The explosion of yoga-stuff has delivered yet another, perhaps slightly more interesting, yoga-gadget into our laps. Yes the SmartMat which kicks off it’s crowd funding campaign on September 30th  has started to make some buzz around yoga studios and online discussion groups the world over.

And just like any self-respecting yogi and yoga-teacher, I’ve got questions…

Unfortunately, since the SmartMat is still not available for public consumption, there aren’t many answers out there… just yet. But having done what research I could on this new product I thought I’d share what I know and don’t know about it in order to give you one or two more things to consider if you’re thinking about supporting SmartMat’s cause.

The next frontier in fitness…?

In a nutshell SmartMat is a yoga mat that provides instruction, makes suggestions for physical adjustments, keeps track of your practice, and monitors your progress. Yep, all that IN a yoga mat. It’s the next frontier in intelligent self-care products, and from what I can tell marks an evolution of personalized electronic fitness offerings like Wii Fit and Xbox 360-Kinect.
Apparently it works in voice and silent mode allowing you to use it both at home (where it will audibly instruct you through a practice) or at the studio, where it will give you feedback and adjustments on your live teacher-led practice.

This is pretty much all I know at the moment, but I must say I was both inspired and intrigued by the video which perhaps brought up more questions than it answered for me (you can check that out here)

The WTF factor…

First I have to say that getting to where I am right now about SmartMat has been a little bit of a process. When I originally saw the ads on Facebook, my first reaction was… ”WTF!! not another group of folks trying to cash in on yoga!!” But then, in true yogi form, I sat with that thought, observed it, shifted to a more open and receptive mind space, and moved on. Where I eventually got to was a place of curiosity, skepticism, shock and awe and yeah some excitement.

I still have plenty of questions, none of which can be truly answered without getting my hands on a SmartMat, but thought I’d share them with you just in case you too are wondering about SmartMat. So here’s what I’m thinking…

Is this a gimick?

Yep this is the obvious one, isn’t it? The task of making a truly useful product like this is beyond daunting. A yoga mat that can provide instruction and feedback… useful feedback? This is where the skeptical engineer in me comes out. And as a yoga instructor myself, I’ve found that the feedback I give to students, especially after years of teaching, tends to be more intuitive and based on what I know of a student as well as what I can see on the mat.

But if I pull back a little from my yogi-engineer stance, I’m reminded that the foundation for any yoga practice comes first from just knowing where to put your hands and feet, something that benefits from “Live” help, but isn’t necessarily reliant on it. Is it a gimick? I don’t know, but what I will concede is that the possibility for it to provide useful feedback to new and experienced students definitely exists and my current feeling is that this is a very important goal for the folks who are creating it.

What’s the real “why” behind this thing?

This is always my big question. Why is this thing being developed in the first place? What was the catalyst. These days, given the size and reach of the marketplace and the relative ease of bringing a product to market, we’re presented with a lot of soulless solutions for problems we never knew we had (because we didn’t).

The companies and products that survive (and in all honesty get my money) are the ones who have a compelling story to tell about why they do what they do and why we need what they sell. The reason why they get my money (and support) is because it’s very often it’s their beliefs that will keep them dedicated to serving their community (and vice versa).

I believe the why is particularly relevant in a product like this where gimmickry will get you burned at the stake but dedication to transforming lives will gain you devotion, admiration and support (even if just for trying). Where quality matters… A LOT, the quality of the instruction, the quality of the materials and their ability to provide accurate and useful feedback. I also believe that dedication to consistently deliver and support a product like this has to come out of some underlying philosophy and desire to truly serve the community (think Apple, or Zappos), if it’s to be done well AND be successful.

Will this improve my practice?

I supposed it’s all in how you look at it. If I come at that question from another angle perhaps asking… Will it provide insights into my physical practice that I may not get from my teaching or my personal practice or even from taking a live class? Then I can only answer yes. And based on what I know about SmartMat, that’s what it’s been developed to do. Will these insights improve my overall experience of yoga (physical, mental, emotional)? My hope (and expectation if I’m being honest) is to answer yes to that too.

One of the features of SmartMat is that it offers benchmarks and scores in order to track and rate your performance. The idea of this made me wince a little (still does) in fear of this product further proliferating the idea of competition (with yourself or anyone else) in yoga. But having taught plenty of hot yoga classes full of intense yogis looking around to judge themselves based on the “performance” of their neighbors, I have to wonder if the idea of becoming more in tune with your own progress (whatever that may be) by whatever measures available to you, might be useful to practitioners and, more importantly, keep them coming back to their mats.

What’s in it for my students and potential students?

For all those folks who are currently practicing yoga, either inside or outside of their homes, and for all of those who have yet to discover yoga, my hope for Smart Mat is that it will bring people to yoga and fill a gap left by products like Wii Fit and many of the online yoga class offerings out there (Yogaglo, Myyogaonline, etc.), by not only making yoga accessible and responsive, but also by successfully personalizing it and providing feedback that will be a valuable supplement to a live (or recorded) instructor. If it can do that (at a reasonable price point) , then it has the potential to expand the reach and uptake of yoga in a way that many of the current “virtual” outlets haven’t.

As for the live yoga experience (studios or gyms). I personally do not believe that anything can truly replace that, nor will any technology ever truly be able to step into the shoes of a live yoga teacher (now or ever).

What will SmartMat do to or for yoga?

When it comes down to it, yoga today looks almost nothing like yoga looked a century ago, much less a millennia ago. And although the practice of yoga has changed over the years, the purpose and results of the practice have endured. I expect that there will be people out there who condemn products like this as “shiny objects” that take us away from the real message of yoga (in the same way that sticky mats and just about every other yoga prop and product have been condemned before it).

Personally, I’m of the belief that for anything to continue to serve us it needs to evolve along with us (and us with it), yoga included. I’ll be the first to admit that change sometimes scares me, because it introduces the unknown. But what I can appreciate with an open mind and a receptive heart is that change is pretty much the only constant that exists and that it always brings gifts in the form of lessons, or blessings. Yoga taught me that!

Where can I get one…?

From what I understand the SmartMat folks are making available a limited number of mats on a first come first served basis and at a discounted rate to folks who are interested in being early adopters. Once those are gone, I’m guessing you’ll have an opportunity to get in on things via their crowd funding effort.

My plan is to keep up with this and let you know more about it as I find out more. And if I manage to get my hands on one I’ll definitely do a review to give you some more tangible insights into what it has to offer! Until then I invite you to spend more time on your mat… with an open mind and a receptive heart!

For more information check out www.smartmat.com

Namaste!

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