding the pain points in the lives of people who use Muse and building content and programs specifically for that. So one example is pain. We've built a beautiful pain course that teaches people how to overcome their pain. That's going to be going into the app eventually. There are some steps with the FDA we have to take there. In sleep, we're building out more content and experiences to really help people sleep, because sleep is, as you said, so key for your life. And it's not just about I'm lying in my bed, I fall asleep and then I'm asleep, and then I wake up and I'm grumpy and then I fall asleep again. Like, there's so much more going on. And when you learn to regulate your mind, when you learn to understand the stresses in your brain and really learn about the ways that you're thinking and learn to do activities like meditation and deep breathing that help you shift those thoughts, you're really able to change your relationship with sleep, so it's super exciting. We also have -- Mayo Clinic has run lots of different studies with Muse starting back in 2014. The first study they did was with women with breast cancer, and they showed that using Muse decreased the stress of the cancer care process, decrease their stress and fatigue and improve quality of life. So since then, they've run studies in fibromyalgia, Cushing's syndrome. They recently ran one with their doctors in the emergency room using Muse for burnout. And they found that there was a 54 percent decrease in burnout, like during the pandemic, working in the emergency room and improvements in cognitive function. And they're just kicking off a study for women with menopause. So I'm now creating content in the menopause space, which is also super fascinating to build tools specifically for that transition in life. So there's lots and lots coming down the pipe. And it's basically how is it that we can apply the skill of being able to observe our mind, observe our body, reduce our stress, bring in techniques to calm and understand where the different places where we can apply that effectively and how can we make real change in people's lives through it.

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:20:12] I love this. I know that I want to give a moment to have a little bit of light shone on your podcast as well, because you're the host of the Untangle podcast. Tell us a little bit about that.

Ariel Garten: [00:20:24] Yeah. So I'm the co-host along with Patricia Karpas. And it is, again, like one of those just joys in life. We talk to amazing people in the space of brain, mindfulness, various forms of scientists, people who are at the forefront of different methodologies of helping the mind and body. And we learn from them how to improve our own lives. So there's a new episode each week and it's the Untangle podcast because it helps you untangle your mind and your life.

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:20:58] I love this. Ariel, when you look back X number of years from now, what would you want your legacy to be as it relates to the work you're doing with the brain and the body?

Ariel Garten: [00:21:11] Well, that's a heavy question. So, I mean, my first answer there is who am I to think that I might leave a legacy? We only hope and pray that you can make an impact in the world. If I think about what it might be and hope and pray for the greatest possibility of what it could be, I think about how we all create prisons in our own minds. So we go through the day thinking I'm not good enough, my boss needs this from me now and I might get fired, my boyfriend is mad at me or whatever it is. And in doing so, we create internal dialogue and tremendous amounts of stress that dysregulate our body, where in many cases we don't need to. We have this basic biological programming, both our neurology and biology. So we have an amygdala that is hyperactive and really wants to protect us, and it ends up giving us all of these scary thoughts around what might happen with that email or the fight with my boyfriend or the traffic I'm sitting in. And that creates a physiological reaction in your body, which really then freaks you out, so you have more thoughts about it. And we create these mind body cycles that ramp our anxiety and our fear and really like erode our quality of life. And with practices like meditation, with simple tools, we can learn to observe what is going on in our mind, observe what's going on in our body and learn to shift that. Instead of having that same looping thought of, oh no, I'm stuck in traffic, I'm going to be late, this is awful and have it ramp up and up and up. You can instead say, hey, I notice I'm having that thought about traffic. I notice I have it like every day at 4 p.m., I notice I get pretty grumpy by it. I notice that the traffic is not going to move and it's not going to matter. So why don't I just do something else instead of being grumpy about this traffic? Like, why don't I just put on a podcast and learn right now? So when I think about what my greatest legacy, which is really the legacy of thousands of years of the practices of meditation and these other forms of mind body work, when think about what the legacy of those are, it is to help us live healthier, happier lives by taking us out of the prisons of our own mind, by teaching us to change the conversation in our own heads and to change our relationship to it so that we're no longer just at the mercy of the crap that our brain feeds us every day, the thoughts that just arise. And we instead have the agency to have choice over the contents of our own mind, then choice in what we feel and do in the world and choice in the pathway of our lives.

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:24:18] That was a heavy question, but beautifully answered. I have one more for you, Ariel. As you know, I wrap up every episode by asking my guests just this one question, and that is, what is your biggest helping, that one most important takeaway you'd like somebody to walk away with after hearing our conversation today?

Ariel Garten: [00:24:38] That you are a capable, powerful human being and nothing that your mind is telling you should take you away from that. And that by engaging a simple practice like meditation, you can learn to shift your relationship with your thoughts and be the person that you really are and feel the person that you really are and accomplish all that you actually can.

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:25:06] I love it. Ariel,tell us where people can learn more about you online.

Ariel Garten: [00:25:11] Sure. So if you want to learn more about Muse, it is Muse, the brain sensing headband that helps you meditate and sleep and show you cool things that go on in your brain and you can find it at, and I think, do you have your own special link? 

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:25:32] Yeah. You guys gave me a special link. So the is what I believe it's set up at. And I believe they told me that through this special link, our listeners can get 20 percent off plus a year membership as well, if I'm not mistaken.

Ariel Garten: [00:25:54] Cool. Amazing. All right. Well, your audience gets awesome things. So yeah. So you can find Muse there. You can also find us on all the socials at @ChooseMuse on Instagram, Twitter, et cetera. And we also have lots of content on the website and Instagram and Twitter about meditation and how it changes your life.

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:26:14] Awesome. And we'll have links to everything Muse, including that special link for all of you listening to this and the Untangled podcast as well in the show notes at So we got you covered. Ariel, this has been awesome. Thank you so much for joining us today. I loved our conversation.

Ariel Garten: [00:26:32] Oh, thank you. It is a joy and a pleasure to be helping.

Dr. Richard Shuster: [00:26:35] Absolutely. And I also want to thank each and every one of you who took time out of your day to listen to Ariel and my conversation. If you liked it, if you got something good out of it, go give us a follow on Apple podcast and leave us a five star review, because that is what helps other people find this show. But most importantly, go out there today and do something nice for somebody else, even if you don't know who they are and post in your social media feeds using the hashtag #MyDailyHelping because the happiest people are those that help others.


There is incredible potential that lies within each and every one of us to create positive change in our lives (and the lives of others) while achieving our dreams.

This is the Power of You!