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June 2023 - Yoga and Artificial Intelligence

Dear Yoga Friends,

I've been ruminating on this for months. Could AI put me out of a job? Seriously, imagine a yoga teacher with instant access to every Iyengar yoga class and practice sequence ever documented, all the information in Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama, Light on the Yoga Sutras, and all of B.K.S. Iyengar's other published works, the works of Geeta and Prashant Iyengar, older texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the huge body of works on yoga philosophy, etc. Imagine if that information could be instantly connected and woven into the framework of a class on the fly.

Ok, then comes the thought, do you need to have a physical body to teach yoga? Kind of provocative. With everyone flocking to online classes, a teacher could have a virtual body, and guide everyone through poses with compelling and rich instructions drawn from experts, blended with philosophical and therapeutic references. You may be wondering what I've been smoking. In any case, this sort of thing is becoming more possible and more real.

Some of these thoughts came up for me while I was listening to commentary on the recent writer's guild strike, which included discussions on the potential replacement of writers by AI, or downgrading their role by utilization of AI to generate initial draft content. One expert remarked that even though a human might be able to create deeper and more meaningful content, the market actually does not strongly demand that. Much of the audience wants more predictable and familiar content to lull them to sleep at night and such, stuff that AI whips out in seconds. So it becomes a lowest common denominator kind of thing. Could that happen to yoga classes via the online modality?

Let me share one more anecdote. I was having dinner with some relatives, one of whom had just created a ChatGPT account. He said that he used it to generate a letter of recommendation for someone and the result blew him away. He had his phone out and asked me to input a question or request. So I told him to ask ChatGPT to create a sequence for a 90 minute Iyengar yoga class focused on backbends. Within seconds it spit out a sequence. At first I was astonished, but soon saw the flaws. Poses were not sequenced quite right. Some poses were not really Iyengar yoga poses. Some poses were not safe the way they were sequenced. The energetic arc of the class was not right. But it was a plausible sequence of yoga poses. My final reaction was "nice try ChatGPT". One thing's for sure—I'm not telling ChatGPT how to improve on that result. It will have to fend for itself.

I could go on here, about the increasingly important need for humans to be with each other physically, in their bodies, and how that overrides anything a powerful AI can achieve, but I won't go there right now. I promise I'm not a bot.

Your thoughts, real or artificial, welcome as always!




* Chad's weekly classes: 12:15-1:15pm Tuesdays (mixed level, online) & noon-1:30pm Thursdays (intermediate, in-person) at IYISF (sign up under Classes & Series menu)

* The Iyengar Yoga Institute's Yogathon fundraiser is this Saturday. Please donate what you can to this decades-old not-for-profit hub of education, community and well-being.

Chad Balch