Friday, July 13, 2012

Final Draft as I sent it to ELEPHANT JOURNAL
I was just fired from the Facebook gym for asking a student to not use her phone in class.

By Alice the Yoga Teacher (aka Alice Van Ness)

When the telephone was first invented some people were annoyed that this technology was now able to interrupt dinner. Now your phone fits in your pocket and is also a game boy, alarm clock, and personal computer. It interrupts everything including yoga class, lunch with a friend, and sometimes your sleep. Maybe we've given it too much power? Does it have so much power over us that it’s keeping 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 a Pilates and cycling class. Right before class begun a student was typing on her phone. So I asked the whole class to turn off their cell phones. She did, put it down next to her mat and we began.  Half way into class right as I was starting a demo of Ardha Chandrasna (Half Moon Pose), she took that as her opportunity 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.

I had been previously 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. Which is why 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 at the time that 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, as I do everywhere, with a short mediation. One student was completely incapable of sitting still and closing her eyes for what was less than three minutes.  She fidgeted and looked around, visibly uncomfortable with those few minutes of silence. That means she needs to do this work even more, the more she resisted the more uncomfortable she seemed to become. Her behavior was similar in Savasana (Corpse Pose, the final relaxation at the end of class). Facebook and all these smart phones have invaded our lives and now we are addicted to being connected via technology, but at what cost? What are we afraid of missing online? Why can’t anyone wait for an answer anymore?

What I have seen over my years of practicing yoga is that technology and being "connected" electronically is depriving us (myself included) of connecting in the moment. For me 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 need 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 its not the right time to pick up the phone, we do. The cost of being connected constantly is great to our own sprits. 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 is very distracting for everyone else in the room, not to mention rude. It’s so you can understand the pose better, feel better and maybe 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 can leaves you more clear for everyone else.

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 the yoga begins.


Alice 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. 


  1. Hello Alice,

    I think this situation goes beyond yoga.

    it is obvious that a person cannot concentrate on yoga while texting (and other people cannot concentrate on yoga while a person near them is texting)and the class was a yoga class, not a public park...

    But really this story is not just about yoga, it's about the decline in manners in our society. There was a time when people stood up when people came into a room, when people helped a woman struggling down subway stairs with babycarriage, when people gave up their seats for an older person on public transport (now I see 30 year old men, lounging around while a fragile 75 year old clings to the pole), when people tried to look their best when going out in public, when people RSVPed an invitation.

    Ever since the cell phone came into being I remember it being an immediate vehicle for rudeness. I remember early on being rather turned off by people who left it on the table when we ate dinner together, as if they were leaving the door open for more fruitful and amusing possibilities for the evening than eating dinner with me. I pointedly left mine in my purse.

    The cell should be turned off before ballets, concerts, plays, exams, dinners with friends, job interviews, ANY type of class (not just yoga), bedtime, sex....

    You were absolutely right. There are no manners in our society. And I've got half a mind to go and write to that stupid gym and tell them so too. Take care, and I hope the publicity this ugly situation has attracted with help your career. I think it just might. Stay strong.