Her name is Kyle Rector. She is a young doctoral and National Science Foundation (NSF) candidate in Computer Science and Engineering. She is combining her passions for math and yoga to help the blind.

Running was her cup of tea until the day she got hurt; she pulled her hamstring, and the pain was so severe that running was not an option, at least for a while.

“Even though I felt the pain, I kept running,” Rector said.

Running is an adrenaline sport and once you stop you feel as though your whole health routine is being put on hold. The majority of runners say that flexibility is not their forte as running helps builds muscle and stamina more than anything else.

During this healing period, Rector was forced to look into different exercise options so she could maintain her health. She found yoga, but not in the studio, like the majority of Americans do.

Rather than going to a class Rector first ordered a DVD recommended by a friend called “Yoga, Booty and Ballet.” The DVD incorporated a dynamic fusion of yoga, booty sculpting and cardio dance, which worked well for her. So she decided to continue her yoga practice with the Vinyasa flow yoga.

At the same time, Rector was also pursuing her studies in Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) at the University of Washington. She chose to focus her research on the intersection of human-computer interaction and accessibility.

Rector’s extensive knowledge of technology, passion to help others and new knowledge of the benefits of yoga led her to develop the Eyes-Free-Project, which helps people who are blind or visually impaired practice yoga.

Rector has seen how technology can enable so many people to do things faster and more efficiently but few technological tools have been incorporated in the yoga practice to help people who are faced with different challenges.

“I realized that technology can do cool things,” she said.

To address the needs of people with visual impairment, Rector and her team developed an “exergame” using the Microsoft Kinect hardware that acts as a ?yoga instructor. The program teaches different postures and it detects if you are executing them properly. Its customized auditory-only feedback is based on skeletal tracking of the body. The standing postures are the only ones that have the custom feedback, but all of the poses have explicit directions. The length of the practice varies between 20 minutes and an hour.

“I worked with yoga instructors to form the right postures and to phrase the instructions,” she said.

Rector ran a controlled ?study with 16 people who were blind or visually impaired, to evaluate the ?feasibility of the Eyes-Free Yoga program. Through the feedback of the participants, Rector and her team found out that the participants enjoyed the game and that the auditory feedback was very useful as it helped ?them understand each pose.

Originally when the project came to life in October 2012, it had six simple postures. Since then it has evolved and today it has four full workouts.

“It is an actual interactive game,” she said, and a great workout that addresses the needs of the population she is trying to serve.

Today a fourth year NSF Fellow and a doctoral student in CSE, Rector is happy that what started as a vision has developed into a program that actually helps people. She plans to continue her work on the project with other resourceful and like-minded people to grow and develop a product that people can use worldwide. She continues to collect data and she reads a lot about yoga.

Thinking back, Rector is thankful that her mom found her “Women’s Technology Program” application in the trash can years ago and  made her apply to the program. She was one of only a few accepted. Her passion for technology has grown ever since and it led her to do cool innovative things to help society as a whole.

[Photo by Wendy Cope – CC BY]


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Simona Trakiyska

Simona is an experienced journalist and an avid yogi. She was introduced to yoga as a child by her grandfather. She is the founder of Seattle Yoga News where she combines two of her passions: Yoga & Journalism. You can find her on Twitter @SimonaTrak