Cell phones in yoga class? Are you kidding me?

Heard the one about the yoga teacher fired for enforcing a no-cell-phone rule in class?

According to her post on elephantjournal.com (and the prior San Francisco Chronicle story), Alice Van Ness taught yoga at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Before class one day, she requested that students turn off cell phones. When she enforced this rule, glaring at a student (in the middle of the front row) texting while she taught Ardha Chandrasana, she got fired. Wha—?

I was incredulous. What student would text during class? What teacher would allow it?

Actually, she was fired not directly by Facebook, but by the fitness contractor that employed her. “We are in the business of providing great customer service,” said her termination notice from Plus One Health Management. “Unless a client requires us to specifically say no to something, we prefer to say yes whenever possible.”

The whole situation—yoga teacher contracted out by fitness agency—was foreign to me. In Iyengar yoga, which I study and teach, teachers aren’t farmed out willy-nilly. But what really fascinated me were the divergent reactions.

Some commentators to elephantjournal.com emphasize the corporate context, in which Facebook sets the culture, not the lunch-break yoga teacher. Others focus on the disapproving look Alice shot at the student, arguing that singling someone out is unacceptable. Still others, including Michelle Myhre of Devil Wears Prana, state that the teacher must rise above such undesirable behavior and let students overcome distractions and habits by themselves, not by teacher pressure.

The consensus seems to run the other way, however, in support of Alice. A poll on VentureBeat, a business/technology website, showed approximately 91 percent of 2,480 voters (as of today) thought she should not have been fired. In a CTV news piece, a Toronto etiquette expert sided with Alice, stating simply that cell phone use in class is “rude.”

I guess the whole “controversy” baffles me because of Iyengar yoga’s clear, high expectations. Whether stated or unstated, students know what’s expected in class: Pay attention. Listen to instructions. Watch the demonstrations. Respect the teacher and fellow students. If you must drink water, use the bathroom, or make a phone call, quietly leave the room. Texting in class? Unheard of!

Can such basic rules (essentially common courtesy) really be too much to ask?

To me, texting in class is unacceptable. But here’s an interesting question: What if students ask to use cell phones to take pictures or videos in class? While such use would be relevant, might the onslaught of iPhones nevertheless distract students and disrupt class?

Image: Safetysign.com; lululemon advertisement

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17 thoughts on “Cell phones in yoga class? Are you kidding me?

  1. what if the yogi is a parent of a child w special needs? a phone call could mean a potential emergency.
    as a rule, i think it’s impolite to answer or leave your cell on during a yoga class.
    that said, i work with parents of children w special needs, and a phone call during an appointment could mean some pretty serious event.
    child safety and health takes precedence over etiquette any day.

    (of course, one could explain this to the teacher prior to class, i’m sure the majority would understand).

    1. Good point, EcoYogini. Yoga students who must be accessible 24/7 (e.g., parents of special-needs kids and doctors on call) can be both accessible and courteous. They can keep cell phones in class (set to vibrate, not to ring). If called, they can discreetly leave the room. There are ways around talking/texting in full view of fellow students and the teacher.

      I agree that there are always exceptions. While I prefer students to arrive on time and stay through to Savasana, I am fine if they quietly enter or exit, especially if they tell me in advance. Perhaps a student’s intent is the real key.

      1. This was my first response to reading this post too. Does a mother compromise by not taking part in a class because of special needs kids, but your solution is spot on. At what poiint do we stop and say, enough is enough. We have recently watched developers bulldoze indigenous forest along a river bank in the name of development. We have 6% left of our forests here in SA. It is the same as the CORPORATE CULTURE thing. When does it stop totally consuming all the spaces we create or protect to spare ourselves from its ever reaching fingers???

  2. Horse manure. Period. This is about respect. If you won’t respect your teacher, get a different teacher. If you can’t agree not to text, in a class where your teacher says you cannot text, you need to respect the teacher and take a different class. If your child is ill and you’re worried, tell the teacher about it. If she says yes, fine. If she says no, come back next week. For God’s sake, people!

  3. it’s great to be in these boundary areas. if i was the contractor, and if the rude student was a facebook employee, i would have called whoever signed my contract at facebook, and put the question to them: do want us to force a non tech zone, or let it go?

    but, i think the teacher, given the tiny info in this article, didn’t use her full resources. first, the policy of no phones needs to remain respectful for whom that is not possible. so, for any one who thinks they may have to use their phone, sit at the back of class. if they need to talk, go outside the room. talking in the room would be grounds for being kicked out of the class. texting in the room, at the back the class, for what appears to be truly important reasons, isn’t much of a distraction. but to be up front, attending to a phone, is just yucky.

    i also think that the only reason she was fired is because the offending employee had access to the right ears and made her displeasure known.

    but, yucky does not give the instructor the right to depart from a mental healing zone. instead of giving stink eye, she could have smiled and said, loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘hey there, if you need to text, please do so at the back of the room, mahalo!’

    the student then (a) could have disregarded the instructor, which would have improved the teacher’s right to evict the student; or (b) could have submitted to the teacher’s gentle and reasonable request, which would have kept the chain of command in high regard, and kept people in the flow, and let the student take care of his/her business. ha + tha sometimes means uniting opposing concepts. which is why boundary areas are useful for all concerned.

    about students getting up to take photos: that makes me tired. when some traveling teacher wants to document that they are taking a class, and then uses the other students as a prop, i don’t like it. but, normally it isn’t so bad, so i let it go; the student’s experience is the student’s experience. just don’t talk – a lot – in my class! laughing a lot? okay, okay…

    1. Thanks Doug, thanks Dennis!

      Doug, I agree that it’s all just common sense.

      Dennis (a yoga teacher in Waikiki), I agree that both parties had other options. Immediately giving “stink eye” would not fly in Hawaii, I know!

  4. Emergency text? We think not. That’s why in some circles the yamas and niyamas come early, to wit: Sattya, TRUTH, honesty; Asteya, integrity; Aparagiha, letting go, and Izvara-Pranadana, surrender. It would appear that the yogi was unaware of the underlying ethics of yoga and thought it was an exercise class. It would also appear that none of us really knows all of what happened, so let’s not pretend. After all, there is my business and none of my business. Lastly, the polite way to handle this would have been to talk to the student after the class, or even make an announcement in a manner that does not single anyone out. Hey, if the student is working for FB, is he REALLY that big of a baby that he/she needed to go complain to some supervisor? We think not.

    Ultimately, I choose to be in the world, but no longer OF the world. But that’s just me.

  5. The way I see it, no rule is always applicable – that’s why we are humans and not machines. There could always be a reason to break a rule and as judges (a position that for some reason we always choose to be in) we should always give the benefit of the doubt.
    But the main thing about yoga is not what we do, and certainly not what others do, but HOW we do it. So I would guess that if the yoga teacher acted out of a quiet, sattvic state, she wouldn’t glare nor would the incident go public as she would quietly accept the consequences of her actions. Not sure this was the case. Similarly, if the student had a good reason to text during class this would also be solved quietly. So, as always I guess, it’s two ego’s clashing and all of us joining in… It’s back to practice 😉

  6. I am a yoga teacher, student and Mom. I have to stay in-touch at all times but there are ways to do this without disrespecting your fellow yogis. When I teach or practice and my kids are with a sitter I give the sitter the name/number of studio. I tell them to call the front desk if there is an emergency. I also tell the front desk when I arrive which class I’m taking/teaching, and that my sitter will call if there is an emergency. If I’m taking class, I let the instructor know and I try to get a spot at the door in case I need to leave. I think that the above situation could’ve been avoided if handled differently by student and teacher.

    1. Today, our yoga teacher’s phone went off six times during class. Six times. And since it was hooked up to the sound system, the tones were loud. She said she had it on vibrate, but that obviously was not working. When it went off again during savasanah, with a pop, I said out loud, “Well, that’s it for me. I am awake now.” She had already lost about a third of her class to the prior rings. She apologized but said, “Well, that’s life, it’s chaos all around me, and we have to learn to deal with life. If you choose to resent me all day long, that is your choice.” I didn’t answer but quietly packed up and left. What would be the proper approach to this problem. The teacher was a substitute and I don’t think we will see her for more than a week more. Should I alert management? Let it go? It seems so disrespectful of my time.

      1. Well, this turns the issue around! The teacher’s phone? Six times? I would tell your regular teacher, who should be handpicking subs based on her own standards. Leaving your students in good hands is another mark of a teacher’s competence. Here, she chose poorly and should realize it.

  7. Thanks for great post. I experienced many such interruptions at yoga lessons, also at yoga of those studios proclaimed to be best yoga classes in Toronto. I absolutely agree with ymo3b that there are always possibilities how to be reached when something urgent occurs without interrupting lesson. No matter how prestigious certain yoga studio then is, it makes very bad impression when cell phones ring right in the classroom. Hopefully we are still about to see improvements in this area.

  8. I am a parent and also the daughter of an elderly parent. I have potential emergencies at both ends of the spectrum. Don’t assume that leaving a number with a babysitter solves all problems. I have gotten calls in yoga class when my teenaged son had a car accident, and when my mother was ill. It is what it is. If i didn’t have the option to get those calls I couldn’t go to a yoga studio. But I do step out of the mysore room when I (rarely) get a call. But you don’t know what the text was: “here’s where the medicine is…” or whatever. Maybe the student thought a texted response would be less disruptive than stepping over people. Also during the work day it may be difficult for someone to step away completely. In my job, we are expected to respond to messages, and some of those are actually urgent when you operate a platform with which people interact in real time. So, as has been said above, let’s not judge.

  9. YogaSpy, did you see my Huffington Post editorial on this topic? It sounds to me as if this situation was handled pretty badly on all sides. And we don’t know if the offending student was texting something inane (“I’m doing yoga! Right now!), responding to an urgent request from her boss, or dealing with a personal emergency.

    Generally speaking, students don’t bring their phones to my classes, not even my corporate classes, although the occasional time someone has told me that they had to keep it with them because they might get called out to a meeting, or had a stressful outside situation pending (one example was someone waiting to hear about the birth of a baby they were adopting), I’ve always okayed it. I would never bar those people from class; it seems much better to me that they get to practice in those situations. And once I asked my longtime teacher for the same permission when my mom had a medical emergency happening and I knew my parents might need to call on me.

    So I’m quite sympathetic to the people who are saying that they couldn’t go to class at all if they weren’t able to remain reachable in an emergency. There’s a huge difference between that and a student who flaunts the guidelines just because they feel like it.

    “Just go to a different class” if you can’t turn off your phone at that time? Great suggestion, but if that class is at your workplace, and that’s your only opportunity for yoga during the week, it might not be so easy. We live in the real world, where it can be challenging to practice yoga.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sandy-blaine/facebook-yoga-teacher-fired_b_1681198.html

  10. Leave the cell phone in the car or the dressing room. Cell phones shouldn’t be allowed in yoga studios and certainly not in a class ever. Call me old school. I might bring an Ipad or smoke a cigarette in the next class. Where do we draw the line? It’s rude and disrespectful to fellow yogis. We all have an excuse why you need to check your phone all the time. Get up and leave class if you need to check your phone. I have seen so many cell phones in class lately it makes me want to quit going… people checking FaceBook Instagram… whatever before class. It’s the new mind stretching… It’s a Buzz Kill. In my sculpt class today a student checked her phone and I asked her not to do it because it was distracting…s he did it again and started typing a text… I was like really… WTF… I got up and left the class of 40 students… left my blocks and weights. I emailed the teacher and studio owner to apologize and find out what the cell phone policy is or if there is one. I know I’m in the minority and will get some excuse… it’s fine …I just have to get used to it… it’s the new world. Namaste!!

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