Today marks the Indiegogo campaign launch of the SmartMat. You thought that every single household object and sporting device had already been injected with smartness? Not the yoga mat. Or, at least, not with this much smartness.
SmartMat claims to be "the first comprehensive, portable, AI yoga mat, fit with Bluetooth pressure sensors that track yogis' alignment/balance and offer real time adjustments seamlessly via SmartMat's corresponding app for iOS and Android."
We could all do with real-time adjustment. But are we ready to be get down on our yoga mat, in some tiny corner of our New York garret, and listen to a lady's dulcet diction discuss our "downward dog?" (This thing hooks up to your phone or tablet.)
SmartMat's founder Neyma Jahan believes he and his engineers have exercised mind over mat.
He explained: "We built SmartMat because we wanted a way to receive personalized yoga instruction without having to go to an outside class or hire a private teacher. SmartMat synchs with and analyzes each user via a unique calibration process, providing the kind of custom biofeedback once exclusive to private lessons."
But, wait, I said to Jahan. Doesn't he fear that yoga teachers will launch staunch, perfectly postured protests?
His answer was predictably serene: "The reception from the yoga community has been amazing. Most yoga practitioners and teachers are excited for a tool that can act as a complementary guide to their practice that helps people deepen their alignment and get closer to their bodies."
In either case, engineering wins and and he's proud of SmartMat's design. He said his engineers had trained the AI by reverse learning.
He told me: "We put 20 SmartMats down in a studio and had a teacher lead a class with people of different abilities and body types. As they do each pose, our engineer records that pose and also records that this is how x, y, z body type/ability performs that pose. This adds to our pose recognition database so the computer can establish a baseline for exactly what a downward dog looks like."
He got his team together after he began to learn yoga on a Wii and wanted to have something more sophisticated to guide his body at home. Now he's offering the SmartMat for $247 (a limited offering) and $297 (the standard price).
This is not, he insists, a one-size-fits-all. Instead, it's able to calibrate to the quirky little package the good Lord gave you in order to be your perfect individual guide.
Still, though, I worry about one more piece of technology trampling all over a sacred human pursuit.
Jahan soothed my temples. He said: "In the original 'yoga,' the physical movement aspects was some guy doing shoulder stands in a loincloth to get a break from long hours of meditation. If you showed that guy packed studios with 50 people packed in sweating to music, he would think that is great, but probably would not associate it with his 'yoga.'"
I wonder, though, how many angry yoga teachers watching their businesses erode like humanity's other-directedness. Will they adopt the mountain pose and execute a high lunge toward Jahan? I hope he's well insured.