San Carlos resident and yoga instructor Alice Van Ness was fired from her job at the Facebook Fitness Center in Menlo Park after an incident involving a student picking up her phone and typing in the middle of class. This news bit has sparked debates among yogis and instructors about how much "freedom" students should have regarding mobile device usage in yoga classes.
More importantly, it begs the question: is our connection to technology making us disconnected from other people and ourselves?
What Really Happened
Alice Van Ness used to work at Facebook's Menlo Park, teaching Pilates, cycling, and yoga classes. A couple weeks ago, right before her weekly yoga noon class started, she noticed one of the students typing on her phone. Seeing this, she then asked all the students to turn off their phones to eliminate interruptions. The earlier student obliged, set down her phone next to her mat, and Alice started the class.
But halfway into the class, and in the middle of her Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasna) demonstration, the same student, who was seated in the middle of the front row, checked her phone and started typing. Alice stopped talking and shot her "a look of utter disbelief." Alice didn't say anything, but as she wrote in Elephant Journal, she looked at the student as if to say "Really? Your email is more important than understanding your body? It’s more important than taking time for you? It’s more important than everyone else here?”
The student stepped out with her phone and rejoined the class minutes later. Apparently, the student had also gone to complain to the management about what happened.
Facebook Management Gym "Rules"
Alice said she has previously been asked by the management to pretty much just let the students do what they want; take newsletter photos, come to class late, leave early, answer e-mails, etc. She was told to just say yes to whatever the students wanted to do.
2 weeks after the "incident," she was fired from the gym. Alice contested the management's decision on the grounds that she never actually told the student to leave, but their decision was made.
From the Teacher's Perspective
It's pretty obvious why mobile device usage is generally discouraged, if not prohibited, during classes like yoga or meditation. It is to allow the students to immerse themselves in the experience, clear their heads, and connect to their inner self. As Alice puts it,
I welcome my yoga practice as the one place where I don’t have to look at my phone. I enjoy connecting to my breath and forgetting everything else. It’s a pure time. It’s a much needed break from the stress or drama that is going on. As the yoga teacher, I want to you experience that break too…yoga is your time to pay attention to yourself. Connect you to you.
While most agree with Alice Van Ness' stance on cellphone use during yoga class, some corporate yoga instructors also raise the point that when dealing with busy people who have to be on call 24/7, a little more leeway should be allowed. As one instructor said, the ideal is yoga without interruptions. But when it comes to busy people with hectic lives, yoga with interruptions is still better than no yoga at all.
Various media outlets have picked up on this news (Huffington Post, CNN, Gawker, ABC, PBS, etc.), getting attention even in the UK. It's probably not the specific fact that a yoga instructor lost her job, or that it involves Facebook's fitness center, that's getting international attention. It's because it stirs up discussions of how we, in the technical age, may have become so attached to technology that we can't "unplug" even for just an hour-long class.
How long can YOU go without Internet and your mobile phone?