Anyone who has practiced yoga knows that in order to get a pose right, you need to see your instructor demonstrate it. That typically meant yoga was hugely challenging, and mostly inaccessible, to the blind and sight-impaired.
That’s all in the past, future yogis. Now, thanks to the work of some computer engineers from the University of Washington, practicing yoga just became infinitely easier for those who can’t see.
Kyle Rector, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science and engineering at UW, has created a Microsoft Kinect software program that solves the tricky problem of making a sight-based activity accessible. It essentially emulates a yoga instructor by analyzing body position and providing auditory feedback to the user, guiding him or her into the correct pose.
The program, called “Eyes-Free Yoga,” is an exergame, which is a video game played actively without having to touch a screen or remote. Eyes-Free Yoga teaches six primary yoga poses: Mountain Pose, Warrior I, Warrior II, Reverse Warrior, Tree Pose and Chair Pose.
Project lead Rector developed Eyes-Free Yoga with two collaborators — Julie Kientz, a UW assistant professor in computer science, human centered design and engineering, and Cynthia Bennett, a research assistant in computer science and engineering.
“I see this as a good way of helping people who may not know much about yoga to try something on their own and feel comfortable and confident doing it,” Kientz said. “We hope this acts as a gateway to encouraging people with visual impairments to try exercise on a broader scale.”
Rector, Kientz and Bennett decided that they would follow six principles in designing Eyes Free Yoga. Their end product had to be accessible, yogic, encourage confidence, target newbies, ensure accessibility features did not compromise learning and encourage a challenging workout.
For each of the six poses, Rector and her colleagues included about 30 different commands for improvement that they based on up to a dozen essential rules for each position. The Kinect uses cameras and skeletal-tracking technology to read the user’s body position and then offers instruction on perfecting the pose.
The program begins by checking the user’s core and then uses auditory commands to suggest alignment adjustments. Next it focuses on the head and neck and then moves to the arms and legs. Along the way, the program offers specific guidance, such as “Rotate your shoulders left” or “Bring your arms closer to your head.”
When the user is doing everything correctly, the program will say, “Good job!” The voice users hear is that of a real yoga instructor.
Watch Rector describe “Eyes Free Yoga” in this video:
Rector put a lot of work into developing this program. The best way to understand the difficulties of a pose is to learn it for yourself, so Rector did quite a bit of yoga as part of this project. She enrolled in five foundational yoga courses to gain a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of the poses she wanted Eyes-Free Yoga to teach.
In addition, Rector carefully studied a yoga teacher training manual and consulted 10 yoga instructors through the design, development and evaluation phases.
Yoga instructor feedback about the most common mistakes people make for each of the six poses was factored into Eyes-Free Yoga. This information allowed Rector to tweak the program’s instructions to correct these types of errors.
The team recruited 16 blind or low vision volunteers to participate in their evaluation of the software. Eight women and eight men participated, ranging in age from 13 to 60 years old. By the end of the evaluation, 13 of the participants said they’d recommend this exergame to others.
Rector hopes Eyes-Free Yoga will serve the sight-impaired community by giving them confidence, encouraging them to play more such games, and ultimately persuade them to atttend actual yoga classes.
This program is an exciting early step toward making traditionally sight-based activities such as yoga truly accessible for the first time to the sight-impaired. Eventually, an entire yoga class might be easy to follow using a combination of technology and precise verbal instruction.
Calling all yogis — send some positive, yogic intention thoughts out to the universe and just maybe someone with brains and ability will be inspired to take this wonderful work to the next level.
Namaste, Care2 readers.
Photo credit: Thinkstock