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Seattle computer scientists perfect yoga instruction

Instructor Michelle Demus demonstrates a yoga pose. Go ahead, try it. For the rest of us who are downward-facing-dog-challenged, three UW computer scientists have perfected yoga instruction for the privacy of your home. (AP/Heuichul Kim photo)

There are two kinds of people in the world – those who look amazing doing any yoga pose, and everybody else.

Based on my general lack of sports ability and patience, I assume yoga isn’t for me. The one time I attempted a yoga class an instructor asked me to leave. (That could be because I didn’t turn off my laptop when asked. I only had a paragraph to finish on a story. Enough said).

For those of us who are downward-facing-dog-challenged, three University of Washington computer scientists have perfected yoga instruction.

They’ve created a software program that watches a user’s movements and gives spoken feedback on what to change to accurately complete a yoga pose.

The program, called Eyes-Free Yoga, uses Microsoft Kinect software to track body movements and offer audio feedback in real time for six standard yoga poses, including Warrior I and II, Tree and Chair poses.

It gives verbal feedback on how a person should adjust his or her arms, legs, neck or back to complete the pose. For example, the Siri-sounding instructor might say: “Rotate your shoulders left,” or “Lean sideways toward your right.”

Each of the six poses has about 30 different commands for improvement based on a dozen rules deemed essential for each yoga position.

The UW team, led by Kyle Rector, worked with a number of yoga instructors in the Seattle area to put together the criteria for reaching the correct alignment in each pose.

The Kinect first checks a person’s core and suggests alignment changes, then moves to the head and neck area, and finally the arms and legs. It also gives positive feedback when a person is holding a pose correctly.
Color-coded image shows the order of priority for correcting a person’s alignment.

While the program could help people who don’t feel comfortable going to even a beginning yoga class, it’s really designed to be beneficial to people who are blind.

Rector worked with 16 blind and low-vision people around Washington to test the program and get feedback.


Related: Are yoga poses and stretches sinful?

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