YOGA.com: How did you get the idea for SmartMat?
Neyma Jahan: Funny enough, I was introduced to yoga back in 2006 when I got a Nintendo Wii, which was like a dinosaur version of SmartMat. So, that always stood out in my mind as something that was awesome and could be improved.The actual idea came because I was seeing all of these “quantified self” products. First was the wristband that measured your golf swing, then came a basketball that improves your free throws, shoes that measure your stride, and of course the multitude of fitness apps people were using.
So, as someone who practiced yoga on a regular basis, I kept thinking to myself - if there are all these other products in other sports that measure and improve performance, why is there not one in yoga? I mean, the way I looked at it – let’s time-jump 20 years in the future - I can see no possible future path (except perhaps a technological Apocalypse), in which SmartMat or a version of such, does not exist. With the advent of technology, how is it possible that there will NOT be an intelligent yoga mat invented?
So I saw the need (albeit future one) in the market, and with my passion for Yoga and and ability to execute, SmartMat was born.
YOGA.com: How does it work?
Neyma Jahan: SmartMat looks and feels more or less like a regular yoga mat with a low profile dongle attached to the end of it. It contains a series of sensors that measure placement and pressure and communicate to the users on smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth.
The app will then give feedback first on alignment (placement) and then on balance, using a 4-pad system for both hands and feet. Once the user gets their balance and placement correct, SmartMat enters into a "Perfect Pose" mode in which the user will concentrate on things such as breathing or engaging the pelvic floor.
To accurately analyze the user, upon unpacking SmartMat, they will first have to go through a calibration process, where SmartMat measures their body and takes them through a series of yoga poses in order to determine their abilities.
YOGA.com: What were the main challenges in creating and launching the product?
Neyma Jahan: Developing the sensors was not that difficult. However, getting those sensors durable and in a low profile mat that would roll up was a significant engineering challenge. We have overcome it and filed for a patent on the process.
Besides that, the recognition and calibration process of the software has been an interesting journey. To train the AI, we had to do a reverse learning process, where we would get 20 people of different abilities, shapes and sizes on 20 SmartMats and lead them in a yoga class. As they were doing the poses, our engineers would record them so that SmartMat would know that "this is a downward dog", and it would know it for different people. By doing this, we were able to create a data profile to accurately be able to recognize and adjust the majority of common yoga poses (we are starting with 62).
YOGA.com: Is anyone else designing a similar product? Who are your competitors?
Neyma Jahan: There are two that we know of. One is Tera Luna, which is a circular wool rug with lights in it to follow along with exercise. The other is the Beacon Mat, which, again, is a Yoga mat that lights up and you follow the lights.
While in the same space, we think that SmartMat is doing it a little differently because of deep analysis of the poses.Instead of dedicating engineering to lighting up where to put the feet and hands, SmartMat is designed with someone that can follow the visual indicators and, instead, needs specific guidance on balance and alignment issues in order to deepen their practice. SmartMat also ships with a unique "In Class Assist" mode, in which SmartMat will reconize the pose the user is doing, record it for later analysis and possibly offer real time adjustments.This is great for people that already have their flow and just need a little help.
YOGA.com: Who do you see as your major potential customers? Women/men/tech geeks/beginners/experienced yogis?
Neyma Jahan: Oh wow, the market for SmartMat is so wide. Although it is designed for both at home use and class-assist mode, we do think that the largest initial adopters are people that have some familiarity with yoga but just don't have the time or desire to go to a public class. Busy professionals and people with children seem to be a high target market. There is also a lot of buzzing energy from the hardcore yogi community who recognize SmartMat and where it is taking the evolution of the art. Some of these are teachers who are very excited about down the line becoming a "yogrammer" and actually working with us to help develop custom SmartMat programs according to certain styles.
YOGA.com: How do you think SmartMat will change yoga practice?
Neyma Jahan: I think, it will bring more people onto the mat.Yoga is an awesome art form, but one that the vast majority of practitioners don't have the knowledge or discipline to do on their own - and going to class is not always available. SmartMat gives that middle road option of allowing at home practice while receiving meaningful feedback.
YOGA.com: Do you practice yoga?
Neyma Jahan: Yes, I do. Ironically, I was introduced to it in 2006 with the Nintendo Wii. From there, I took my practice to different styles and teachers, approximately 4 times a week, usually in the morning time. When I go to a class (rarer these days), I usually like a energetic Vinyaysa flow or a quiet restorative yoga class. When I follow a video, it is the Dharma Mittra videos are all that I need. My favorite pose is Shoulder Stand, which with that and the variations of it can often make up at least 1/3 of my practice time when I do my own flow. In addition to yoga, I love to rock climb and slackline, and I think the three balance each other out very well.
YOGA.com: What do you think of the stereotype that yoga is a “chick sport”?
Neyma Jahan: Yoga is a gentle art, and it is natural that people more in touch with their gentle side will more likely be drawn to the art. However, we are finding that as the world is changing and evolving, women are doing things that are traditionally a "man thing" and the other way around. In the end, yoga is about getting in touch with oneself and evolving to the best possible person that you can be, and the only thing that matters is your own personal practice.
YOGA.com: As a busy professional and entrepreneur, what is yoga in your life? Has it helped you make better business or other decisions, shaped your views/life in any way?
Neyma Jahan: Oh, I mentioned the shoulder stand earlier, often enough when I have a perplexing or difficult situation in life or business, I go into a shoulder stand and for some reason that position helps me clear my mind and unlock the creative juices and sometimes a solution just literally drops into my head. But more seriously, I do not consider myself an expert, rather, I am someone that is trying to do their best.
You can pledge $347 or higher to SmartMat crowdfunding campaign (launched on September 30th) to reserve your yoga mat. The mat is likely to sell for $397 and higher when it goes in production in the summer.