Nintendo Wii Fit Review

Can the Wii Fit Enhance Your Yoga Practice?

Nintendo Wii Fit. Photo Courtesy of Nintendo

I don’t know anything about video games. I had never used a Wii (pronounced "we" or "wee!" depending how excitable you are) before borrowing one to test out Nintendo’s new Wii Fit system, which has four training modes: strength, aerobics, balance, and yoga. The buzz about a new yoga video game started about a year before the Wii Fit’s release in spring 2008, so I was curious to see how this unlikely pairing had worked out.

My (self-imposed) mission was to discover if the Wii is providing accurate yoga information and if the yoga program would make a useful addition to a home practice.

Wait, What's a Wii?

For those who haven’t paid much attention to video games since playing Ms. Pac-Man at the pizza parlor in 1986 (that would be me), let’s take a quick look at the Wii. This gaming system is innovative in its use of motion sensors, which allow the players on screen to be controlled by your movements. Let’s say you are playing Wii tennis, as my husband and I did after getting the system hooked up (quite easy, even on our ancient TV). Your Wii avatar (called your Mii) plays tennis on the screen as you control her movements by swinging your arms as if you were holding a tennis racket, but instead you’re holding a wireless remote. Be sure to mark off some time on your calender to customize your Mii by choosing hairstyles, eyeglasses, beauty marks, and mustaches before being presented with a darling anime version of yourself.

Let the games begin!

Wait, What's a Wii Fit?

The Wii Fit is intended to use the interactive capabilities of the system to focus on physical fitness. The set-up includes a 11 x 19 inch Balance Board for you to stand on. The Balance Board senses your center of gravity (as well as your weight) by measuring how much pressure you are putting on each foot.

In your first session, the Wii determines your Body Mass Index and makes a recommendation for your ideal weight based on your height. After a balance test, the Wii delivers some bad news: your Wii Fit age. I would like to say that I am not quite 43, not any more than my husband is 29. I determined the Wii Fit age to be bunk (my husband disagrees).

Yoga on the Wii Fit

For the yoga sessions, you pick a trainer (male or female) to work with. The trainer demonstrates the poses and then you do them together. The poses are typically held for 30 to 40 seconds. While you are doing the pose, graphics on the screen indicate your balance. In order to see this, your TV must be at eye level if you want to avoid neck strain while checking out your progress. Since my TV is the approximate size of a postage stamp, this required rearranging some furniture.

The Wii Fit’s strength, not surprisingly given the Balance Board, is in standing balancing postures. In poses like tree and king dancer, it’s actually useful to have a measurement of where your center of gravity is. These poses are not my strong suit, and I can see how practicing them regularly with the Wii would allow for improvement.

After you do each pose, you are given a score based on how the Balance Board has measured your success in the pose -- either holding your center of gravity or applying appropriate pressure with your hands or feet.

The score is then ranked and compared to other players on your system, introducing a competitive edge to the proceedings. What with the constant scoring, the encouragement and advice of the trainer, and the navigating of menus, it took me about an hour to get 30 minutes of exercise.

Like all yoga done without a teacher present (such as videos), you will be in much better shape if you already know what you are doing. The Wii trainer generally provides pretty good advice, but a few poses she instructs completely incorrectly. Warrior II is one such pose: The knee of your front leg should never come in front of the ankle in this pose, but this is exactly how the trainer demonstrates it.

Her alignment is also off in shoulder stand, where the hips should be directly over the shoulders. I also object to the way downward facing dog is instructed. This pose is done with the hands on the Balance Board, and I was repeated scolded for not having enough weight in my arms. In down dog, most of the weight should be in the legs, not an equal distribution as instructed here. When I achieved the degree of arm pressure the trainer approved of, I was practically in a plank position, with the hips way too far forward for a downward facing dog. Alignment is also compromised by the fact that the Balance Board is about two inches high, making poses where one foot is on the board and the other off (like warrior II) and poses where the hands are on but the feet off (like downward dog) feel a bit awkward.

In the yoga area, you are only given a few postures to begin with. You must then earn access to more poses by spending more time using the Wii Fit, which is a pain if you intend to use the system primarily for yoga. In my quest to earn more poses, I put in some quality time in the three other training areas.

I failed miserably at all the balance games, including one where your Mii walks a tightrope (I fell off), and another where you head a soccer ball (I missed. Many times.), though I liked the downhill skiing game. In the aerobics category, you can play a fun hula-hoop game where you can get back at your husband for kicking your virtual butt at virtual tennis. There is also step aerobics, which seems like the perfect application for the Balance Board if you are into that kind of thing (I’m not). The strength training is intense. You will get sweaty and tired.

So, Back to My Mission

Is the Wii Fit providing accurate yoga information? For the most part yes, with the exceptions noted above, though I do find it troubling that those encountering yoga for the first time will come away with some incorrect alignment information.

Will the Wii Fit enhance your home practice? Yes. I think it's more fun than following a video, which I tend to find boring. The interactive features keep it interesting over time and you can always include strength training or hula-hooping in your routine. Especially if you already own a Wii, you can make use of the Wii Fit in your home practice. It doesn't replace going to class, but nothing does. I had hoped for a customizable vinyasa style workout, which seems to be the next logical step here. Wouldn’t it be great to pick an area of the body you want to work on, a duration of the session and then have a virtual teacher lead you through a series of poses? Listen up Nintendo, get cracking on the next generation Wii Fit now.

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