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Eyes-Free Yoga: University of Washington Students Create Yoga for the Blind with Microsoft Kinect

Robert Kingett

In a typical yoga class, students watch an instructor to learn how to properly hold a position. But for people who are blind or can’t see well, it can be frustrating to participate in these types of exercises. A group of students have created a solution

Computer science students at University of Washington have 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 auditory feedback in real time for six yoga poses, including Warrior I and II, Tree and Chair poses. Rector and her collaborators published their methodology in the conference proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery’s SIGACCESS International Conference on Computers and Accessibility in Bellevue.

What came about is an accessible yoga “exergame” — a video game used for exercise — that allows people without sight to interact verbally with a simulated yoga instructor. Rector and collaborators Julie Kientz, a UW assistant professor in Human Centered Design & Engineering, and Cynthia Bennett, a research assistant in computer science and engineering, believe this can transform a typically visual activity into something that blind people can also enjoy.

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

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, a Kynamatrix Innovation through Collaboration grant and the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation.

Robert KingettRobert Kingett is a blind journalist, motivational speaker, comedy writing consultant, LGBTQ activist and journalism student living in Chicago.

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