Yoga Teacher's Firing from Facebook Spotlights Phone Usage

Alice Van Ness shot "a look of utter disbelief" at a student typing on her phone during class, setting off discussion of when and where to draw the line on mobile device use during yoga class. Take our poll.


Is it too much to disconnect for an hour? Let the debate begin. 

Yoga instructor Alice Van Ness was fired from her job teaching yoga to employees at Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters, after shooting a look "of utter disbelief" at a student who was typing on her phone in the middle of class, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday.

The instructor, who also teaches in Los Altos, Palo Alto and Milpitas, first wrote about the firing in Elephant Journal, a wellness site, on July 6, where the Chronicle picked it up.

"Maybe I'm a purist, maybe a little judgmental—I'm ok with that," Van Ness told Patch Tuesday afternoon. "I feel it's an important issue." 

Since the Chronicle carried the story, it's blown up on the Internet. With items in Gawker, Patch's sister publication, the Huffington Post and beyond: "ABC, PBS, CNN," Van Ness said, ticking off the media calls. "It's gone international now, in the U.K." 

The attention is nice, but Van Ness hopes it will spur some discussion about about the wisdom and appropriateness of using mobile devices in classes where de-stressing and mindfulness is the point.

Is technology creating a clash of goals? Van Ness thinks so.

"The majority of students need a place in their lives that is calm, otherwise they can't serve others in the rest of their lives," Van Ness said. "There's traffic, work, home, and maybe kids.

"Yoga may be the only place in their lives to tune into themselves."

In her post on Elephant Journal Van Ness said she'd asked the class to turn off phones, which they did. Halfway through the hour-long class, the student in question checked her phone and began typing as Van Ness was demonstrating the ardha chandrasna, the half moon pose. Van Ness said she stopped talking and looked at the student. She described it this way:

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?”

Two weeks later, Van Ness reported in her post, she was fired. 

The Chronicle reported that Van Ness' termination notice from the Plus One Health Management, the contractor that supplies yoga instructors to Facebook, said that the company was in the business of "providing great customer service." That meant that instuctors were to be flexible: "We prefer to say yes as whenever possible," the Chronicle article quoted. Plus One Health did not respond to the Chronicle's requests for comment. 

Since then, she's gotten a couple slots at a new place, the Blue Iris yoga studio in Palo Alto that fill in some of what she's lost, and a query or two. She readily admits that as high-minded as her goals are for her students, the comments on her Facebook page are not 100 percent favorable, though most agree with her.

She also points out that it's not unusual to forbid mobile phones, even in a company setting. The workout space where she taught at Cisco in north San Jose posts signs asking users not to bring in their cell phones, she said.

Some yoga instructors in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, long used to students who have demanding jobs and multiple responsibilities, shrugged.

"If they walk in the door, they're doing it right," said Pam Walatka, a , who teaches yoga for the Los Altos Hills recreation department to some very busy people. Why?

"Because it's a practice. You can't just learn yoga and have it. You get the goodness of yoga by doing it in a continued practice over and over."

Walatka's hierarchy is simple: 1) Yoga without interruption is better than yoga with interruption. 2) Yoga with interruption is better than no yoga at all.

"We have very successful people from Silicon Valley who come in with the pure intention of de-stressing and leave their smart phones behind," said Andi Bruno, who runs . But she knows that every day life can skew the best intentions.

One week, they had a woman in a restorative yoga class—which is intended to be healing and deeply inward-facing—and "this poor woman kept checking her text messages during the meditative section."

"We chose not to make a big deal over her bringing her smart phone into class, because we believe everyone is doing the best they can," Bruno said. 

It doesn't happen regularly, she said. The studio offers to monitor clients' phones at the front desk for them if they want. And they ask people to move to the back of the class if they need to take their phones in.

Making people act a certain way never gets to the end goal, anyway, Bruno  said. 

"It's an invitation to let go, but people have to choose what to do." 

Take our poll. What to do you think? Should yoga in a corporate setting be free of instructors' rules? We appreciate your comments below.

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swami Param July 11, 2012 at 01:29 PM
The whole point is missed. Alice should never have been hired. Real Yoga is Hinduism; taught by Hindus and not for a fee.


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