Ariel Garten – Muse: a neuroscientist of meditation

Ariel Garten joins me on the podcast to discuss meditation. Ariel Garten is a neuroscientist. She's also an innovator, a brain tech expert and cofounder of Muse an award-winning brain-sensing technology. A headband that reads brain activity the same way an AEG does to help you find all calm.

Ariel Garten – Muse: a neuroscientist of meditation Introduction

Now we’ve covered the topic of meditation on several shows. Today’s show, we’re coming at it from a slightly different angle. One of neuroscience, my guest today is a neuroscientist. She’s also an innovator, a brain tech expert and cofounder of interacts on the creator of muse and award-winning brain-sensing technology.

Now Harbin, the Mayo Clinic, NASA and myself are among hundreds of thousands of users of the Muse technology. It’s a headband that reads brain activity the same way an AEG does. I have to admit, and this is my dental background showing through here, I do love innovation and technology, so I was attracted to this neurofeedback tool called Muse. You wear it like you do a headband and through an app on your phone. You hear your brain activity. Well, your brain activity is translated into a sound like crashing ocean.

You know, this would be an overactive mind or a calm, trickling sound of waves gently rolling into a beach. When your mind is focused. There are even little bird sounds in the background that have this tweeting sound with the calm sound of the ocean just lapping onto the beach. Now the more tweeting sounds you hear are birds, the calm, your brain is in the calm. Your mind is so you are in the zone. It’s an interesting tool.

Now as lots of other shows we’ve done on meditation will tell you, you don’t need tech to meditate, but I thought this would give an interesting neuroscience view of meditation. It gives you real-time feedback. So you really do get to see what’s going on or in your brain and it’s an interesting learning tool. We cover some really interesting other things as well. So I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Ariel Garten.

Podcast Transcript

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Hello and welcome to Unstress. I am Dr Ron Ehrlich. Now we’ve covered the topic of meditation on several shows. Today’s show, we’re coming at it from a slightly different angle. One of neuroscience, my guest today is a neuroscientist. She’s also an innovator, a brain tech expert and cofounder of interacts on the creator of muse and award-winning brain-sensing technology.

Now Harbin, the Mayo Clinic, NASA and myself are among hundreds of thousands of users of the Muse technology. It’s a headband that reads brain activity the same way an AEG does. I have to admit, and this is my dental background showing through here, I do love innovation and technology, so I was attracted to this neurofeedback tool called Muse. You wear it like you do a headband and through an app on your phone. You hear your brain activity. Well, your brain activity is translated into a sound like crashing ocean.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: You know, this would be an overactive mind or a calm, trickling sound of waves gently rolling into a beach. When your mind is focused. There are even little bird sounds in the background that have this tweeting sound with the calm sound of the ocean just lapping onto the beach. Now the more tweeting sounds you hear are birds, the calm, your brain is in the calm. Your mind is so you are in the zone. It’s an interesting tool.

Now as lots of other shows we’ve done on meditation will tell you, you don’t need tech to meditate, but I thought this would give an interesting neuroscience view of meditation. It gives you real-time feedback. So you really do get to see what’s going on or in your brain and it’s an interesting learning tool. We cover some really interesting other things as well. So I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Ariel Garten.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Welcome to the show Ariel.

Ariel Garten: Thank you, Ron. Pleasure to be here

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Ariel.  There’s so much I wanted to talk to you today about your background in neuroscience. You’ve been a psychotherapist, you’re a developer of new technology and we’re going to talk about that as well. But I thought I might get you to share with us a little bit of your own background, your neuroscience. So a bit about yourself and how you got into all of that.

Ariel Garten: Sure. So I come at this from a very funny angle.  , my mom’s an artist, so I would see her make beautiful things on a canvas and bring amazing paintings to a life where there was nothing. And from that, I learned that you could create anything you wanted. So I was always making things. I was fascinated by how the world worked, how, why stuff was hard, why we perceive the colour red is red.  , and then I became really interested in science, which is super weird for my family who were artists and Bohemians.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yes. We kind of put some structure tool that,

Ariel Garten: and as a result, as a scientist, often like sort of, you know, pushed away from the structure. I’m like, ah, I don’t want to structure an experiment this way. I don’t want to repeat things and it took me a long time to recognize that structure actually makes you free. So I went to school for neuroscience. I started to work in research labs. I looked at, Parkinson’s disease, neurogenesis, and, then I began collaborating with this fascinating man called dr Steve man.

He’s one of the inventors of the wearable computer. So he’s a guy who would walk around like Google glass before Google ever made it. In 1998 he had a pair of glasses with a camera and a massive computer strapped in, a Fanny pack with batteries and a backpack. And he would walk around the world, recording, having two-way intercourse through his glasses.

And so he had this very early brain-computer interface system. And it’s crazy. It’s a Down’s brain-computer interface. So it was an EEG electrode.  , and through changes in your brain state, we could actually control stuff in the world around us so we could interpret brain activity to music. We could learn it, use it to control lighting, not very well, but slightly, which was fascinating.

And I took that and I took that original technology and tried to figure out how to best apply it. And from there I got together with the co-founders, Chris and Trevor who would eventually form our star startup muse. And, we ultimately ended up applying this technology to meditation because along the way I was also a psychotherapist and teaching people to meditate and recognizing the challenges of it. And then we recognized we had this tool that could actually make meditation easier.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Wow. What such a sexually so much they already want to ask you about because so often I hear, I hear healthcare described, you know, we get very preoccupied with an evidence-based, approach to everything and we know that evidence isn’t always, it’s stacked up to be, but I think of healthcare as a, as a combination of art and science. So that seems like a pretty good start actually. You know, that you, you had this artistic background but took you down a scientific path and the idea that the brain and the computer are going to the interface, I mean, is that not the way of the future?

Ariel Garten: It’s the way of the pretty far future. So, you know, when we were doing this 15 almost 20 years ago by now, we were able to do very, very rudimentary things and we could say like, okay, you know, we’ll have the ability to control computers with our mind in 10 years.

Well, 10 years have come and gone. That certainly hasn’t happened.  , so very far from any real brain-computer interface, and we’re able to take the technology and actually transform it into something that was going to be meaningful and take basically the same clinical-grade EEG that you have in a hospital and be able to apply it in a setting in people’s homes and in people’s lives.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Hmm. Now we’re going to talk about, I want to talk about that muse technology, but let’s just back up a little bit here about meditation. Cause we hear a lot about its benefits and you know, from neuroscience from a science perspective. I was wondering if you could tell us what those benefits might be.

Ariel Garten: So the benefits of meditation, the potential benefits are wide-ranging. There are now over a thousand published studies talking about the benefits of meditation. And some studies have looked at its ability to improve your focus and concentration, to decrease your stress, to improve your productivity in the workplace, to increase your GRE scores, increase your working memory potentially. You know, the list goes on and on and on.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: GRE tell us that.

Ariel Garten: Oh, in North America, if you want to get into graduate school, you have to take this excruciating exam. The GRE and at a small improvement in your GRE scores are really meaningful. So there is a study at the university, one of the California universities, and they demonstrated that students that had like an hour and a half, mindfulness actually were able to significantly increase their Gerry scores.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Hmm. And that, you mentioned that word mindfulness and how, how, what’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

Ariel Garten: That’s a great question.  , so meditation is defined as a practice or training that leads to a healthy and positive mind States. So most people think of meditation as this weird and booboo thing. It’s not, it’s a practice or training that you do regularly that is going to lead to an improved state of mind. There are lots of different forms of meditation. You might have heard of Zen meditation or, walking meditations or focused attention, concentration meditations.

What these all have in common is it’s a thing that you do regularly with your brain to train it. , so meditation teaches you the skill of mindfulness. So in a focused attention meditation, what you might do is you put your attention on your breath, your mind begins to wander, you notice that your mind has wandered and then you choose to return your attention to the breath, which is in the present moment.

So while you’re doing that, you are building this skill or this practice of mindfulness. So you’re being aware of your, your mind, you’re being aware of your attention, you’re making choices about it. So the definition of mindfulness is the present moment, intentional, nonjudgmental attention to your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and environment.

So as we regularly practice meditation on the mat, that then allows us to go out into the world and be mindful, to be in the present moment, to be aware of the environment around us, to be aware of our thoughts or feelings or sensations. And all of those things are happening in the present, which is why mindfulness brings you into the here and now.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Mmm. And the meditation is really, is, is just that sort of as taking your brain to the gym and making it focus.

Ariel Garten: Yep. So there are lots of different forms of attention. But one of the sorts of common paradigms that underlies meditation is the training of your attention or concentration. So in a focused attention meditation, what you’re doing is you’re really training your attention. You’re training your ability to stay with your breath, the neutral object, and you’re training your ability to notice when your mind wanders away or you have a shift of attention. And then to make the choice rather than following your wandering mind to come back to your breath. The neutral object.

So this seems like a super simple thing to do. You’re just, your mind wanders, you let it go, you come back to your breath, your mind wanders, you let it go, you come back to your breath. But as you do this, some pretty powerful things happen. So for most of us, we just kind of exist in the world where our mind is thinking us.

We have all these thoughts and we assume that they’re supposed to be there. I’m thinking, great. That’s, that’s me.  , when you choose to take your mind off of thought and come back to a neutral object to your breath, a really fundamental transition happens. That’s the transition where you recognize that you don’t need to be thinking the thoughts in your head.

It’s actually optional that you actually have a choice, that you can take your mind off the thoughts that your brain is serving you and choose to put them elsewhere. And you can do that repeatedly and actually choose the contents of your own mental space. And this is super important because often when our mind wanders, it’s wandering into stressful, negative, frustrating anxiety-producing thoughts, and we just end up thinking them.

But when you recognize that you can take your mind off those neutral thoughts and choose the contents of your own brain, you have the opportunity to really shift your experience of being inside your mind, inside your body and in the world.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Hmm. I mean, that’s just so beautifully put, Ariel, because I’ve often mentioned that one of the things about emotional stress if you like, is that while we may not have the ability to change the world around us or the people around us, we certainly have an ability to change out our attitude to them. So that dovetails in rather beautifully with this idea of practising changing your thoughts and focus.

Ariel Garten: Yes, you can actually choose where you put your attention and what you put your attention on, grows and what you take your attention away from wanes. And you know, negative, stressful thoughts are designed to grab our attention.

You know, and the same way that video games are designed to suck us in and computer interfaces are designed to, you know, pull our attention to the most relevant things that we know how to find the buttons. You know, our brain is designed to bring our attention to things that are negative and stressful because those are the things that are dangerous to us.

Those are the things potentially dangerous that we perceive as dangerous. So those are the things that our brains are constantly saying, look at me, look at me, look at me. So unless we really actively practice disengaging from those thoughts and putting our attention elsewhere, we will spend a disproportionate amount of time in those negative thoughts.

It’s your amygdala, his way of trying to, you know, avoid danger. And so the make those a part of your brain that’s always scanning for danger and warning you and avoiding dangerous, fabulous. If you live in a world where you know you’re about to be hit by a car, there’s a massive fire in front of you that you need to run from. But we live in a relatively safe environment.

You know, when we’re in our homes or when we’re going about our daily life, there are very few things that are truly life-threatening that actually require that level of attention. And so the system that’s used to literally trying to save our life constantly becomes co-opted to care about really minor things. Like, Oh no, there’s g  stuck in my shoe. This is terrible. Oh, there’s a wrinkle in my pants. Oh, there’s an email from my boss saying the world on fire, you know, am I going to be fired?

And so it constantly serves up these relatively benign thoughts that it puts negative emotional charge behind that causes us to draw our attention towards it and spend a disproportionate amount of time in the place of our world that’s sucking us into the negativity that’s really not relevant. And so practices like these allow you to recognize that allow you to choose where your mind goes.

Well, I used to have metacognition rise above the tendencies of your own mind and body and say, actually, everything’s okay. Actually, we can just put our attention on this neutral object and move forward in a calm way.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Hmm. It’s interesting, isn’t it? Because that would have been very important, as you said, a defence mechanism for us as we moved through our world, our environment. But as our world and environment ironically have become safer, we look for an outlet to keep, keep that active, you know, that amygdala danger, perception, active and may.

I wonder whether that’s why we’re drawn to bad news, to horror stories, too, you know, the negativeness that we are often bombarded with. I wonder if that’s why we’re drawn to it. It’s a kind of an innate thing that we need to keep finally chained, even in a safe environment.

Ariel Garten: Quite likely. And I mean there are people who will have heard you say, you know, but we live in a safe world. You know, we lived in a relatively safe world right now. We don’t need these things. And I’m sure they made Dulles spike when they heard that and said, no, no, it’s terrible.

Now having to read the news, the guns that this, that, that and you know, we can certainly discover evidence that demonstrates that the small pieces of the world that aren’t directly relevant to us are not safe. But that again is the act of the amygdala trying to constantly warn us of things that actually we don’t need to know about. You know you’re, you’re in your home, you’re in a safe place. You might, your brain might be generating stories, trying to scare you to keep you worried, but you really don’t need them.

And these, you know, stories that we perpetuate that keep us in a state of stress and a state of anxiety really just diminish our quality of life. Worrying does not keep us safer. Worrying does not improve our quality of life. It’s a thing that we do to try to reduce our anxiety, to think that we’re keeping us safe from the imaginary fear that we just created. It’s very ironic, you know, but in reality, if we just let it go and exist in the piece that we have here and now the world really becomes a much better place for you and for the people around you.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah. And then it’s interesting too because another focus of our program has often been sleeping and we’ve touched on the effect of sleep on the amygdala.  , you know, or lack of sleep rather on the amygdala. And I’ve often heard the expression or the fact is in effect, the 20 minutes of meditation is equal to two hours of sleep. Is that true?

Ariel Garten: I was going to say, I don’t know that that’s a fact.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah, it’s good. Good. I’m glad to hear you confirm that, but it rolls off the tongue really well and I mean it sounds terrific.

Ariel Garten: Yeah. I’ve also heard that you can sleep for four hours a night if you have four hours of meditation. I also don’t know that to be true, you know, not recommended, don’t try it at home, but certainly, 20 minutes of meditation has a real ton of potential healthful benefits from, you know, improving your mind and down-regulating the systems in your body, reducing your stress levels and helping you live with a better quality of life.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah. Yeah. Now, the other thing about focusing on the breath is an interesting one cause that’s another area that we’ve focused on in our, in our podcast. What’s the neuro, what’s the neuroscience behind breathing? Is there a, you know, I mean obviously there’s a difference between breathing and breathing well, but you know, here’s the neuroscience behind the breath and its importance to brain health has been determined.

Ariel Garten: So a few interesting facts about breathing and relaxation. So when you breathe in, your heart rate increases. When you breathe out, your heart rate decreases. So the difference between your increase in your decreases, heart rate variability, a term you might’ve heard.

So people who have high heart rate variability tend to be individuals who are younger or more athletic, healthy, not depressed. People who have low heart rate variability tend to be those who may be more depressed, not as young, not as healthy, et cetera. That tends to correlate away. So when you breathe in, your heart rate increases.

When you breathe out, your heart rate decreases. And on your exhalation, as you’re decreasing your heart rate, you’re actually signalling your body to slow down. So that’s why when you are able to breathe in a very rhythmic matter with nice big inhales and long exhales, you’re increasing your heart rate variability.

Ariel Garten: The difference between your fast heartbeat and your slow heartbeat,  your peak heart rate and your, low heartbeat during each breath cycle. So breathing in a way where you have a nice low exhale allows you to increase your heart rate variability and potentially increase your health. So that’s one part of the puzzle.

When you breathe out your heart rate decreases, you’re actually allowing your body to be in a state of slower engagement, like slower physiology, more rested, pushing more towards rest and digest. So if you want to relax your body, what you want to do is have a nice long extended exhale. So when you look at breathing patterns to increase relaxation, it might be like four breaths in and six breaths out or four breaths in, hold and six breaths up. And in that exhale your nest signalling to your body to slow down.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Hmm. Cause I, one of them, another thing that we’ve been, had mentioned to our listeners before is that a great way to engage the parasympathetic nervous system is to inhale slowly to exhale slowly and to hold the exhale breath for a few seconds as well. And in a very short period of time that neurology can switch. Is that true as well?

Ariel Garten: Yeah. So your diaphragm is actually connected to a part of your Vagus nerve and the Vagus nerve is a very long nerve that’s responsible for your, a parasympathetic nervous system, sympathetic and parasympathetic. So as you breathe out with a long exhale, you’re tugging on your bagel nerve and increasing what’s called vagal tone, which is a signal essentially to your body to relax. So that long exhale has a like mechanical action to it that signals through your nerve to go into rest, digest and relaxation.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Oh, well I love this. I love having you on this neuroscience perspective on things we’ve been talking about. I keep learning more and more about the diaphragm and how to underutilize the dues. I mean people are not using it to its full potential. Are they?

Ariel Garten: Probably not. No. Most of us are just shallow breathers. Right.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: That’s it. That’s it. Now listen, I wanted to talk to you about the muse because as I think I mentioned to you before we came on, I was an early adopter. I’ve had my muse now for quite some time and I found it a fascinating tool. What is the muse? Tell us a bit about how it comes about? I mean, you’ve kind of touched on it when our introduction, but let’s, let’s go into it a little bit more detailed.

Ariel Garten: Sure. And super exciting that you’ve been using it for years. That’s amazing. So muse is a brain-sensing headband that helps you meditate. So most of us know that meditation is good for you, but meditation can be really hard to do. You go home and you sit and you try to let your mind go blank and it never bounces all over the place and you’re like, eh, you know what’s supposed to be going on in my mind? What am I supposed to be doing?

And so we built news to really solve that problem that many people have, either trying to start a meditation practice or maintain their practice. So what Muse does is it tracks your brain during meditation. It gives you real-time feedback. It shows you what your brain is doing and really guides you into that state of meditation. So you know what to do.

And the metaphor we use is your mind is like the weather. So when you’re thinking you’re distracted, you actually hear your brain as stormy. And as you bring yourself to quiet, focused attention to calm the storm. So you’re actually getting real-time feedback from your brain during your meditation.

And then after the meditation, you have stats, scores, graphs, charts, things that allow you to actually see what your brain is doing and track your progress. Just in the same way that a Fitbit would track your movement.  , the muse headband actually tracks your brain during meditation and lets you see your progress and engage and improve.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Mmm. And, and, the this quite a bit of research, I, I’m sure behind that all,

Ariel Garten: there are over 200 published studies using Muse. And very excitingly, a Mayo clinic came out with a study that they started four years ago that demonstrated that using Muse for breast cancer patients awaiting surgery was able to improve the quality of life of those patients.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Fantastic. Fantastic. What are some of the things you do to keep your brain at optimal health? I mean, you know, amuses obviously a tool for meditation where what, what are some of the things you do for keeping your brain optimally functioning?

Ariel Garten: Lots of things. It’s a fun question, so meditation is obviously key and afterwards, we can get into some of the actual neuro neurological benefits of meditation, which are very cool. I also like to take a few supplements. , Curcumin is a phenomenal anti-inflammatory agent and you want to work to reduce inflammation in your brain, there are only two forms of curcumin that cross the blood-brain barrier.

One of them is their ac en. It’s micronized and the other is Veda. So I’m a big fan. I’m also a big fan of high DHA, fish oils, and Omega 3’s. I’m not three, six, nine, but three specifically with high DHA, the myelin in your neuron. So your neurons communicate through axons. They’re like the telephone wires of your brain. And in the same way, this telephone wire has a plastic shielding on the outside of it to keep the electricity conducting cleanly within it.

Your neurons have something called myelin that wraps around it. And the myelin, one of the main components is DHA and DHA is a component of fish oil. So, in order to keep your brain healthy, it can be very helpful to take a DHA as a supplement. I’m not a doctor, so there are not recommendations, but this is what I do.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: And you mentioned at the very beginning that you had done initial research in Parkinson’s, and myelin is obviously a, a well part of that. And, and, and AMS as well, I guess. So these are, these are growing problems in our, in our society. What about,

Ariel Garten: I also mentioned, early on, my research in neurogenesis. So neurogenesis is the growth of new neurons in the brain. And there’s a part of your brain called the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus where new neurons actively grow in that that happens for young as well as older adults. And when I worked in a research lab, if we wanted to do a study looking at how neurons grew in the rat and mice brains that we were looking at, we would do only one simple thing.

We would put them on a running wheel, put the rat or the mouse on a running wheel for a few hours a day for a couple of days. You go back in and boom, new neurons in the dentate gyrus. Now there’s a brat. Physiology and physiology are different in a lot of ways. But, exercise is still incredibly powerful for the brain. It’s one of the best things you can do aside from eating and hydration.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah. And neurogenesis, the generation of neural neurons, is not ageing. I mean these are age-related, but we can still do that up to what age?

Ariel Garten: I don’t know. I don’t want to hold, it falls into our adult and your entire adult life. Yeah.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: And tell us about the, you touched on also the neuro, you mentioned neurological benefits of meditation. Let’s just talk a bit about those.

Ariel Garten: Sure. So meditation has been demonstrated in the literature to have some pretty amazing effects on the actual structure of the brain.  , so in one study by dr Sarah Lasar, she’s a meditation in neuroscience researcher from Harvard. She looked at the brains of long term meditators and she was able to determine that a long term meditator was able to maintain the thickness of his or her prefrontal cortex. Now the prefrontal cortex is the area right at the front of your head. It’s like just behind your forehead there.

And it’s the part of our brain that’s responsible for thinking, for planning for our higher-order processes. And as you age, your prefrontal cortex thins. However, with a long term meditation practice, you have the opportunity to potentially maintain the thickness of that prefrontal cortex. So that attention, and focused attention exercise that you do drink focused attention. Meditation is actually strengthening the attention of your brain. You know, the prefrontal cortex is part of the area of your brain responsible for attention. So there are many reasons that through meditation you may be able to strengthen that area.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yup. Okay.

Ariel Garten: and then

Dr Ron Ehrlich: go on, but there’s more, but wait, there’s more, but

Ariel Garten: there’s more. But wait, there’s more. Meditation can also down-regulate the amygdala. So we were talking earlier about the amygdala, the part of your brain that scans for danger, that’s responsible for your fight or flight.  , with people who have meditation practices. In an MRI machine, you can often see a down-regulation less activity of the amygdala.

And for somebody who’s a long term meditator, you can sometimes even see a decrease in the size of the amygdala. So you’re actually seeing overall less Migdal activity. And part of what’s happening here is the prefrontal cortex, which is kind of like the parent, the person who’s able to see what’s going on and have wisdom and oversight is able to now down-regulate, able to control the amygdala, which is kind of like the child having a temper tantrum. So as your Migdal is freaking out and being like, ah, we’re scared of the wrinkle in our pants, your prefrontal cortex can come in and say, it’s okay. It’s just a wrinkle. We’re going to calm right down now. Everything’s fine. We’ve learned in our meditation practise, we can just let that thought go.

And so it’s a bit of a, you know, fantasy of how this works, but there really is this relationship between the prefrontal cortex that strengthens and allows you to have this wisdom, this metacognition, this ability to see beyond and inhibit the less, the more reactive and less meaningful actions in your life.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Mmm. And memory does it, you know, I mean the HIPAA cat, you mentioned hippocampus before as in, in your agenesis, but it’s also involved in memory too. Is it not I,

Ariel Garten: yeah. So the hippocampus is responsible for learning and memory and there are studies that demonstrate that date that long term meditators can have an increased vole of their left hippocampus. So this doesn’t necessarily mean that meditation increases your memory. I think this finding comes from the fact that the hippocampus is very sensitive to cortisol, to stress hormones. And in individuals that have high cortisol levels, you sometimes see a decrease in the size of the hippocampus over time.

And somebody who has a meditation practice may be able to, have decreased cortisol levels and therefore decrease the impact of cortisol on their hippocampus. So that’s one way that we may see, you know, an increased maintenance of that function over time. What we do see as an increase in working memory. So you have different kinds of memory. You have episodic memory where you’re remembering something that happens, and you have a working memory, which is the memory that you use that’s just a two or three-minute little buffer that holds the ideas in it.

Ariel Garten: So when you’re studying, for example, you need to hold things in your memory, hold things in your buffer to get from the beginning of one paragraph to the end, and then make sense of that idea, for example. So somebody who has a long term or strong meditation practice is able to hold the contents in that working without losing them from distraction. So it’s not like you get halfway down the paragraph and then you’re like, Oh, squirrel. And then you forget what you were doing and then you have to go back and read it all over again. So that maybe one of the reasons that meditation can help improve GRE scores.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: And you know, we hear so much about the importance of sleep on every measure of health. They have physical, mental, emotional, the impact of meditation on sleep.

Ariel Garten: Meditation has the, yeah, it has the opportunity to have a significant impact on sleep. So there’s one study looking at older adults who, half of which were taught a sleep hygiene course, and half of which were given meditation. And in the meditation group they saw improved latency to sleep and increased overall sleep. So there is lots of literature demonstrating meditation’s ability to impact your sleep.

There’s also a ton of anecdotal evidence. So you know, we hear all the time about people who feel like their quality of sleep has improved.  , and when you think about it just logically, a lot of the reason that people have difficulty falling asleep is that your mind is racing and you can’t make it stop. And you keep following these thoughts. And when you learn the practice of letting go of those thoughts, not engaging and not following them, just coming back to a neutral object in calming your body in mind, sleep can come easily.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: And so many people say, they don’t have time for meditation. And a lot of people say that about sleep as well.  , a course. What about Pardot? You know, and I think they’re being more productive by not doing either of those things. What do we know about meditation and productivity?

Ariel Garten: So, again, lots of studies demonstrate meditation’s impact on productivity. And I can tell you anecdotally, that’s really one of the very first benefits that I noticed. So when we started building muse, prior to that I was somebody who had tried to meditate but sucked at it as like, my mind’s too busy, I can’t meditate. I like thinking. And it was really through the process of building and using muse that I learned to meditate myself.

And one of the first reasons I knew that this was working, it was about three weeks in, I was sitting in my office and it’s an open office writing a long format document and long format documents would take me forever because people would rush by me, somebody would need something, I’d get hungry, and generally kind of slightly be procrastinating cause I had a little anxiety that it, and this time I got through my long format document and about 45 minutes because at the same thing that I was learning in Muse, which is put your attention on your breath when your mind wanders, don’t follow the distraction, just come back to your breath.

Totally transferred to actually working on my computer. I was reading my document, my mind would wander to like, Oh at a cupcake and Nope, no cupcake back to work. And then my mind would wander to, Oh that person must actually need it, they don’t let it go back to work. And so my brain had learned that discipline of letting go of the distractions, letting go of like the micro procrastinations that happened throughout the course of doing anything, and really had trained itself to just stay with the task at hand. It was profound.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Yeah. No, no, I look, it’s a, it’s a common story, isn’t it? I, I’m, I, I’m too busy to meditate and, and but, but if someone was listening to this now and there are lots of different forms of meditation, but some of them is listening to it, what do you, what would you, what would be a few tips you might give to our listeners who might only be getting started too, because, you know, all they just wanted to maintain their practice. What, what would be some tips for getting people back into or onto meditation?

Ariel Garten: So people often ask me how long they should meditate for and they imagine I need to benefit you for 20 minutes or, you know, sit there for one hour. You don’t, you need to meditate for the amount of time that you’re willing to do it. And so start small, like with Muse, we tell people to start at three minutes or five minutes, and once you get the hang of that, move up to seven and then you’ll start to enjoy it and move up to 10.

And then that feels juicy.  , so don’t worry about having to, you know, eat a big chunk of meditation. Really just start with something very simple. , you can just download the muse app. We have a timer on there. If you don’t have the device. And you can literally just set a timer for five minutes or three minutes and then it’ll track your meditations with the timer every day and you can see your streak.

Ariel Garten: And you can start to see the motivation of doing it regularly and trying not to break your streak because just like going to the gym is awesome, but only if you do it regularly. You can’t, you know, lift the couch if you haven’t done the gym in a month.  , and the same way that meditation is something you need to actually do every day to establish the practice and establish the habit.

People also wonder, you know, when they should meditate and they have visions of like, yeah, I’m going to get up at six in the morning and I’m going to sit on my cushion and it’s going to be awesome. And for a lot of the population that’s really unrealistic and getting up at six in the morning makes you feel far worse. Don’t bother trying to do it if that’s not you.  , meditate at the time when it feels right for you.

Ariel Garten: For some people that is in the morning, for some people that isn’t nine in the morning, for some people, that’s at their lunch break or when they come home from work or for me it’s often in the evening after my kid is in bed and it’s just quiet and that’s my time. So just choose the time that you will do it and be gentle on yourself. You know, most of us are not great meditators and that’s completely fine. Most of our minds wander. All of our minds wander. They’re supposed to.

It means that we’re alive. It’s totally okay. The question is just what do you do with your wandering line? Do you choose to follow or do you choose to say no? Okay, let it go. Come back to the breath. Just do it gently and lovingly might have to do it a hundred times and every time you do it as an opportunity to practice, every time you do it is the opportunity to change the relationship with your own thoughts and affirm your choice in your agency.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Hmm. Hmm. Now listen, just as we’re finishing up here, just taking a step back from your role as a neuroscientist and a and, and a developer of this technology cause we’re all on this health journey through life.  What do you think are the biggest challenges for people on our health journey through life in our modern world? What do you think that might be?

The Biggest Health Challenge

Ariel Garten: We have so many challenges. I mean, people have a variety of different health journeys.  , one thing that I’m particularly interested in is the role of the mind to drive the body. And so often a lot of the illnesses that we, we are, the health challenges that we deal with are as a result of stress. They are as a result of, you know, negative, frustrated thinking and are as a result of being worried about the symptoms that come up and then exacerbating them through that concern. And over-focus, you know, they are the results of people who have burned themselves out or have adrenal fatigue or pull themselves to the end.

And I think when we’re able to and recognize the beautiful relationship between the mind and body and the mind’s ability to find and take us to sensations of calm, the mind’s ability to help us call up feelings of love and connectedness and support mind’s ability to generate feelings of self-love and a mind’s ability to send healing to the parts of our body that hurt rather than focus on the hurt and amplify them, descend, soothing too, you know, the heart and the soul.

Metaphorically speaking.  We have the opportunity to really transform the way that we deal with ourselves when we’re sick in a way that we have the opportunity to be kinder and more loving. And you know, certainly, lots of research has demonstrated that when you are in an environment of love and support through your healing, you heal more effectively.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Ariel, what a great note to finish on and thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your wisdom.

Ariel Garten: My sincere pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: Well, there it is. We’ll have links to Ariel’s own site as well as the site and you can try it out for yourself, there’s also, let’s not forget the Unstress app which you can download off the app store or the Google Play and we’ve got some great resources on that app including in the dropdown menu on the top left hand of the screen, a breathing exercise tool, which is a great way to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system, which really made some mention of, we’ve also got a health assessment tool.

You get to know when the latest podcast comes out and when a blog post is done, so we’ve got some really interesting things on there. Now we’ve also got a five week five pillars of health course online course coming up in the new year. So look out for that and don’t forget to get online and leave us a review on iTunes.

You know, when we get up to about a hundred reviews, apparently that really pushes our writings up. And I’d love to get to the point where we get several hundreds of thousands of downloads of each episode every month. I really believe the message is an important one, a holistic approach to life. It’s the way the body works. It’s the way the planet works.  , so it seems like a good message to get out there. So until next time, this is Dr Ron Ehrlich.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.