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.


Editor:  April Dawn Ricchuito

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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. Vision_Quest2 says:

    In this country, America, there is still the tenet and legal concept of corporate personhood.

    The megalith company, Facebook, is treated as an entity of one person. No more, no less. How ironic.

  2. VQ2 says:

    A corporation is considered a person and can be sued. This, of course, could be an alternative to all this browbeating, or an ensuing course of action in a case like this.

    Precedents could be set in a real court, not just in "the court of public opinion"

  3. Andrew says:

    My comment was about American culture, because that is what I am intimately familiar with. The American university system is excellent, however the public K-12 system here is horrid. This is documented fact if you look at test scores.

    I think it is wonderful that you were able to come here and excel in your studies. Your story is in fact exactly what I'm talking about and I'm unsure why you are directing such venom at me. I am happy that you could experience the opportunity to learn here and wish my own people shared the same level of enthusiasm that you do. Many of them don't; those are the people who truly do not understand how blessed they are here. It is taken for granted and that is what makes them spoiled.

  4. Andrew says:

    It is a mistake for any American to think they are automatically free just because they are afforded the opportunity. I have seen many rich spiritual and cultural pursuits diluted in the name of profit, but I can't shake the feeling that we're all a bit poorer as a result. I for one will never stop learning, and you've already given me the start of a new path to pursue with your comments. Thank you!

  5. Kitty says:

    I am a dance instructor – a far cry from HR, but I've worked in many environments to understand the challenges on both sides of the classroom.

  6. Kitty says:

    C'Mon – whether Alice knew the rules before or not she was less than yogic about how she handled the situation.

  7. Mark says:

    Are the two of you quite done jerking each other off? Yes? Good. I think you two are the opposite end of the spectrum of those blaming Alice for going against the employment terms. There is a middle ground. Not condescending about how utterly brilliant you and Andrew are and not pooh pooh Alice for working there, either.

  8. Jengo says:

    really, it’s like trying to use a relaxation script and work at a telemarketing at the same, stupid… even if you accepted the terms of “tolerate whatever happens” people it’s just stupid…

  9. Shira CKC says:

    Bravo to you for doing good work.
    Your former employers should hear directly (other than this and other related stories being shared all over Facebook) how the yoga community finds their behavior appalling!

  10. Joe Banana says:

    I think the yoga instructor is being immature. The students are your customers and you are there for them, not the other way around. If you had already been councilor to not act this way in the past then you deserved to fired. This wasn’t a stand alone yoga studio, it was the Facebook gym.

    Maybe you should learn some tolerance and join the present.

  11. missbernklau says:

    I think when teaching corporate Yoga, which I have only done twice at one Advertising agency, you have to realize these people are technically still at work, so the work comes first in that situation (That's just how it works. I worked in Advertising for 10 years myself, and no matter WHAT, even when my boyfriend was sent to the ER and I left early to go see him, apparently the work was supposed to come first then, too, which is bullshit)

    Sadly this is the environment in most corporations and businesses, especially in Advertising and especially now in a recession, employers expect their employees to devote more and more of their personal time to work, oftentimes with no over-time pay.

    So I think as a corporate Yoga teacher you have to just expect that people will be in class, with phones, they just don't have a choice, and in that situation you just have to have compassion for these people. Yeah, employers may start Yoga at work for their employees, but they still tell the employees that they can only go to these classes "work permitting". And a lot of people don't bother attending Yoga class at work BECAUSE they know they need their phone there with them (as they're expecting a client call they were supposed to get hours ago…whatever it is, you just don't know), and honestly those are the people that need Yoga the most, people that feel they have no right to practice because they are too busy or have too many responsibilities. Those people need to be welcome in class too. Maybe they "aren't really doing Yoga" in your mind because they have the phone there, but if that's the best they can do in their situation I think it's fair to let them do what they have to do. Other students attending a corporate Yoga class at their job are totally understanding why their co-workers may have to bring a phone…at least that's how they were at my company. They keep the phone on vibrate and if they take a call they go away from the class, no big woop.

    I think if you want to avoid people using their phones in class, it's best for you to teach in a dedicated yoga studio or teach private classes, because in a work environment it's not really fair to expect people to not have their phones, sometimes there are client calls they are expecting and can't miss…and I don't think it's fair to tell those people they can't come to class, especially when clients say "I'll call in 10 minutes" and 3 hours go by.

    In any case I hope your next teaching experience is more suited for you. I don't think it was right of them to fire you, however, they did tell you the deal, that students could "do whatever they wanted". I guess in the future you have to discuss in-detail with your employers what their policies are surrounding what is "acceptable" in class. And I think if you teach corporate Yoga elsewhere, you'd be doing employees a HUGE favor by explaining to employers how important it is for employees to be allowed to take that time to be completely disconnected from their work, allowed to have their phones OFF and far away from them…that would be totally amazing for employers to actually let their employees get the full benefits of taking Yoga at work.

  12. Joe joe says:

    You deserved to get fired. Follow the rules

  13. shagwell says:

    Brillian and very well stated. Yes, the corporate environment is a perfect setting to practice real yogic behavior.

  14. missbernklau says:

    Argh why did my comment disappear? So frustrating!

  15. missbernklau says:

    Oh…okay…there it is. Whew. Why is the comment thingy-bob so wonky?

  16. Katie says:

    If you're in crisis and waiting for an urgent phone call which you have to take without fail, then what the hell are you doing in yoga class? Talk about avoiding the elephant in the room…

  17. Yanek says:

    Yoga is exercise following principles that are in contrast with work and distractions. The teachers seems to teach yoga, the custommer is getting what they pay for; the yoga. If one has the need to make issue of being reminded what they came for, then that person is definitely trying to get something out of the situation that is different from the offer. If you go to shop, you pay for what’s on the menu. If you start complaining about what you have got, then it’s either not what you bought, or you are trying to get something, that is not on the menu. Buying things makes you custommer… And just a custommer.

  18. sodakuppi says:

    I had to reply to your comment. Finally! someone else who understands the reason for these on campus benefits!! I've been telling this to friends who want to work for companies mainly because of these benefits. I am one of those people who just want to go home and hang out with family or friends when I am done with work and prefer not to hang around there all day for these benefits.

  19. Katie says:

    Right on, Dashinista! I agree wholeheartedly. Maybe technology and the constant access that it enables has lowered our skillset in being able to prioritize. It's still true that a person cannot TRULY do more than one thing at a time. Wtf?! If you have an emergency and need to stay by the phone or otherwise be imminently interruptable, out of respect for others STAY OUT OF YOGA CLASS. Or any other class for that matter. Jeez! Do one thing at a time, people, so that you can do it well and with intention. Have we not seen so many examples, some of them lethal, of what happens when people try to do more than one thing at a time? What's the bloody rush? Are you working to get to the end of your life quicker than everyone else and beat them to the karmic punch? Wha'?

  20. Katie says:

    Alice, thanks for this post. Sorry to hear you're not at Facebook anymore, but it does sound like the best possible outcome. Yick! I'm so glad I don't work for dotcoms! I was trained in Iyengar Yoga by a beloved teacher, James Moran, who did teach in the corporate environment for a short time before going back to India to apprentice to the master. Blissfully he also was a deep believer in meditation as a key part of yoga practice, and because of him in part, I have actually been able to add meditation and yoga as permanent parts of my life. I still miss him dearly, but if someone in his class at my office had used their cell phone during class, he would have KICKED THEM OUT. Period. Thank God!

  21. MikeP says:

    What I perceive here is two ideas clashing. If you were not Ok with students using their phone in class (which I totally support, btw) then why take the job at the Facebook gym knowing that students could do whatever they wanted? Sounds like Facebook was pretty clear on this, to me anyways. That’s unfortunate that you were fired, but not really surprising. But I think it was for the best – go and find a studio that is more aligned with your beliefs and stances on technology and yoga. Frankly I would not go to that class myself if I knew that people would be using phones and being disruptive. Yoga is for yoga, not for using the phone.

  22. Tanya says:

    I totally support the no devices in yoga policy. But I do not support Alice's actions. People are responsible for their own life. If they decide to come to a complimentary yoga class during a job break with a smartphone and use it, that is their problem. They obviously value yoga enough to show up in class but there is no policy in placed for them to be totally unplugged. I have been following the story and Alice is getting a ton of media exposure. Most people commented on how bad Facebook is. I wish that some of her students/ex-students would be in on this discussion. I want to know how Alice has been in classes besides just this one incident. If she is a knowledgeble, kind and well respected teachers then it is terrible for her to be fired. But if she has an attitude problem and it was not just one glaring look at the student then it was a good thing she was fired. Either way, this is such a great learning moment for Alice, for all yoga teachers and for the future of yoga in the modern world.

  23. __MikeG__ says:

    No where did I defend Facebook. I pointed out the inherent hypocrisy of the article. Too bad you are on the pro-hypocrisy bandwagon.

    The author took no risks at all. It takes no courage to post one side of story in the absence of the other parties involved.

    You will have to do much better than this childish post if you want thinking people to take you seriously.

  24. __MikeG__ says:

    That was funny.

  25. Tanya says:

    I totally support the no devices in yoga policy. But I do not support Alice's actions. People are responsible for their own life. If they decide to come to a complimentary yoga class during a job break with a smartphone and use it, that is their problem. They obviously value yoga enough to show up in class but there is no policy in placed to keep them totally unplugged. I have been following the story. Alice is getting a ton of media exposure. Most comments also support having no devices in yoga and many commented on how bad Facebook culture is. I wish Alice' students/ex-students would get in on the discussion. I want to know her as a person and teacher. If she has been a knowledgeable, kind and effective teacher then it was terrible for Facebook to fire her. If she has an attitude problem and it was not just the one glaring incident then it was a good thing she got fired. Either way, this is a great learning moment for Alice, other yoga teachers who have or may experience similar situations and those who decide to keep themselves plugged in during yoga.

  26. Tanya says:

    You re not going crazy. The same happened to me hence, I posted two of the same comments.

  27. Rielle says:

    I sure did learn from my past. It gives me a great gift of appreciation for this country and the people who have greatly inspired me. I do not hold a romantic idea of what India or Asian culture is like a lot of western yogis or the yoga fundamentalists. There are many things that I appreciate obviously, that's why I study yoga, buddhism, Taoism.. To me it's not about what I study but how. I know what discipline is. It sure doesn't mean blind faith. Yoga is an experiential discipline. No yoga teacher can feed you the philosophy of yoga and promise you an enlightenment. Wishing you the same freedom!

  28. […] Desde Facebook declaran que la empresa no tiene ningún vínculo contractual con Alice van Ness y que no son responsables de las decisiones que realizan las empresas con las que externalizan sus servicios. ─Elephant Journal […]

  29. bernard says:

    OMG, somebody's not a 'real yogi' on the internet!

    Dude, no "real yogi" would say what a "real yogi" does. Having been a few real yogis I should know.

    Seen rom another perspective she worked with courage, strength and open-hearted devotion to the practice by following her instinct and not the rules set out by her employer.

    The internet is a perfect setting to practice proper yogic behaviour, don't you all agree.

  30. Andie says:

    AMEN. We've become a species of the most interconnected, DISCONNECTED beings on the planet. Technology has a place…and if you respect yourself and others you will know when you need to disconnect!

  31. Addison says:

    Sadly, there are a lot of folks at Facebook who are arrogant beyond their merit. I saw this a Apple in the early days. Folks thought that just ’cause they worked at Apple they were just as smart as Woz. They weren’t. Eventually it hurt Apple very deeply.
    Now the “smart kids” are at Facebook, and some (NOT all) are simply over-entitled primadonnas with very little context or perspective. Sad for them that they lot you, Alice. Worse still, they lost an opportunity to self-correct (een if just a little).

  32. missbernklau says:

    haha Thanks for letting me know I'm not crazy Tanya 🙂

  33. heck I wouldn't even expect a teacher of step aerobics to allow phones…it's rude and not safe…in a class at all let alone yoga!

  34. Rebecca says:

    My favorite part of the article is the bio at the end telling us we can keep up with Alice (the author) on Facebook.

  35. Radha says:

    I am currently going to my garden. I will be leaving my phone at home.

  36. reanna says:

    I completely agree with you. We shouldn't allow one person to ruin other peoples only time to dedicate to the mselves. She is better off in a different environment.

  37. misshegasana says:

    Your comment about "not following the rules set by the employer" reminds me of that famous Sri Ramakrishna parable:

    A young disciple had just learned from his guru that God is in all beings and thus he should bow before them all.

    Drunk on this epiphany, he sees an elephant coming toward him. "I am God and the elephant is God in another form," he thinks. So he stands there respectfully bowing while the elephant's mahout screams at him, "Get out of the way! Get out of the way!"

    The disciple doesn't, and is predictably tossed aside by the elephant, and left in the dust bruised and confused.

    He runs to his guru in great physical and mental anguish: "You have taught me that God is in all beings and that we should bow before all of them! I met the God in the elephant, bowed to him, and he tossed me aside!"

    "Yes, dear," says the guru, "God is in all beings. So why the hell didn't you listen to the voice of God coming from the mahout?"

    ..Such is when Facebook is your employer, too!

  38. Jason says:

    I’ve seen articles about this woman popping up on my news feed for the last few days, and I have to say… i think she probably deserved to be fired.

    As yoga teachers we tend to get into this habit of thinking of what a yoga class should be, and what students should do or not do. This yoga teacher has to remember that she is teaching in a private gym, and if the owners have said this behaviour is okay, then it’s okay…. it does not matter what yoga is supposed to be in her mind. Instead of nagging at people about their phones, influence their views with your teaching. Don’t centre students out during class, that’s not very welcoming, friendly, or yogic for that matter. Weave lessons into your class about letting go, about slowing down, about being mindful. Eventually those students will figure it out from your lessons, and they’ll be more focused on the class. Yes, it would be ideal if there was a rule enforced by the gym that no phones come into the class… but that isn’t the case, so teach yoga instead of being a nagging Nancy (no offence to Nancy’s out there)

    Even when she talks about the one student that couldn’t sit still during meditation… really? You’re going to complain about a student that isn’t comfortable sitting still? Has she only been teaching amazingly advanced students to be shocked by a person in this day and age that can’t handle sitting still?

    the best yoga teachers i have ever had are not the ones that nag, or freak out at students over things like phones. They are the ones that approach every situation with kindness/love, and instead of telling people what yoga is, they TEACH people what yoga is, there is a very big difference.

    Sorry, i don’t mean to nag/bitch, I just find as yoga teachers we sometimes get a little snobby about what yoga is…instead of remembering why we teach yoga, or even how to actually teach yoga, not just asana.

  39. Matt says:

    I wouldn’t want to be a part of a yoga (or any fitness class) that allowed cell phones to be used during instruction. It’s simply distracting and at times, not safe.

  40. KathyK says:

    I'd really like to hear from the OTHER members of the Yoga class that were there that day. Had I been one of those, I'm 100% certain I would have also given the texter the 'stink eye' (if not said something outright) for disrupting MY time. The yet unamed woman could have simply and quietly left the room BEFORE tending to her cell phone, and then quietly rejoined later if she wished. If the Facebook employee wanted or needed to be somewhere else, doing something else she should have left. She was NOT a prisoner in the class, but supposedly a willing participant. She needs to grow up and act like an adult with some basic manners and common sense, because trust me, it wasn't just the teacher thinking 'REALLY??', it was also the other people around her! Then she compounds that rudeness with a complaint to management? Wow. The horrible and ironic thing is, this woman will probably rise to the top of the corporate heap, and be despised by all who work for or with this childish tattle-tale. Oh wait … no one else will complain about a woman with enough power to get YOU fired if you even look at her funny.

  41. guest says:

    Thank you! That was my thought exactly MikeG.

  42. guest says:

    I disagree! The coming late/leaving early and phone is not about the teacher, it's about the other students who are being disturbed.

  43. guest says:

    on what grounds?

  44. Christ says:

    All you have to do is BOTCOTT FACEBOOK. Its a boring site anyway. Get a life people. What happened to respect for other people. Its like being is a Restuarant and someone next to you is talking real loud on there cell phone. Have respect. If a student did that in any other class they would be expelled.

  45. neil galland says:

    Facebook is a cell phone in the Yoga class of life.

  46. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Sort of the future Anna Wintour of high tech, instead of fashion …. as they say in Paree: quelle garce!

  47. Indian Yoga teacher says:

    Mark, if you read my first post, you would know that every teacher is right to insist on some basic discipline during class, in my humble opinion.

  48. Joanne says:

    As a yoga instructor and being fully aware of FB rules you went against your principals and beliefs and took this job as basically a "workout" instructor and were surprised when they did not conform to your ideals. In the future you should work for a company that understands the true meaning and values of yoga. Namaste!

  49. Kitty says:

    You are so right, Jason. Nicely said.

  50. alistair cockburn says:

    Congrats to you for asking people to put away distractions during your class. A friend of mine uses this scale… are you more like a doctor or a waiter? You don’t tell the doctor what tests you want, you listen and get told. OTOH, the waiter’s job is to get you whatever you want. As a yoga instructor, you are more like the doctor than the waiter, never mind what these other commentators have written. so congrats to you. stay on the doctor side of the scale. Alistair