Watching texts pop up on your phone while you flow through asanas is a pretty big no-no in the mindfulness-ruled yogi universe. But a new SmartMat may soon turn the yoga world high-tech — meaning the next time your down dog is off, you might be hearing about it from your mat, rather than your yoga teacher.
The latest innovation in the exploding fitness tracker field, the SmartMat is a yoga mat that monitors your yoga postures, giving you real-time tips to improve your form. Expected to hit living room floors this summer, the mat is currently in production thanks to the success of a massive crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.
Thus far, yoga lovers have collectively donated more than $280,000 toward making the SmartMat a reality, with many of them opting to pay up to $297 to pre-order their own mat before it’s even been mass produced. While that early-bird pricing may sound steep, it’s still a pretty big discount compared to the mat’s predicted retail value of $447.
But behind that hefty price tag, there’s some serious technology. “SmartMat has advanced sensors built into the material that can detect the placement and weight of your body as you move through your yoga poses,” says SmartMat founder Neyma Jahan. The SmartMat team has invested more than $100,000 into research and development for the product, and their mats boast a similar weight, texture and thickness to normal yoga mats (they roll up, too!).
The SmartMat: Turning Yoga Into Science
While low-tech yogis will typically unfurl their mat and do a few stretches, or relax in savasana before class, pre-pose prep is a bit more complex if you’re using a SmartMat. Upon laying out your mat for the first time, you’ll be prompted to input basic information like height, weight, gender and age (no fibbing!). Then, you’ll lie on the mat so it can measure the length of your arms, legs and torso.
“It’s like having a personal instructor with you in your home, 24/7.”
Made for an array of shapes and sizes, the mat was programmed by its creators to recognize 62 yoga poses by having 20 people with varying body types complete them all. Before launching into a full class, your mat and its still-in-development companion app, will guide you through a series of poses so it can get to know your body.
Once you and your SmartMat are acquainted, the mat is programmed to go through a two-step process every time you strike a pose: First, it detects your alignment, making sure that your hands, feet and other body parts are where they should be. If you’re off-kilter, the SmartMat app will give you real-time feedback, either on your tablet or smartphone screen, audibly, or using a combination of the two. To improve your placement, you’ll be given simple instructions such as “Move your right foot forward.” And after you’ve achieved proper alignment, the SmartMat will go on to check your balance, guiding you so that your weight is evenly distributed. (“Bring more weight into the back heel.”)
RELATED: The 11 Best Fitness Apps for Yogis
The mat/app duo works in two basic modes: in-home private, which lets you select a class and then guides you through it, and in-class assist, which lets you go with your own flow (or your instructor’s), but still provides tips on how to improve each pose.
Jahan hopes SmartMat will make yoga more accessible, especially to newbies. “For beginners, it opens up a new way of doing yoga that is safe, convenient and tactical. It’s like having a personal instructor with you in your home, 24/7.” More advanced yogis, or those who want to practice without being interrupted, can also pop the mat into Zen mode, allowing it to record poses and review them later on.
High-Tech Helper, or Zen-Destroyer?
Will a SmartMat really improve your flow — or will it prevent you from being “present” in your practice? It depends how you use it, says Kristin McGee, a well-known yoga instructor in Manhattan.
“No matter how experienced we are, we are always…trying to find [our] center,” McGee says, noting that the suggestions from the SmartMat might be helpful in correcting form. However, it may be best to listen to your mat’s audio tips, rather than staring at corrections on your screen while practicing. (Otherwise, you risk straining your neck or throwing your body out of alignment as you struggle to get a good view of your device.)
RELATED: 5 Surprising Health Benefits of Yoga
McGee notes that people who know the basics of yoga can find perfect posture without technology, too. How? By concentrating on your breathing. “Your breath is always your best friend,” she says. “Every time you watch your breath, you get in the moment. If you’re in the wrong alignment, you may feel like your breath is [restricted].” Use that as a cue to adjust your positioning — for example, focus on lengthening your spine, grounding your feet, or not pushing as far into the pose.
Breathing through your poses can also help prevent you from tensing up, which is a sure-fire way to throw off your balance. Keeping your gaze ahead, and as the yogis say it, ‘soft,’ can also help you achieve ease and balance, according to McGee. That’s good advice to follow, even if you do decide to take your ancient practice into the tech age.