I Was Fired From the Facebook Gym for Asking a Student not to Use her Phone During Class. ~ Alice Van Ness

Via elephant journal
on Jul 6, 2012
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Not Zen By ronk53

When the telephone was first invented, some people were annoyed that this technology was now able to interrupt dinner.

Now the phone fits in your pocket and is also a gaming system, alarm clock and personal computer.

It interrupts everything—yoga class, lunch with a friend and sometimes sleep.

Maybe we’ve given it too much power. Does it have so much power over us that it keeps us from connecting in real life?

A few weeks ago, I was teaching my weekly noon yoga class at the Facebook Fitness Center in Menlo Park, CA.

They have a little gym there where I taught a yoga class, in addition to Pilates and cycling classes.

Right before class began, a student was typing on her phone. Noticing this, I asked the whole class to turn off their cell phones.

She obliged, put it down next to her mat, and we began.

Photo: skinny-secret.com

Halfway into class, right as I was starting a demo of ardha chandrasna (half moon pose), she decided to check her phone.

I stopped talking and looked at her.

I said nothing, but I’m sure my face said it all. “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?”

Oh, and by the way, she was in the middle of the front row.

She stepped out and rejoined class a few minutes later. Apparently, she had gone to complain to management.

Previously, I had been asked by management to just let the students do whatever they wanted.

Come in late, leave early, answer emails, come in during class to get weights, take photos for the newsletter—whatever came up, I was told to just say yes.

So, on this day, I didn’t actually say anything to this student. I just looked at her with utter disbelief.

Two weeks later, I was fired from the Facebook gym.

I contested the decision at the time since I didn’t actually ask her to leave.

They had already made their decision.

What has happened that work or updating a status is more important than being in the moment? Are we so incapable of disconnecting? What could be going on that couldn’t wait 30 minutes? This is not the emergency room; it’s just Facebook.

The first time I taught at Facebook I started class with a short meditation.

One student was completely incapable of sitting still and closing her eyes for those three minutes. She fidgeted and looked around, visibly uncomfortable with those few minutes of silence. The more she resisted, the more uncomfortable she seemed to become. Her behavior was similar in savasana.

Facebook and all these smart phones have invaded our lives and now we are addicted to being connected via technology. What are we afraid of missing online?

What I have seen over my years of practicing yoga is that technology and being “connected” electronically is depriving us (myself included) of connecting to the present moment.

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.

I know you need it, just like a mom knows her three-year-old needs a nap. It’s a little like an addiction.

We can’t stop ourselves. Even when we know it’s not the right time to pick up the phone, we do.

The cost of being constantly connected is high.

When we live a life disconnected to ourselves, it’s living in the surface.

You are constantly on edge, unable to relax and be in any moment as it is.

Plus, it’s very distracting for everyone else in the room, not to mention rude—and it’s vital to pay attention to instructions/demos from your teacher so you can understand the pose better, feel better and avoid injury.

More importantly, yoga is your time to pay attention to yourself. Connect you to you.

The hour or so of disconnecting from the outside is necessary.

Technology invading your peace is not just in yoga class. Start to notice how many times per hour you reach for your phone.

Is something coming up in the silence or stillness of that moment that makes you uncomfortable, or is it boredom?

I encourage everyone to have someplace in their day where there is no television, no phones, no distractions. It may be hard at first but that is where mindfulness begins.

Alice Van Ness is a teacher and writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Alice has been teaching yoga since 2006 and practicing since the 1990’s. She enjoys yoga, Pilates, cycling, photography and the ceramic arts. She is currently writing a book about growing up and going to high school in Palo Alto.

She has been trained in the Anusara Yoga method but has not dated John Friend. Alice makes her classes fun, while challenging students to go deeper. She is a humorous, passionate, knowledgeable, and giving instructor. She works with students of all ages and abilities, teaching both children’s and family yoga. Alice has worked with children since she was a teenager and finds them to be a great reminder to stay in the present and have fun.


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216 Responses to “I Was Fired From the Facebook Gym for Asking a Student not to Use her Phone During Class. ~ Alice Van Ness”

  1. Little fishy says:

    I think you missed the point that its not about the teacher, its about the class as a whole. Its distracting to have someone clicking away while the teacher is explaining something. I for one would stop going to a class where the teacher allowed people to wander in and out, text, etc.

  2. […] and judgment. I’m thinking it may be a lifelong challenge. The teacher was clear with her position. “Really? Your e-mail is more important than understanding your body? It’s more […]

  3. […] Ness claims in a blog post that she offered a stern look of disapproval. No words, not even a […]

  4. Indian Yoga teacher says:

    It seems that a lot of people equate asana with physical posture or meditation with mental quiet whereas these are just parts of Yoga, which in itself means integrity. A student must at least be willing and able to follow a teacher's instructions for the duration of a class to get far enough to bring together intent, body and breath.
    Some commentators assume that a Yoga teacher simply provides a service like making a sandwich rather than actually intervening in the thought, emotional and physical processes of a student. Americans certainly are an ignorant and opinionated folk spoiled by their own home-made business and marketing thinking.

  5. Tracie says:

    In a perfect world, or even an almost-perfect world, it would be great if no one brought in or used their cell phone in a yoga class. Yes, I think it is distracting and I feel badly for those who cannot unplug for 60-90 minutes. That said, I think it's a slippery slope when we, as instructors, begin to assume things about the students in our class. We seem to want to "justify" someone using their phone by qualifying it as only in an "emergency." But what might be an emergency for you may not be that for me. As a yoga teacher, I try really hard to not jump to judgment of my students. Why can't someone sit still for a three minute meditation? Why is it my business? I simply try to hold space for each and every student to experience their yoga, without my expectations. I won't lie–it's not easy. Rather than glaring at the student in question, as the teacher in the article did, I would use it as an opportunity to talk in a broader sense about not reacting to that which we cannot control. Set your drishti, focus on your breath, and witness without judgment. Did it warrant her being fired? Well, perhaps not, but she already stated that Facebook made it clear what their expectations were and she didn't follow them. And yes, I think it lacked a certain ethical fiber to call Facebook out by naming them. She could have easily kept their name out of the issue and simply referred to them as a "well know high tech company" and left it at that. By naming them, it reeks a bit of revenge. And frankly, that sorta sucks.

  6. shagwell says:

    What happened to "serving your students" and "meeting your students where they are" ?? Good gracious, Alice was teaching in a "high tech environment", she wasn't teaching at an idealic retreat venue.

    A glance from Alice can be DEADLY. She's can definitely deplay "attiutude" and it's not always "yogic".

    If I were that student, I would have gone to management also. The employer has a right and resposibility for firing 'a contractor" for the bad attitude, whether you believe in device access in class or not.

  7. shagwell says:

    Wow … pretty opinionated and judgemental for "yoga teacher". Not to mention insulting. So much for being integrated.

  8. […] A yoga instructor who taught at Facebook got fired for merely discouraging an employee from checking Facebook during class, she says in a tell-all blog post about the incident. […]

  9. Rielle says:

    @Tracie, thanks for taking the words out of my mouth.
    You go by your emplyer's rules or you can reject the job. Negotiation about policies should be discussed before you accept the job, not after you get fired. In the yoga studios that I teach cellphone use is not an issue. Nobody uses it because that is the studio's rule clear and simple.

    While in Ardha Chandrasana, do not stop and stare at the one student paying no attention to you or the class. Go on teaching the other students relying on your expertise and mindfulness. With kindness have a conversation with the one student afterward. Express to her you are concerned about her safety and that others may also have been distracted by her.

    Do not propagate divisive thougts or worse bad mouth your employer or students during or after your teaching gig. You attract what you put out. We are one after all. Any yoga teacher should meditate on this and not just preach at others. Yoga is oneness.

  10. […] Una maestra de yoga que impartía esta disciplina en el gimnasio de Facebook fue despedida por pedir a un empleado que no entrara a la red social durante la clase, al menos eso es lo que ella dice en su blog. […]

  11. Rielle says:

    I do not want yoga teachers intervening my thoughts. I want yoga teachers that respect me enough to let me think for myself and in the process they may just learn something from me. Down with the idea of one sided mind feeding and sheep mentality. Yoga is one and nobody is holier than anybody else.

  12. Ben says:

    Oh yes, whenever I get a "DEADLY" look from a female servant, I always go straight to management as beating her is illegal here. I can't stand an uppity female that serious. I mean, gosh, c'mon yo!. If Alice looked at me in a way that implied insubordination, it will be just minutes before she would be in the unemployment line.

    Shagwell, hope to see you at the country club next week. May your life be free of "DEADLY" stink eyes.

  13. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Now, I can't help but laugh … can't suppress it anymore. My bad, but have patience with this late-middle-aged lady . …

    But, then again, I work neither in highly-paid high tech with free lunches and free yoga classes bestowed upon me, and HAVE in the past put up with deadly glances from yoga teachers for whatever (not that I had a cell phone that rang; but I did have a tiny bit of a temper and major ongoing philosophical differences with my teachers) …

    No, no country club. But the teacher is trying to teach YOGA … if I don't like the full meal of a particular devotional, respectful rasa that is presented that is her YOGA, and I can't have just a "snack"; hey, I'm outta that class … taking my cell phone and/or 'tude elsewhere.

    This teacher, with whom I sympathize — cannot empathize, of course; with what I bring to the table — may have a legal case …

    A hearty LOLOLOL ensues (sorry, but it's more at your comment, Ben, than Alice's story) ….

    Believe me, that tiny little part of me that feels abundant right this very minute (that could change)… could empathize with the student–but in my case, engaging my higher order thinking, I'd feel only a little tempted to go to Management … and extremely tempted to take myself and my cell phone to maybe the Zumba class down the hall – because who needs Yoga? … all those rules … get enough of it at the job, lol … let's just say, "Nix" on reporting that teacher, and Yes, she just lost another student, if it were me …

  14. cathywaveyoga says:

    Today with a lot of computer time due to pesonal obligations I have watched this article posted on huf press and sfgate and reposted by more than 3 friends on FB. Huff press had over 90 comments! Comments are split against the teachers' rules not in concert and against the phone user.

  15. […] A yoga instructor who taught at Facebook’s gym got fired for merely discouraging an employee from checking Facebook during class, she says in a tell-all blog post about the incident. […]

  16. vielle says:

    It would not give me peace to see a person in a yoga setting texting instead. I would be constantly worried that person would fall over onto me. It is absolutely unacceptable at multiple levels to be that unfocused and completely lacking in common sense much less social grace and respect. I will certainy not recommend Plus One to any business clients if they are in agreement with this behavior.

  17. Kitty says:

    The culture is set by the company, not by instructor. The instructor sets the tone of the class based on cultural rules. This company invited Alice into their world to enhance the environment, not control it. Giving "disapproving looks" is not a hospitable way to treat someone. If you disagree with a policy, seek advice from management. If a company policy indicates that students can have phones or come in late or bring their kids to work, that's their prerogative. If you have a better solution, fair it out with management but don't take it out on your class. Alice missed the point of her role as a leader and a teacher. She knew the rules, but defied them anyway. Be a team player. Don't give "looks" because the class isn't following your rules. Talk to them, understand them – treat them with respect and they will respect you in return. This is disrespectful for start to finish.

  18. Kitty says:

    AMEN to that! I totally agree! Too many students are turned off by teachers who can't adapt the the environment or the class.

  19. HonestOpinion says:

    Being in the medical field John, I would assume you know the peril of making faulty assumptions. How do you know what that person's phone usage was about? Even the writer assumed it was Facebooking, but that's just because the employee works at Facebook. People who work at Facebook have lives too. They have sick relatives, make or break deadlines, other important issues. How can you make a call from this far away? We need more critical thinking in the medical profession, not less.

  20. Andrew says:

    She stands to benefit the most *and be hurt the most* by her article. It's a dual-edged sword, but it's the same kind of self expression any number of us would feel compelled to wield were we dismissed haphazardly. I find it really condescending to refer to this article as mere "complaining, retaliation, gossip" etc when even you note the conversation arising around it. Clearly, several people find her article both pertinent and poignant.

    If I take this article at face value – and I have no reason not to – then I consider it an ethical and courageous thing to do. She's taking a bold stand for values she believes in, and the wisdom in it is that she will very quickly find the right kind of company for herself. Teachers who just want to teach belong with students who just want to learn.

  21. […] Ness claims &#1110n a blog post th&#1072t &#1109h&#1077 offered a stern look &#959f disapproval. N&#959 words, n&#959t even a […]

  22. Andrew says:

    A lot of my fellow Americans are simply spoiled brats who can't stand being told no. Many of my generation were raised in an "impossible to fail" education system which has bestowed on them a vast overestimation of their own importance and capabilities.

    It's bred a pretentious complacency that will hopefully die out in future generations. For now, I think it's no coincidence that a huge number of America's finest minds come from overseas, including India.

  23. […] Ness claims in a blog post that she offered a stern look of disapproval. No words, not even a […]

  24. trololol says:

    I confess to falling asleep while reading your comment. I awoke to discover my giant, bulbous nose had all but permanently depressed the "refresh page" button on my keyboard. So I must sheepishly bear responsibility for a good 600-650 of those views.

  25. lasirena says:

    Erika, I'm guessing from this comment that you're not a teacher. If I'm wrong, then one of those who needs the love and approval of their students, maybe? Good teachers, in any field, do not tolerate disrespect for other students, and checking your phone during class is unequivocally disrespectful. I am of service, in an acedemic teaching environment as well as in yoga, and that makes it even more important that my students follow the basic rules of respect since I am there to help them improve their lives and get the most they possibly can from their education/yoga practice. Rule number one in any learning environment is check your ego at the door and respect your fellow learners and the teacher. That is non-negotiable.

    This article reminds me of why yoga should not be taught in gyms. The facebook management need to be taught what yoga is, that it is not exercise, and it is not acceptable to tell a teacher to allow anybody to do anything they please during a class. But when has facebook ever been respectful towards its users? It's not a stretch to believe that the whole organisation is so self-centred and self-righteous that this would happen in a yoga class there. Explaing to them would be throwing pearls before swine.

  26. […] učiteljica yoge požalila se javnosti u blog zapisu, a Facebookovci su izjavili da ne komentiraju kadrovske promjene drugih kompanija, s obzirom da Van […]

  27. Rielle says:

    I am an Asian, raised in Asia, hated the backward, abusive, authoritative method there; did poorly in school there because all teachers were completely uninspiring; became a valeditctorian and love learning here in USA. You re the one pretending to know what's it like to learn from the Indians, Andrew or is it Alice?

  28. steve says:

    Why can't we know the name of this Facebook employee who complained to mgmt?

  29. Rielle says:

    @Cathywaveyoga, you re right! Alice managed to have 3 articles published at the same time. That is some karma. Huf press and sf gate article are pretty one sided. This article exposes Alice herself and not so much FB. I hope FB does not take legal issue with her.

  30. shagwell says:

    No Ben, you won't find me at the country club, unless it is working there.

    I avoid hanging out with people like Alice that have an attitude and give "stink eye". I know how to keep a job, because I don't dispay attitude.

    Simply put, Alice needs to grow up and learn a few things. Ask Alice how many gigs she's lost because of her attitude. I am pretty sure she's run into this "attitude mirror" before.

  31. yogini24 says:

    I agree with Alice. I am a yoga teacher. I have been practicing for almost 10 years, and teaching for 3. I teach in a gym environment, and often people who come are new to yoga, or maybe just don't want to pay the money to go to a studio. I do feel that part of me teaching yoga, is also teaching people that you need to disconnect and learn to be present. I make the exact same request to my large classes, that they silence or turn off cellphones. If I see someone texting or talking on the phone, I might go over to them and tell them quietly to please get off the phone or leave the class. It is inconsiderate to the teacher, and to the people around them. It's not a sixth grade social studies class, and the students in the class are grown adults who chose to be in the class. Now, I understand that maybe someone is expecting an emergency call or something. I have had people explain that situation to me before class, and if their phone rings, they leave. That's fine. I think this Plus One Fitness place should think of it's rules – what happens if someone gets hurt in a class taught by someone they've hired because that person was on their phone?

  32. Rielle says:

    @Cathywaveyoga, you re right! Alice managed to get 3 articles published at the same time. That is some karma. Huf press and sf gate article are pretty one sided. This article exposes Alice herself and not so much FB. I hope FB does not take legal issue with her.

  33. misshegasana says:

    This is unfortunate for Ms. van Ness, and I wish her success in her future endeavors, but I must admit I wholly disagree with the thrust of her main argument.

    No real yogi looks at the world and goes, "Wait, this doesn't suit me. I need it to change to suit my needs!" The world is a mess; it's always been a perfect mess. It is your job to work within the existing constraints with courage, strength and open-hearted devotion to the practice itself. Your job is not to control the environment, because that is a fool's errand.

    There will always be texters, a-holes, stinky folks, freaks, ego-driven poseurs, damsels eager to parade their Lululemon gusseted-crotch pantaloons and other flakes who show up for class without no other purpose than to later tweet "OMG I just went to yoga!" Barring that, there will always be a leaf-blower or a jackhammer operating at ear-splitting level just outside, or a power outage, or no fresh towels, or someone who farts, etc. etc. etc.

    Maybe one could say that the corporate environment is a perfect setting to practice proper yogic behavior..

  34. swiss says:

    um, anyway — you know what? there's nothing wrong with having boundaries and standards when you're a teacher. You seem really judgmental tho, wagging your finger and telling the author she knew the Rules and ought to have blindly been obedient to the Rules, at the expense of jeopardizing the whole class' experience due to one self-centric person's actions.

  35. […] Ness claims in a blog post that she offered a stern look of disapproval. No words, not even a […]

  36. swiss says:

    oh boo hoo – poor beleaguered corporation – Facebook's "whatever the kids wanna do let 'em do it because you're just the help and therefore powerless and not actually important" policy is ludicrous, and their treatment of the yoga teacher is grotesque, and both of things should indeed be made known…why would you defend Facebook as if it were some godlike entity?.It's a company, and quite a crass one. This author took a risk, and was very very brave in writing the truth about what it's like behind those walls….this teacher was not valued, nor was her expertise, professional judgment, or yoga itself….if any of these employees were regarded similarly when hired to bring their special skillset to the table, god knows they would throw public tantrums from Menlo Park to Napa Valley. This were nuthin.

  37. cathywaveyoga says:

    Info from all 3 seem to be crossing into legal land, where one needs ot be careful. EJ is pretty smart. Many other articles here have had much stronger implications!

  38. swiss says:

    Please elaborate: what certain ethical fiber is lacking in calling out Facebook by naming them? Is a corporation like Facebook so holy, sacrosanct, or tender that the truth about how they treat their yoga instructors should be kept under wraps….? I am glad to know things like Facebook ends to be quite sexist, or that Google's blue collars workers are placed in a separate building and are not supposed to fraternize with the professionals. Perhaps you don't want to know these things, but it helps me make my own ethical choices about how and where I spend my time and money—how much do I want to reward corporate behavior that disrespects [in this case] yoga instructors? how much might this attitude also inform the designs and designers of the Facebook experience, and their regard for their users? I'm glad to know. Despite what he Supreme Court says, and you may well disagree, I don't go along with the idea that a corporation is a person and shouldn't be spoken about negatively in public.

  39. swiss says:

    "attitude mirror" "device access"…..sounds like shagwell's been hittin the corporate Cool-Aid again

  40. swiss says:

    (she said hella stridently)

  41. swiss says:

    heeeeLARious! do you work for Facebook? who are these "too many students"? and….what the heck are you even talking about? that teachers should "adapt the the environment or the class."

  42. swiss says:

    omg…..you must work in HR…..civilizations have crumbled with people with mindless obeisance to Authority and Rules.

  43. swiss says:

    hm, you actually sound rather gleefully anticipatory that there will be trouble and she–and others like her—will be muzzled. What has gotten you so bent out of shape about the fact that Facebook's actions might be known to us?

  44. Rielle says:

    Are you hired by Alice?

  45. Indian Yoga teacher says:

    Bitter truth Mr Shagwell, huh? Take a look at yourself in the mirror …

  46. Indian Yoga teacher says:

    Rielle, try being one of a piece – get your thoughts, body and breath together. Trying to teach the teacher is a bit conflicted, isn't it?

  47. Indian Yoga teacher says:

    We could learn so much from each other, Andrew. I feel that the Yoga Yamas and Niyamas are barely touched as a part of Yoga philosophy, where actually they are the solid base of Yoga practice. Commercial Yoga teaching unfortunately, leads to students setting demands and standards rather than the teacher providing an actual path. A case of the tail wagging the dog, quite similar to today's politics and business practices.

    It's good to know that some few Americans are aware of that, may they lead their people out of this infantile mess they call freedom.
    All the very best to you, Namaste.

  48. Indian Yoga teacher says:

    Hmmmm, dealing with one's past is difficult, Rielle. It does not mean that all you experienced was wrong, may the years bring you remembrance of the gifts you recieved. Yoga does mean discipline, read the first lines of the Yoga Sutra if you like …

    Wishing you true freedom!