We first heard rumbles of smart clothing prototypes three or four years ago and although tech-enabled togs are yet to hit the mainstream, more and more companies are weaving sensors into fabrics. Combine tech and clothing and you can create all kinds of products, from smart biometric sports shirts, bikinis that monitor UV levels, socks that keep tabs on a baby's heart rate, an NFC-enabled suit and so much more.
But right now the smart clothing on the market is mostly geared up to a really specific audience, primarily those who take fitness seriously. One ambitious company in this space is Wearable X, and, despite having fitness at its core, it wants to create lifestyle products aimed at a wider audience. Last year we interviewed co-founder Billie Whitehouse who outlined her plans for weaving tech into fabric in a really innovative way.
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Fast-forward ten months and Wearable X's first product is here. It's called Nadi X and it's a pair of $179 'smart' yoga pants. Using a series of sensors, the leggings are able to track your movements and provide haptic feedback in the form of small vibrations in order to nudge you in the right direction with your yoga practice.
If you're not sure how to feel about a pair of vibrating yoga pants, then don't worry, you're not alone. The tech may be very cool, but there's something that seems to rub people up the wrong way about adding layers of tech and pricey clothing to the ancient practice of yoga.
Maybe it's bolstered by the idea that only Sweaty Betty lovers wielding a green juice, with too much time and money on their hands, buy products for yoga, which is likely why one of my friends said, "Oh cool! Don't they sound like something Samantha would try out in a slow episode of Sex and the City?"
Although I understand the reluctance to integrate tech into this kind of practice, I'm also open-minded about it. After all, how many of us would have thought we'd be running with the help of so much tech just a few years ago? I was also curious as to whether it's true that any kind of fitness or wellbeing activity could be tracked and improved by tech or whether some should be left alone. Finally, I'm someone who's dabbled with yoga on and off for years, so I also wanted to selfishly see if the Nadi X could help me improve and become more precise with my movements. That's why I couldn't wait to get my hands on (and legs into) the Nadi X. Here's how I got on.
Fit, feel and form
In the package from Wearable X, as well as the Nadi X yoga pants, you'll also receive a little power pack called the Pulse, a charging cable and a great-looking box with simple instructions as cute little illustrations along the edges. From the word go this is a nice and refreshing touch rather than relying on text-heavy instruction booklets.
Next up there's the big question of whether they'll fit. Anyone who's tried to run in shorts that are too tight or practice yoga in a baggy t-shirt knows that getting clothes built just right fit-wise is really important.
I'm a UK size 12 and after reviewing the size guide, I opted for the Nadi X in Medium, which turned out to be perfect. This is a bit concerning, though, because according to the Nadi X website there's only one size bigger, an L, which I cross-checked against the ASOS size guide as a reference and that translates to a UK 14. This leaves a big proportion of women and yoga lovers who are being left out, especially given that latest stats suggest the average UK size is 16.
Before you even consider the tech, the material the Nadi X is created from is stretchy, a good fit (for me) and stays put. I often find leggings created for yoga and pilates often ride up around the waist and go back around the bum. But the Nadi x were flexible and yet retained their shape throughout a whole week of me wearing them daily. Fingers crossed they stay that way!
I asked Wearable X about how to go about washing them and although handwash is recommended, you can put them in a washing machine too - and even tumble dry them. You just have to make sure you take the Pulse off. I opted to handwash them after a week of wear and they washed well and dried off within a day of air drying.
Design-wise they're minimal and understated. The panelling with the mesh detailing mirrors a lot of popular yoga pant styles, and they come in a number of colourways. I have the navy/grey, but there's also black/white, black/grey, and plain black.
Once the Nadi X were on, it was time to set them up. This was a really simple process, you just need to ensure the Pulse - the module that provides power - is charged, which takes about an hour with the accompanying micro USB cable.
From there you attach the Pulse to the back of the Nadi X via small pins just behind your left knee. These instructions sounded weird, and probably do to you too, but once the Pulse was in place I didn't even know it was there, despite it being about half the size of my palm. Next up, I connected the Pulse to the Nadi X app, which you can do by tapping on it. They paired up within seconds.
Before you begin you're asked to select the intensity of the vibrations you want to receive as you're moving in and out of poses. This is simple and you just move your finger over a dial to see what you're most comfortable with. You can set them to barely noticeable through to pretty intense. I played with a few of the different settings and at first preferred the more intense ones, but then as I became more confident with the poses, I decided to move down to the less pushy options.
The Nadi X app comes with a Welcome video and then 30 poses. Each has a step-by-step video, audio guide and text-based guide so you can move in and out of the poses correctly and safely, there's also a little indicator next to each, specifying whether it's for beginners, those who consider themselves intermediate or advanced yogis.
What I liked about this set-up is you can pick which you want to work with, you don't have to work through them in any particular order. For someone like me who used to practice yoga regularly but now isn't so disciplined, this was great as sometimes I wanted to try beginner poses and others I could remember well, so opted for advanced.
When you're given audio directions the Nadi X works at exactly the same time to sense what's going on with your posture, responding immediately with vibrations at either your hips, lower back, knees or ankles.
So for example, when the Downward-Facing Dog pose tutorial is selected, the Nadi X app would tell you to bring your hips higher and the sensors around the hips and back vibrated. The same goes for all movements involving your lower body, like squaring off your hips for Warrior One, *vibration at hips*, to turning your foot to a 45-degree angle seconds later, *vibration at ankle.* What then happens is, if you don't get the posture just right, the area you need to adjust will keep vibrating.
Crucially, it's really accurate. I tried many times to test the sensors by falling out of the pose altogether, which sets off gentle vibrations in all the sensors and the app prompting you to reassess what you're doing, through to seeing if just the slightest deviation set off a vibration. And sure enough I'd say 90% of the time it really did, even just a centimetre movement in the wrong place was detected.
If you're a beginner, you're still quite dependent on your phone to see what the poses look like. That's because a vibration at your knee doesn't necessarily tell you what you need to do with it.
But, if you know the poses well you can get into them yourself and see Nadi X as just giving you a little gentle nudge in the right direction. I definitely found this was the case over the course of my time with the Nadi X. This made the connection between my body and the vibrations feel more natural as opposed to a violent shove to get my act together, which is how it felt at the start when I wasn't as confident.
After a week, I really improved my posture in many of the poses and I was left craving at bit more than the 30 provided. I asked Wearable X what the plans are now and they told me they're launching a subscription service with a variety of different yoga classes at some point over the next few months. It's great to hear the Nadi X will expand as user's confidence does.
Can you vibrate your way to inner peace?
I know what you're thinking, do vibrations really help you connect with your body and become a better yogi? Of course, there's a huge discussion to be had here about what it means to be mindful and focused when you're wrapped in tech and could feel a vibration at any time.
I've written before about the paradox of tech centered around mindfulness, focus or de-stressing that can actually add to those feelings - especially for someone prone to stress and anxiety - and the same goes for the Nadi X.
And in all honesty, I'm torn. At times it felt like the vibration pushed me unnecessarily when I was slowly making my way to a pose on my own in my own time, making me feel frustrated. Other times my mind had drifted a bit and a vibration nudging me to turn my ankle was exactly what I had needed.
Like a lot of tech designed to play so closely with our bodies, I imagine this is down to not only personal preference but how you're feeling on the day and your attitudes to being nudged in the right direction.
Sometimes I got frustrated when I was nearly in a pose and the Nadi X vibrated. Other times it was perfect. This may have had a direct correlation with the amount of stress I had to deal with that day, and it's worth pointing out that an instructor would do the same thing.
Namast-yay or Namast-nay?
I love yoga, but do often think I could be perfecting my moves more as I tend to get sloppy and lazy. In this way, I feel like the Nadi X are perfect for someone like me, who can't always commit to classes but wants to improve rather than doing the same YouTube tutorial 20 days in a row. There's also something empowering about not necessarily needing an instructor to help you out, although I'm not sure this would be as effective if you're a complete beginner.
Whether I'd recommend them is a different story. The Nadi X are such an unusual product and part of an entirely new category, so it's uncharted waters.
Not to mention there's the price to consider. The Nadi X are $179. Although this may sound super pricey for a pair of leggings, when you do the maths and consider a lot of people happily drop £70 on a pair of regular ol' yoga pants from the likes of Sweaty Betty and then at least £10 per class after, they do seem worth the investment.
This is especially considering you might well save money on an instructor, save money on multiple pairs of pants and, if Wearable X delivers on its promise to add more classes, save money on real world classes too. Sadly, they don't come with a heavy dose of motivation or the ability to drag you away from Netflix, which is why for some people signing up to a class would give them more drive.
Other than the plan to add more lessons and poses to the Nadi X app, Wearable X told me that its next steps are new designs and a men's line. There's also a smart bra in the works, which Whitehouse told me last year will work in the same way as the Nadi X, "It'll have sensations that roll down the shoulders to remind you to bring your shoulders back and down," she said. "As well as a custom meditation feature that guides you with inhales and exhales on your chest."
If the sensors and actuators needed to create haptic feedback continue to advance, and the likes of Wearable X can work them into our clothes, the future could be all about what we feel.
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