Bodies stretch and twist. Some seem to move effortlessly in ashtanga sun salutations, while others shake and struggle to remain still in crescent pose.
Whether this is your first class or you consider yourself an experienced yogi, practicing this craft reveals it to be more than an exercise in physical fitness: yoga is more dance than sport. You won’t find these graceful movements in spin class, and these posed limbs — like brush strokes on canvas — don’t exist in an aquafit class at the community pool or in the cult-like confines of a CrossFit gym.
Yoga in the west may have already turned to the dark side, where dedication is just the latest attempt to achieve the perfect body, and advanced poses are social media photo ops first, and adventures in mind-body connections second.
Sure, yoga comes with obvious physical benefits like improved muscle tone, balance, and range of motion, but the mental benefits put it in a category beyond other fitness regimes. Stillness, introspection, and an emphasis on breathing techniques make yoga a meditative process for anyone who devotes themselves to it, regardless of belief in religion or spirituality.
Now imagine that in the midst of achieving this calm, mindful state that your yoga mat — formerly a twenty dollar purchase that doubled as a sleeping mat while backpacking or a drop cloth for impromptu crafting — is a sophisticated piece of technology that you’ve invested hundreds of dollars in. Connected to your phone or tablet, the device known as SmartMat becomes calibrated to your body so that it can offer corrections on your alignment in various yoga poses. Perfect for anyone who dreads the thought of leaving their home or supporting a local yoga studio, SmartMat eliminates the need to subject yourself to guidance by a live human being who has devoted themselves to learning and teaching the craft.
If you’d rather a different inanimate object become your yoga authority, the Nadi X yoga tights designed by Wearable Experiments offer haptic feedback to perfect your peacock pose or straighten your shirshasana. Hailed as pants with the potential to replace your yoga instructor, the vibration in these tights is meant to be a less intrusive way to let you know that your downward dog needs work, but it’s hard to imagine vibrating pants and their accompanying app as anything other than a distraction, or the premise of an adult film.
Like everything else in the world, yoga was commercialized long before the invention of these new high-tech accessories. The success of lululemon athletica sparked a revolution in which yoga attire has become its own genre of clothing that can be seen on everyone from those running daily errands to nurses and teachers on the clock. While yoga fashion becoming a billion dollar business might stand in opposition to the principles that yoga is rooted in, it doesn’t have much effect on the individual in the act of practicing yoga. A yogi sporting new lululemon gear from head to toe and her counterpart wearing old sweatpants and an oversized tee will both seek to shut out external influences and achieve a heightened state of mindfulness through the physical art of yoga.
Yoga as business might clash with yoga as doctrine, but expensive clothes aren’t quite an ipad whispering in your ear, “that warrior pose is all wrong”.
Technology has already left its mark on yoga, both in matters of convenience like pricey fabrics that wick moisture and repel fabrics, and web-based classes that are poised to replace traditional instructors. Yoga in the west may have already turned to the dark side, where dedication is just the latest attempt to achieve the perfect body, and advanced poses are social media photo ops first, and adventures in mind-body connections second.
Taking us even further from making internal connections, technologies like SmartMat and the Nadi X tights are yoga’s version of prioritizing the destination over the journey. In their world, achieving perfect physical alignment (according to a device) is more important than the ability to connect and focus inward as your physical body is challenged. From afar, the outcome might appear the same, but look closely and you’ll see yoga’s art and soul are being chased away by the latest app-enabled gadgets.