As a person with long-time back issues, I was instantly interested when I heard about the Lumoback, a posture-sensing wearable device that promises to buzz you when you slump.
Backstory: lordosis (too much curve in the lower back), kephosis (too much curve in the upper back), mild scoliosis (sideways curves)—I’ve got it all, as documented by several full body x-rays taken over time when I was a teen-ager. Lucky me! I always knew I was twisted. I don’t look like a hunchback (yet), and I never wore a brace or anything, but I do have terrible posture, always have. And to go with it, I’ve got back pain.
Thus, the yoga.
Seriously, Ashtanga yoga has cured my back pain 95%. No shit. I highly recommend it.
So that rocks.
But while yoga has definitely improved my pain levels as well as my spinal range of motion, it hasn’t made a dent in my day-to-day posture. I slump. I have a sway back. And no amount of “stand up straight!” from my well-meaning female relatives has done any good. Sigh.
With all that in mind, you can see why the Lumoback got my attention. So I decided to try it out.
Short version: I’m conflicted. For specific applications, I think the Lumoback is brilliant. I’m just not sure it’s there yet. Or that its for me.
Now for the long version.
Okay, so I strap on this stretchy elastic band around my hips and an accelerometer tracks my body posture, buzzing me (gently)(and discreetly) when I move out of the target zone.
The band is super comfortable by the way. No problem there.
An iphone app displays a cute little stick person who moves in synch with me, slumping when I slump, walking when I walk, sitting when I sit. That’s pretty fun for a couple of minutes.
More importantly, the little guy helps with calibration, showing in real time what the sensor thinks my body is doing (which isn’t necessarily what it’s really doing).
Turns out, calibration, and recalibrating, is very important. It’s not something you do once and you’re done—it’s more something you do each time you put on the device, maybe more than once, showing the Lumo specifically what you want buzzed today. It isn’t a big deal, it just takes a second, but it definitely makes wearing the Lumo an active process, not a put-it-on-and-forget-it thing. Which brings me to….
Lumo as an activity tracker
As a side-dish to the posture-buzzing, the Lumo folks have packaged their sensor as a general activity tracker, including steps, sleep, sitting/standing/walking time, and number of stand ups. Didn’t you hear, sitting is the new smoking? Lumo wants to help counter certain death by sitting with all this data. Cool! I was all kinds of on-board with that. But…it didn’t work out for me. Here’s how it shook down.
The Lumo doesn’t actually track your sleep, it tracks your body position while you sleep (like most activity trackers), which is highly correlated with various kinds of sleep—when you are in deep sleep, for example, you don’t move. Unlike most activity trackers, the Lumo offers information about what position you sleep in, which could be cool if, say, it helped you discover the reason why your left shoulder hurt all the time (because you sleep six hours a night on it).
But 1) the Lumo said I spent a great deal of time sleeping on my front, which I know isn’t true because that is a super painful position for me. I never sleep on my front. So I couldn’t do much with the “sleep position” information.
Plus, the way they graph the sleep data just makes no sense to me. Instead of a time line, there are these bars color coded to show what position I was in, but I can’t tell from that how much deep sleep or how many wakings…I don’t know, maybe I’m stupid. I’m just not getting the way they presented their data.
PLUS, I like to read in bed, so the Lumo tracks all my “reading in bed” time as “sleeping” because I’m lying down. Which makes “total sleep time” pretty useless.
Which is to say, the Sleep Tracking function did zip for me.
Time spent sitting
Well, I guess it was interesting to know how much time I was sitting (less than I thought). Although the Lumo didn’t recognize when I was driving (more on that in a moment), so it lumped driving and sitting together, which I guess is technically correct, but was less than satisfying, especially since my driving was tracked as “sitting and slumping”. Humph. I’ll call this one a tie.
My primary job, being a homeschool parent, requires getting up and down a million times a day. So this number didn’t really do much for me. I can see how it would be more valuable to someone who works at a desk all day and really needs to get up more.
The Lumo seems extremely accurate for counting steps. If you’re a step counter and into the whole 10,000 steps a day thing (I used to be, the kids and I had some great experiments with a pedometer a few years ago) then the Lumo will serve you well. It didn’t really do much for me, I have to admit. Not the Lumos fault, it just wasn’t a metric I cared about. I could take it or leave it.
All of which added up to me not really being interested in any of those components after the first 24 hour novelty period wore off.
Okay. So, Lumo is not an activity tracker for me. Moving on to the main event.
My take is that the Lumo is at its best in tracking posture while the wearer is sitting at a desk in a fairly static situation. In other words, if you work at a computer all day, the Lumo could totally help you. It might also help you get up more, with it’s general tracking info.
For me, however, it…hasn’t been going so well.
1) I only occasionally sit at a desk. My big computer-use time (writing and surfing) is spent on the sofa with my legs crossed and my laptop in my lap, a position the Lumo can only track as SLUMPED. So I have to turn it off for that.
It did help me sit up straight when at a desk, no question.
However, because of where it is worn, the sensor is much better at tracking pelvis position than shoulder slumping. For the times I WAS at a desk or in an upright chair, I did find that my body unconsciously kept the buzzer from going off by holding my pelvis in the “safe zone”…which was straighter than usual, while continuing to slump my shoulders. Hmm. It certainly kept sitting up straight more in my awareness than usual, resulting in more slump-free time.
But, on the whole, using it while sitting was only partially successful for me.
2) I was not very good at getting the Lumo to buzz me when I slumped when standing. I tried calibrating it this way and that way, wearing the strap higher and lower, adjusting the sensitivity levels, all with limited success. I could pull off a pretty good collapsed chest and swayed lower back and not trigger the sensor. If it got really spectacular, it would buzz me. But middle of the road slumping/hunching, nope.
On the positive, it did buzz me sometimes, which got me improving my posture more than I would have without the Lumo. So that was good. It just wasn’t as often as I WANTED it buzz me.
3) On the flip side of that, the Lumo buzzed me ALL THE TIME for things that I didn’t want to be buzzed for.
For example, driving. As I mentioned, it wouldn’t recognize “driving” so it saw me as “sitting and slumping” and would buzz me non-stop every time I got in and out of the car (doing errands requires a lot of this). In addition, although it would stop buzzing when the car was in motion, it would buzz me continuously whenever the car was still, that is buzz buzz buzz at every stop light. Obviously, I needed to turn off the buzz before I drove anywhere, but that had me turning it on and off constantly when I was out and about—or just not using it except when I was at home.
Second example, bending over to pick stuff up. Something I do a million times a day. Buzz! Buzz!
After a few days of this, I was ready to throw the damn thing away.
Time to start experimenting!
Because the Lumo WAS getting me to stand up straight more than anything else I’ve ever tried. Just… not as well as I had hoped it would.
So I tried strapping it to my chest. Don’t try this if you are uber-endowed. Under the bazooms, nothing, no buzz, not even on the most sensitive calibration and severe shoulder slump. But above the breast, with the sensor in front, now I could get some serious posture feedback. I could calibrate the Lumo to buzz me when I rounded my shoulders and collapsed my chest (although now, of course, it couldn’t give feedback on the lower back sway). Still, very useful!
Also super conspicuous—the buzzing on your chest, not to mention the lump of the sensor, is VERY noticeable here. Definitely not a wear-all-the-time solution.
But that was okay, because once I get away from the “activity tracker” idea (which involves wearing it all the time so it can track your data) I was starting to see the Lumo as more of a training device. As in, wear it for an hour and work on posture for a bit, then take it the fuck off and get on with my day.
This seems to work. An hour or two of getting buzzed has an effect on the rest of the day. My unconscious self tends to try to keep my body in the “safe zone” (safe from being buzzed) even if I’m not wearing the Lumo. This effect wears off, but with regular training sessions, it might eventually stick. I’m not sure.
This might be where the Lumo can be brilliant. As a training device. I actually think to do it right I would need two of them, one for the shoulders and one for the pelvis—would I need two iphones? I don’t know how that would work. As it is, I’ve been wearing my single unit for a bit in the morning on my chest and a bit in the afternoon on my hips. Don’t look at me like that, I’m not a freak! It’s fun to experiment, you know? I also drink a serum at night that transforms me into a monster, but hey, who else am I going to experiment on? The kids. No. They’re too young.
Anyway, I’m definitely seeing results. What I don’t know is how lasting they will be. Maybe periodic zapping will be required to keep the unconscious mind trained? I also don’t know how long I want to keep this up. It’s not…pleasant. Although standing up straight looks fantastic, and feels good (until the out of balanced muscles start aching, that is). Want to magically appear ten years younger and twenty pounds lighter? Stand up straight. Not to mention the reduced wear and tear on your joints and the aforementioned back pain. Will the benefits outweigh the effort and discomfort? We shall see.
1) Unless you’re going to turn off the buzz for long periods during the day, you’re not going to want to wear this thing all day for the activity tracking stats. It’s too aggravating. I think the wear-all-the-time idea with the Lumo is just a no-go.
2) If you use it for periodic training sessions —and by this I mean, go about doing whatever you’re doing, only with this added buzzing thing going on— the Lumo is powerful. A little goes a long way. (And it is a huge relief to take the thing off.) But my posture, and my daily awareness of my posture, has definitely improved. Which is not something I can say about anything else I’ve tried, even enlisting my friends to tell me when I’m slumping. Long term results, however, are not clear. I don’t know how long I’ll keep doing it and I don’t know how long the effect will last.
3) If you sit at a desk a lot you might be able to wear it for longer periods and get more effect. Indeed, the Lumo seems optimized for desk-sitting. However, it’s exhausting to use your muscles in a new way! You will need breaks.
What I think would really work: some kind of body suit with sensors in several places that could track a more complicated postural picture and therefore buzz a couple of different variables: shoulders slumping, pelvis arching, etc. Not a device you would wear all the time, but for short training periods, maybe 30-60 minutes a day. I would totally try something like that, after this experience.
Changing posture is really hard. Anything that makes a difference is good. Even if it is super annoying. But super annoying is not something you want to do a lot of. I’m still playing with it. We’ll see.