Thursday, August 15, 2013

Futuristic Sensor Device May Train You to Slouch Backward

The following article and video about LumoBack appeared in yesterday's Wall Stree Journal.  LumoBack is a new, wear-able posture-sensing device. It's promoted as a digital "Mom" reminding you to sit up straight.  

Have you ever been reminded to stand or sit up straight?  Did you find the reminder truly helpful?  If you then attempted to straighten, was it comfortable, or did you feel frustrated and think that you could never have "good posture" and feel good?  This device may not be much more help than "Mom" (and it won't make you dinner or send you cupcakes in the mail).  

See the article and video below:

LumoBack is a bluetooth device that you wear discreetly around your waist that connects to your smart phone.  It buzzes when your posture is off and gives you more detailed feedback on the phone app, which include illustrations of correct posture. 

The writer says:

This illustration [on the phone] helps you know how to adjust your sitting or standing position. But it's unrealistic to constantly look at a screen to check your posture so most of the times I felt these vibrating nags, I had to guess how to improve my posture.

I agree, that it's unrealistic for us to trust our own judgement regarding our body position, unless we've had some training.  I would go a step further to say that the drawings on the phone are likely not terribly useful as people will probably attempt to imitate the images by stiffening, which may not be any more comfortable or sustainable than slouching.  The writer also says:

I know it's good for me, but I don't necessarily enjoy it.

Truly "good" posture should feel relaxed and comfortable.  It should feel "good" and lead to what ever you are doing feeling more enjoyable and sustainable.

Referring to a typical "momism", she goes on to say:

LumoBack or no LumoBack, your mother will probably still bug you about your posture. So save her the trouble: Keep your shoulders back.

Nearly all of my students explain to me that someone has told them to keep their shoulders back.  Most people have the idea that a military sort of posture of lifting the chest and pinning the shoulders back is the proper and healthy way to sit, stand, and counteract slouching.  To combat the fear of slouching forward, most people actually end up "slouching" backward.  Take a look in the mirror at yourself from the side.  Hold your shoulders back will pin your shoulder blades together and down, causing tension in the upper and lower back, restricting rib movement for breathing and compressing the spine.  When my students stop doing this, they typically report relief of pain or discomfort in their backs and that it's easier to breath.  Truly "good posture" is upright, balanced and comfortable, but typically, verbal instructions and images are not enough to change long-held postural habits.  We get used to our habits and unable to accurately gauge our body position and whether or not we're using the right amount of effort in the right places.

Here I am bending a plastic knife.  This photo on the left mimics what we typically call "slouching" (dropping or pulling forward and down into the chest.)  

This photo on mimics pulling the shoulders back.  It looks like the same image, just flipped around with the "slump" in the opposite direction.

While viewing the video that accompanies the article (see at the top of the post), I learned that LumoBack may exhibit some of the same postural misconceptions as "Mom".  Pay close attention to the sequence of the woman in the burgundy shirt being monitored by the devices as shown on the smart phone on the right side of the screen. If you take a look at about 1m18sec into the video, you'll see a woman stand up out of a chair and the stick figure on her device "mirror" what she's doing.  When she is fully standing, she's leaning back (pulling her shoulders back aka "slouching backward").  The stick figure is standing perfectly straight, indicating that she exhibits good posture here, while she's actually leaning back and in effect pulling her upper body back and down.

Though I think that this device may help people become more aware of their posture and of how much time they spend sitting, it doesn't appear to always give accurate feedback, and even if it did, it doesn't provide a kinesthetic experience, like an Alexander Technique lesson does.  It could be useful, especially if used hand-in-hand with kinesthetic education, but left to its own "devices" I think it's likely that people will continue to find sitting up straight to be a pain and a strain.


  1. Thanks for this post, Lindsay.
    This device seems pretty awful to me, on a few levels. Quite a few of my students have told me that when their mother told them to sit up straight, they would slouch more than ever. I wonder if the "futuristic" Lumo Back will have a similar effect. Poor posture is universal, and the Alexander Technique should be a well-known way to remedy that, as well as many other issues. Maybe we should change from the Alexander Technique to "Zandra Back!"

  2. Zandra Back! I love it!
    It's funny that the device stops buzzing after a certain number of reminders as it "assumes" you want to be left alone. I guess they hope to prevent people spitefully slouching to get back at a machine.

  3. I have ordered this device and also have started taking Alexander lessons. I don't expect the device be much good at helping me understand correct posture, but I am hoping that it will be a good reminder for when I am falling back into incorrect posture (for example, when I get wrapped up in my work at my computer). The first test will be whether it registers the posture that my Alexander teacher helps me achieve as "correct." I'll let you know how it goes.

  4. Michael, thanks for your comment here. I do see the potential benefit of a device like this as a compliment to Alexander Technique lessons. Please do share if it accurately registers your posture. I am curious to hear.