Wednesday 24 August 2011

Further thoughts on Tai chi for Kinect

Tai Chi on Fitness-Evolved supposedly tracks
over 1 million points of your body
I've been delving a bit deeper into Microsoft Xbox Kinect's Tai Chi system that I talked about before.The interactivity of the system is really what inspires me, but I realise now that it also has a hidden benefit: visual feedback. What is powerful about the system is that it shows a digital representation of your own position on the screen in real time. This is placed right next to your "instructor" so you can immediately spot the difference and make the corrections both consciously and subconsciously. In my time training in tai chi, I have found that that there are significant advantages to either watching yourself in a mirror, or videoing yourself and watching it back. After all, in tai chi we are trying to rewire our properception, and unfortunately what the brain tells you is not always correct. You may think that you are standing upright, and feel like you are, but look at yourself in the mirror/video and you suddenly realise you are leaning over to one side. These video analysis techniques are widely used in professional sport coaching - and of course, top sportsmen only do things if they are worthwhile! The kinect system allows you to do this in real time, which I think is great. Indeed, this review by FindingSanctuary highlights this as one of its key positives:
"When you’re playing Fitness-Evolved it actually projects you into the game! You see yourself stood next to a virtual instructor. What’s more amazing is that as you follow the instructor through the movements Kinect tracks you’re movements and offers advice."
As that review discusses, whether or not it's good at teaching you tai chi, is almost secondary. What this system is doing is popularising tai chi, and inspiring people, who might not otherwise do so, to "have a go". This game is not designed for a serious practitioner, (and indeed looking at these videos of the exercises, it seems that it is really chi gung rather than tai chi), but that is to miss the point. If these 15 minute xbox kinect tai chi workouts help to relax some people, then that is a benefit in itself. Tai chi snobs may turn their noses up, but really it is a way of demystifying these internal arts, and bringing it to the (western) masses. Hopefully some of these people will then go on to join classes and of course the more people who want to practice tai chi the better!

Another fascinating article I found over at the well respected, was about the research potential of tai chi and kinect. I have previously talked about how mood can be affected by posture, which is where a lot of the relaxing benefits of tai chi come from. The wired article extrapolates on this principle, to show how kinect systems, which encourage you to adopt certain postures, can in turn affect your mood. Essentially you can design games that subconsciously make you feel different ways. Fascinating. What's more, is that this has potential to be used in scientific research, as I can explain by outlining a little scenario:
Researchers could design two different chi gung/tai chi/yoga workout programs to be performed using the kinect system. Volunteers could carry out the exercises daily for a period of weeks with the data recorded. You could also ask the volunteers a series of psychometric questionnaires throughout the trial. At the end of the trial what you would then have would be data on how people's emotions and moods were affected. You would also have data on how well/accurately the volunteers performed the tai chi moves. It would then be possible to compare the two groups of volunteers who each did different exercise routines to determine which one was better/worse.  
Serious chi gung practitioners will say that each of the different exercises is connected to a different meridian/element in Chinese theory and can help to balance and strengthen the associated aspects (including emotions) of that meridian/element. The kinect experiment I outline above, would provide empirical data on how different chi gung moves affected emotions to test these assertions. I would hope such testing would be welcomed by the chi gung community.

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