Shock and Awe

By Ed Staskus

   “You’re early,” said Barron Cannon.

   “I know, but I wanted to come in before class and ask if you would help me navigate my new electric pants,” said Zadie Wisniewski.

   She was wearing cherry pop yoga pants.

   “I don’t think you need any help from me,” said Barron. “Your pants look electric enough.”

   “What do you mean?”

   “The color, you can’t beat that red.”

   “Oh, right, they are bright. They’re a special pair. They’re usually black.  No, what I mean is, they’re actually electric.”

   Barron Cannon taught pop-up yoga classes, usually at the crossroads of Lakewood and the west side of Cleveland, near where he lived. Zadie was there for a Hot Yoga class.

   She was wearing sparkling new Nadi X yoga pants. The X pants are high-tech high-performance yoga wear, trumping Perfect Moment, Lululemon, and Runderwear. They are like wearing a self-driving car.

   There is a battery attached to a port on the pants. Wires are woven into the fabric. Sensors sewn throughout the pants are synced to an app that collects data as the wearer practices yoga. If a pose is off wrong lopsided, the app makes that part of you that was getting it wrong vibrate, a low-voltage electrical charge. When you make an adjustment, the app pipes up with praise. If you keep getting it wrong, the app keeps buzzing you and saying, “Please try again.”

   “Are you pulling my leg?” Barron asked.

   “No, of course not,” said Zadie. “These pants cost me two hundred and fifty dollars.”

   “They’re cool,” said Folasade Adeoso, an influencer with 86,000 followers, the day she first pulled the pants on and went at it.

   “That’s an arm and a leg,” Barron said about the bleeding-edge hot pants designed to make you bleed money.

   “So, I wonder if I can roll my mat out right in front of you, and if you would handle my phone, keep it next to you?”

   “Sure,” said Barron. “I’ll do my best.”


   “You said navigate. What does that mean?”

   “The app is supposed to do it all on its own, but I would feel better if you kept your eye on it.” She handed Barron her iPhone.

   “It would be super if you would put it on your mat where both of us can see it.”

   “All right,” he said. “But I’ll be damned if I like this. You’re the one who should be paying attention to what you’re doing, not relying on an app. And besides, when you come to my classes, that’s my responsibility.”

   “I know,” said Zadie, “but this will usually be for at home, for when I do yoga in my spare room.”

   Nadi X yoga pants are the brainchild of Billie Whitehouse, a fashion and tech designer. Seven years ago, she developed vibrating underwear that buzzed for its own reasons. A few years ago, she developed a driving jacket that vibrated right side left side to alert you to turn right or left. The next thing she and her team thought up were vibrating yoga pants.

   “The vibrations on the body cue you about where to focus and the app lets you know how you went at the end of each pose. Get the smartest yoga experience!” is how the experience is described.

   “Nadi X guides your yoga practice through the latest state-of-the-art technology based on your body’s alignment. Listen to the audio instructor on your phone and feel the guidance on your skin.”

   “The vibrations will guide your focus,” says Billie Whitehouse.

   It is totally woke to go modern, take sense and mind out of the equation and go straight to machine learning, go straight to the Big Brother of asana practice, the brother who has your best interests in mind and won’t mine any of the data it collects about your body.

   “Wearable X is the future of wellness that brings together design and technology to create a better quality of life through experience and fashion,” says Wearable X, the Australian cyber company behind the yoga pants device.

   “Putting electronics into garments is still so new and so difficult,” says Ben Moir, co-founder with Whitehouse and chief technology officer. “Yoga pants get stretched, get sweated in. The sensors had to be invisible, and the pants had to not be a tech-looking product. That’s kind of an engineer’s nightmare.”

   “We’re very proud that it is at its peak.” says Billie Whitehouse about their new clip-on cow nose ring attire device, proudly pointing the way to the unforeseeable future.

   “I’ve got to bounce on that,” thought Barron. “I smell a rat.”

   “They make my butt look good,” said Isabelle Chaput, half of a French performance-art duo, a few months earlier during a demonstration of the pants in New York City

   The high-waisted four-way stretch level one compression pants aren’t just for gals, either.

   “These leggings are extremely well made. The high waisted band is flattering, and these are honestly my go-to leggings for everyday wear,” said Justin Gong, reviewing the pants on Amazon. “Whether it’s a full 40-minute flow or a 5-minute session, my Nadi X allows me to flow whenever I want.”

   It’s great to get what you want, whenever you want it, whether you’re a gal or a guy, or whoever whatever.

   They were named Nadi X for a reason.

   “In Sanskrit, the nadi are the highways of communication that exist around the body when all your chakras are aligned,” Billie Whitehouse spelled out, updating the past, eliding then and now.

   “As You Think You Vibrate” is one of the company’s mantras.

   Over the next twenty minutes the Hot Yoga class filled up, a quiet buzz and energy filling the room until there were thirty-some mats lined up in a loose order alongside and behind Zadie. Barron taught a one-hour basic flow class in a room heated to basically the low 90s. His method was to start slow, pick up the pace, end slow, and encourage a five-minute corpse pose at the end.

   He didn’t like it when folks rolled their mats up after the last pose and bolted the room.

   “Hold your horses!”

   The Nadi X pants are manufactured in Sri Lanka, an island country off the southern coast of India. The nation is prosperous economically, has a strong military, and is the third most religious country in the world, with 99% of all Sri Lankans saying religion is an important part of their daily life. They are by all accounts proud to produce the vibrating pants for the spiritual practice of yoga. 

   Wearable X has even designed several yoga sequences for travelers, making the pants and the app work with phones on airplane mode, assuming the flight attendants don’t mind a downward dog in the middle of an aisle at 38,000 feet.

   “Sitting is the new smoking,” said Billie Whitehouse. “This is a genuine epidemic. It’s not just because we’re at desks all day but because we’re constantly on airplanes.”

   Baron Cannon had never been on a big airplane, only a seaplane that flew 30-minute tours over Long Lake in the Adirondacks. He had been on it several times, whenever he went north to the High Peaks for a week of hiking, always flown by the same pilot, a short old man by the name of Bob, who if you saw him in the street you might mistake for a bum. He flew his battered Cessna with one hand, pointing out landmarks. Sometimes he flew the little plane with no hands, talking with both hands. He always landed it, fair or foul weather, like the lake was a baby’s bottom.

   Nadi X is the godsend for all the yogis who burn up the carbon, flying here there and everywhere, globe-trotting for profit and diversion. The pants are machine washable and powered by a rechargeable battery that lasts up to an hour-and-a half, which is as long as most yoga classes ever are. The battery connects by Bluetooth to a smartphone, letting one and all choose the level of effort they’re going to be putting into the practice.

   “Once you have set your vibration strength, you can place the phone next to your yoga mat during your session. Your pulse is monogamist to your phone. You can have different Nadi X pants, but your phone will always want to connect to your pulse.”

   Everyone knows that their smartphone never screws up and is always up to snuff. Silicon Valley would have a heart attack if it was otherwise. That would be the day a robot car runs into a robot directing traffic, accidentally killing it.

   “The audio instructions are paired with gentle vibrations to give you clues where to focus. The accelerometer values are processed in your smart phone and the audio instructions will let you know if you have made it into the pose at the end of each pose.”

   After a couple of instruction noises from the phone, Barron shut the sound off, muttering to himself.

   Within ten minutes it all fell into place for Zadie. She wasn’t an expert, but she wasn’t a novice either. In her late 20s she was strong and fit and smart, smart enough to catch the cues and act on them. By the middle of the class there were hardly any cues anymore, anyway. She was deep into the flow and getting it just right.

   That’s when the trouble started.

   Even though she was going good and strong and was intuitively aware of how good it was all going, Barron the yoga teacher not even glancing at her, she was getting zapped more and more frequently. The vibrations were rolling up and down her legs almost continuously. There was something wrong with the device, she thought. Was there a ghost in the machine learning? 

   There must be! It was going wrong! It was going the high line! Maybe it’s all this sweat, she thought, mopping her brow. She looked up from the floor pose she was doing, to ask Barron to turn her iPhone off, but he was gone.

   He was patrolling the room making hands-on adjustments, alignment-based assists for backbends and forward folds. Barron didn’t push anybody deeper into their poses, but he tried to get them into the integrity of the pose, within the constraints of what their flesh tendons ligaments joints bones would bear.

   A young woman had complained about it in one of his classes, saying that touching her was inappropriate, and reminding him about the #MeToo movement, saying its concerns were a real issue to her.

   “You’re doing it wrong,” he said. “You’re compromising your safety.”

   “I don’t care, hands-off,” she said. “My husband’s a lawyer, just in case you’re a pervert.”

   “Oh, the hell with it, get out and don’t come back.”

   “What?” She glared at him. The class stopped and everyone watched the goings-on. Those who knew Barron better than others rolled their eyes heavenward.

   “You heard me,” he said. “Out.” He fixed his hand firmly on her arm and led her to the door.

   When they were outside, he leaned into her and said, “Tell your husband the local Hells Angel chapter practices at my class one Saturday morning a month, so I don’t ever want to see your face again or hear a word from your legal beagle about anything litigious, understand?”

   “You’re an ass,” she said.

   “Let’s leave it at that, sweetheart,” Barron said and went back to his class.

   Love peace and understanding, he thought, were all well and good, except when it came to the empowered privileged well-bred wallets from the better neighborhoods, especially Lake and Edgewater Roads, where he was sure she sprang from.

   At heart Barron was an anarchist. He believed anarchism walked the walk best with yoga. Any other affiliation with anything else, capitalism socialism democracy dictatorship consumerism minimalism left-wing right-wing high and mighty the lunatic fringe, was inimical to the practice. Barron was an idealist, but he paid his taxes and didn’t run red lights, and so believed it was OK to indulge himself.

   Zadie was close to the breaking point. The longer the class went on, and the sweatier she got, the more her pants shocked her. It was only 12 volts, she knew, but it was getting to be 12 volts every second. Maybe it was more voltage than she thought. Was it getting stronger? Yow, that stung!

   “The hell with it,” she finally cried out. She ripped her cherry pop yoga pants off and angrily tossed them into a corner. She was left wearing a pair of royal purple Under Armour pure stretch underwear.

   Everyone behind Zadie gave them a good close look.

   “Eyes on me, everyone, front and center,” Barron said. “Let’s get back to business.”

   “Those pants can kiss my butt,” Zadie said, getting back into the flow of the class.

   “And, no,” she said, looking straight at Barron, “I won’t need any adjustments for the rest of the class today, thank you.”

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”


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