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Artificial Intelligence – Issue 81

Tracking your yoga practice with technology. By Victoria Jackson

Technology creeps into yoga more and more. We’ve moved from the innocent days of yoga videos to the point where we now have digital mats that offer feedback during practice and even vibrating yoga leggings that signal when you’re out of alignment. I guess it’s the same principle as balancing the chakras, just updated for our modern world!
I tend to avoid these kinds of gimmicks and limit my yoga technology to a decent mat and a couple of blocks. But recently I acquired a digital activity tracker and it’s hard not to be fascinated by the data it records. It looks a bit like a clunky digital watch but it’s packed full of technology that measures my heart rate, activity levels, sleep quality and much else besides. It’s designed for those with greater athletic aspirations than me, so it’s been interesting seeing what it makes of my yoga life.
Of course it’s pretty good at automatically detecting my brisk walk to the yoga studio for classes. If it’s a day where class follows straight on from the office, I’m carrying an additional change of clothes and I can see my heart rate running higher than normal with the extra effort. Bonus workout! But if I walk barefoot (or in barefoot shoes) it thinks I’m on the elliptical trainer! Clearly my footfall is more subtle: I tend to glide along so as not to bruise my feet compared to the more energetic steps I take in regular shoes.
And then it’s baffled by the yoga practice itself with irregular movements that the accelerometer can’t make sense of. Unsurprisingly my heart rate is inconsistent through the practice and the tracker tells me I’ve burned fewer calories doing the class than I did walking to the class. The sweaty mess I’m in and my sore muscles suggest otherwise!
If asana practice baffles the technology, even more so any length of time in seated meditation. During this practice my heart rate drops sufficiently that the tracker records me as sleeping. Given how difficult it is sometimes to differentiate the altered state of consciousness in deep meditation from slipping into a light doze, I wonder if the activity tracker is revealing a deep truth! Perhaps those dark mornings when I crawl out of bed and stumble out to my cushion could have been better spent in bed, if all I’m doing is continuing to sleep while sitting up!
The activity tracker has been interesting as a tool for reflecting on how I use my time and energies each day. It’s just a pity there’s no algorithm for tracking my progress towards enlightenment — that might be motivational indeed! But that’s the beauty of yoga — the destination is a mystery. There’s no graph or pie chart to capture the richness of the practice. The tracker never vibrates with a message alert telling me “Congratulations — you’ve passed your daily target of 3 yamas and 4 niyamas”!

Victoria Jackson lives and practices in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance as a vinyasa yoga teacher

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