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Facebook Fires Yoga Teacher for “No Cellphone” Rule in Class

in YD News

Uh oh. What do you get when you mix a social networking company, technology and a yoga teacher with a “no cellphone” policy?

An un-app-y situation.

We know yoga breaks can boost productivity, but perhaps that burst of genius can wait until after class.

Yoga instructor Alice Van Ness was fired from her teaching position at Facebook for enforcing a no cellphone during class rule, sparking an interesting debate between the business oriented and those just trying to clear their citta-vrttis.

One student in particular had a hard time following the rule, and received a disapproving look from the teacher for her disturbance.

“I’m sure my face said it all,” she later said in a blog post. “Really? Your e-mail is more important than understanding your body? It’s more important than taking time for you? It’s more important than everyone else here?”

The student left the classroom to finish her technological business, then complained about Van Ness and her disapproving glances to management. Within weeks, Plus One Health Management fired her.

The company informed Van Ness in her termination letter, “We are in the business of providing great customer service. Unless a client requires us to specifically say no to something, we prefer to say yes whenever possible.” Facebook declined comment.

As it happens, Van Ness found working at tech companies brought in a general slew of bad yoga etiquette like students coming late, leaving early and being overly fidgety during Savasana. However, termination has not changed this teacher’s mind on her no phone in class rule.

She maintains, “We’re not talking about the U.S. government here. We’re not talking about Russia is about to bomb us. We’re talking about Facebook. Something can’t wait half an hour?”

After initially protesting the firing she decided she’d be happier elsewhere and proceeded to rant on her facebook page about it (kidding!) It was probably twitter.

Potentially overzealous instructor or another entitled corporate employee, what do you think?

[SFGate via Mashable]



30 comments… add one
  • Paula

    overzealous instructor or entitled corporate employee?

    Neither–sounds like it was just not a good fit. I’m glad she stood her ground.

  • sharon

    I think that it’s a class & you should be respectful of others in that class. If something absolutely can’t wait, then you should quietly leave the classroom to do your other business.

    I don’t understand where this corporation would draw the line. What if she was taking phone calls in class? Would that be excusable? And the fact that was a yoga class makes it even worse, in my opinion, because it’s a class that focuses on relaxation & going inside yourself & it’s meditative & it’s REALLY difficult to concentrate on that kind of stuff when people are disrespectful like that.

  • That is so crazy! What is the point of a yoga class if you don’t practice Yoga! How juvenile can you get? Wah Wah I can’t get on facebook that will be there after my class is over instead of enjoying my class that is wasted if I don’t participate. It’s the company and the student’s loss. Not hers. She totally did the right thing.

  • Wow, that seems pretty crazy. As Paula mentioned, I’m glad she stood her ground. On one hand, I think it’s awesome that corporations are starting to offer yoga and other health-related programs to their employees.

    On the other hand, despite whatever good intentions they might have, the bottom line is always productivity and profit. So long as they are appeasing employees, Facebook probably could care less about the real purpose and power of yoga.

    Unlike a lunchtime spinning or pilates class, yoga really isn’t meant to be a “work-out.” I suppose it’s better than nothing, but maybe work just isn’t the best place for a yoga class anyway. I tried taking a lunchtime yoga class while working at a research lab, and it’s nowhere close to the same as practicing in a studio. The transition in and out is just pretty strange.

  • First, I have to acknowledge your phrase “un-app-y situation.” It made me laugh and cringe at the same time.

    Since this is a corporate situation, and the teacher was hired by a corporation to provide a service, I suppose the hiring entity has a right to fire her if she is not following their rules.

    However, my own very strong preference is that my students do not use their cell phones in class. Fortunately I’ve never had to make a rule about it. My students are considerate and mature enough to take this as a given. Once in a while, a student will tell me before class that there’s something going on where they may need to answer a call, but that they will leave the room and talk elsewhere if it happens. I’m fine with this, but I can’t imagine why anyone would randomly want to disrupt everyone’s (including his/her) class experience by constantly attending to his/her phone.

  • forgot the last part: A teacher has every right to set parameters for behavior in his/her classes. It just gets a little fuzzy when that teacher is hired by some other entity whose idea of appropriate behavior might differ from the teacher’s.

  • Namastellen

    You have to meet people where they are at. It is no surprise that FB people would have a difficult time settling in, not fidgeting, not disengaging from the phone, etc. I think there is a culture/expectation clash. These people, including the woman, may not have been intentionally disrespectful but just conforming to their norms. She was getting something from yoga if she was showing up. Imagine her without the benefit of that class?
    I think corporate classes fit a very specific need and should not be confused with or run like studio classes. Many of these people will never get to the studio. This is their yoga. Best to concentrate on how to make it work for them. Definitely not a good fit here between the teacher and the class, but you can’t always know that until you try something. Namaste.

  • karen

    I am impressed with the integrity of the teacher, and if she has made an explicit rule that there should be no cell phones, she was absolutely right to stand her ground. But one could make a yogaclass where it was allowed to go out to answer phones and return, and lowering expectations for focus and concentration. The point is that we have to state clearly what we expect, after all the students can’t guess what expect of them.

  • Anne

    As a corporati and a yoga teacher, I might guess that she wasn’t fired for the ban itself, but for the way she “enforced” it. There are ways to address a situation like that offline and defuse it…or maybe offer more help where needed. The cell-phone-wielding student might work for someone who insists on instant availability. No amount of enforcement will change that external situation (your yoga teacher doesn’t write your review), and a bit of compassion could be a balm.

    It would have been the better part of valor to have kept this kerfuffle to herself, too. My guess is that she will have a hard time finding another corporate gig…what organization wanta to wind up lampooned in the blogosphere, when they were only trying to offer stress relief to their employees?

    And so it goes.

  • honomann

    Any yoga class set up to aid corporate type-A people on their lunch break is either doomed to fail, or is severely compromised. It sounds good and fun until the student has to give their control over to the teacher.

    • abbylou

      Can we stop judging everyone on the basis of type-A and type- What are you saying about corporate type-A people? Are corporate type-A people somehow not cut out for yoga?

      I am an attorney. Most people would automatically classify me as a corporate type-A person based on this fact alone. I work very hard to be present and to focus my mind. I also am very mindful of how I interact with others. The fact is that many of us “corporate type-A’s” have a lot of determination and focus, skills which can enhance, or hinder, a yoga practice.

      One could say that a lunch break yoga class for “slacker type-B’s” is doomed to fail because they won’t show up on time. That would be stupid.

      People can transcend their inclinations.

  • My initial response was, “Well let’s just all fire Facebook!” But then I realized it wasn’t FB’s fault, nor was it the company that hired the teacher. While it may not be the perfect situation to have cellphones in the classroom – it goes against everything I want for the classes I teach – there has to be wiggle room. This is a corporate class. The compromising policy should be “set your phone to vibrate and if you need to answer a call, take it outside.” We can have respect for our yoga tradition and respect for the work that people need to do. And while the students were in class, they were also at work. It’s unfortunate the two have to happen at the same time, but it’s the nature of corporate classes. Not my favorite teaching scenario but I would rather have individuals find some yoga solace than no yoga at all.

  • Elise

    Reading these comments has been very interesting. I feel sad that corporate culture is so intense that an employee feels they must type during Ardha Chandrasana(the pose that yoga teacher Alice Van Ness says she was teaching during the incident.) As a yoga teacher who works at studios and with private clients, I feel very isolated
    from corporate culture. I am glad that Alice was so vocal about this incident because it inspires interesting conversations about technology and yoga. And I think Alice will have no problem finding more corporate yoga teaching gigs in the Bay Area. In fact I think she said on twitter she has already been offered several new yoga classes.

  • choonmoon

    Good for her! I’m really glad she stood her ground. Facebook isn’t evil, and they have the right to hire or fire whomever they want, but I stand behind the teacher. Cell phones have no place in a yoga class.

  • behavior in yoga classes or any other type of class is indicative of how people act in society at large. I taught yoga at a jr. college for 7 years and the behavior of students in class really changed. there used to be respect for teachers, of all kinds.

    if the student had respect for this teacher or the class, she would have ditched the phone and not gone running to tell her boss what the big, bad yoga teacher did.

    can you spell “sense of entitlement”?

  • Nothing wrong with recognizing you aren’t a good fit it’s a part of business. Her non-negotiable was cellphones in the class and they are a tech company so they have to cater to their team. Parting isn’t bad they may recommend her to another company or find a fit for her down the road if it was handled correctly. I’ve had students who find my class to much for them but they still recommend people who they see fit because I saved the relationship by referring them out so they refer in.

  • Arlet

    I have a huge problem with being connected to my cell phone 24/7, but when I am practicing yoga it’s the one time I am happy to be cut off from the world for an hour! Why take the class if you can’t truly enjoy it?! http://extendyoga.com/

  • Nick

    My beloved teacher Peter Ferko told me this story. A regular student  constantly texted in his class, the phone set on “vibrate” in the corner of his mat. After a few weeks of this, with a smile on his face and a half-joking tone of voice, he asked the student about the phone. He was told, “I’m supposed to be at work right now. If one of the partners at texts me and I don’t respond immediately, I could lose my job.”

    Another story:
    When my teacher’s teacher, Mani Finger, went to Tibet to study meditation, the first week, they took him to the top of a beautiful mountain to meditate. The next week the monks took him to a busy, loud, smelly marketplace. It’s harder to meditate in a noisy smelly outdoor market. They made him do it anyway, and he learned to overcome this obstacle with grace.

    From Alice Van Ness’ (the fired teacher) post on elephant Journal:
    “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.”
    I say, based entirely on Alice’s account of the events leading to the loss of her job, that Alice behaved badly.
    Stopping teaching to give your student a dirty look is unprofessional. 

    Based on her account, title to the contrary, it seems to me that Alice was not simply fired for asking a student to turn off a phone in a yoga class.Your blog makes a great effort to be truthful, usually. I’m a little dissappointed in this lapse, YD! I wonder if you disagree?

    Many yoga teachers act as if their entitled to respect from everyone who walks in the door. It’s understandable, we’ve worked hard – most of us have spent at least a couple thousand hours practicing and studying. But it doesn’t entitle us to be judgmental or cruel. I doubt this student was checking their email in a way that interfered with any other student’s ability to see your demo. Frankly, I’m confused; what’s so infuriating about what this student did? Given that the teacher had been told to allow students to do this sort of thing, it seems safe to assume that the students knew, before they walked in the door, that they were permitted to do whatsoever they pleased in the space of this class.

    I have many severe chronic issues with my body, plaguing my right ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, elbow, and wrist. I’ve infuriated teachers in the past by doing things like moving at the pace my breath dictates, or doing a pose that’s healthy for my body instead of one that’s excruciatingly painful and injurious. Those teachers who’ve given me space, kindness, and respect have earned a lifelong place in my heart. Other teachers take a single instat in which I do anything other than exactly what they say at that instant as a grevious insult, both to them personally and to yoga. Because I have been pushed to injury by teachers with this attitude, I consider it injurious and therefore non-yogic.

    There’s a yoga sutra which advises us to have joy for the fortunate, compassion for the unfortunate, and disregard for the wicked. Be joyful that your student is able to attend any of your class, even if it’s only half. Have compassion for the fact that your student feels her life has strings pulling on her even in your yoga class. And if your student really is doing something wicked by checking her email (while she’s at work), disregard it. Teach your class. Don’t stop teaching in order to instead give people the evil eye! 

    Have a good life everybody, and thanks for this delightful website, YD!

    Oh, and here’s the blog post in question.

    • Vision_Quest2

      I’d been given the stink-eye from one specific yoga teacher for far less–just for being me. And it was at a lower intensity than what Van Ness demonstrates in the news video, as to what her “dirty look” seemed like. I also lost my temper in a yoga class due to certain attitudes I detected from the same teacher. To project such aggression for a 35 year old woman, takes major cojones.

      Still, I empathize with the student. A tech employee IS paying for the class, even if the class is offered as a benefit thrown in. Paying in kind (being on-call, working long hours, forfeiting a more extensive social life… the list goes on). The student may be a brat, but that brat is also a worker bee.

      A little higher-order thinking is required by the student. Take a different “freebie” class.


      Pilates student Now–No Problem being Taught

  • K3

    I’d bet good money that every other student in that class wanted to tell Miss Self Important to put her phone away, but none of them could risk it politically – clearly she’s well connected and quick to wield the hatchet. The teacher was the only one with the possible power to give that narcissist feedback on how her behavior affects those around her. Seriously, who plops herself down front and center, makes a show of her phone checking and promptly gets her teacher fired for not loving it?

    I work in a corporate tech environment, too, and I see that crap in every yoga class I’ve attended in a 5 mile radius. The teachers who refuse to address it lose a lot more students than they would if they enforced boundaries with assholes on behalf of the rest of the class. I’d be sad if I worked for Facebook and realized that likely the only class yoga class I could realistically attend was run by a Bossy Pants who somehow got in good with the powers that be.

  • kirstan

    Wow. NO CELLPHONES OR COMPUTERS IN THE STUDIO. WTF is so hard about that? It’s an HOUR.

  • gina

    This spoke volumes about where American culture is at with yoga. It’s likely, in this light, that it matters less to those in the FB class that they are actually practicing than they can Twitter or text about being there. I know that sounds very judgmental, but it’s pretty true.

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