Sacramento yoga teachers back Facebook instructor who was fired

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 18, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jul. 18, 2012 - 11:48 am

The firing of yoga instructor Alice Van Ness because she glared at a Facebook employee texting while in a half-moon yoga pose has Sacramento yoga teachers dumbfounded.

"If someone argued for keeping their cellphone with them, I'd kick them out of class and tell them not to come back," said Bill Counter, who has been teaching yoga for more than 21 years at Absolutely Ashtanga Yoga. "That isn't appropriate behavior. Only if they were a doctor expecting a call, I'd understand."

Jennifer Sadugar, founder of the Yoga Solution, works with people dealing with pain, depression and various illnesses. "To do a pose and text is a safety issue. It's a strain on the body, and one could get hurt, or fall and hurt someone else," she said. "Only ER doctors or nurses can put their phones on vibrate, and if they have to text or take a call, they leave."

Laura Francis, instructor at Zuda Yoga, said Van Ness' dismissal was shocking.

"There are absolutely no cellphones in my classes. It's disruptive to other students. I'd ask them to leave if they tried to text," she said. "It's pretty standard policy that you leave your cellphone outside. There isn't a teacher here who would say it's OK to keep it with you."

Last month, Van Ness, 35, of San Carlos was teaching a yoga class at Facebook's Menlo Park campus when one employee was typing a text during the half moon pose, according to the Associated Press.

AP reported Van Ness, who has instructed yoga for six years, asked the class not to use cellphones during the yoga session. Plus One Health Management, which oversees the yoga and gym programs for Facebook, terminated her two weeks later, AP reported, because she had been warned she couldn't enforce a cellphone ban and after the Facebook employee complained that she glared at her. Neither Plus One Health Management nor Facebook would comment for the AP story.

Van Ness' glare cost her job and a third of her monthly income.

Instructors in Sacramento said they go by the assumption that their students understand not to mix cellphones and yoga. "I don't think someone would even try to use a cellphone in my class; I have an understanding with my students about the seriousness of the subject," said Gary Vercelli, Iyengar yoga instructor at the Yoga Solution. "One must respect that yoga has no distractions."

Yoga instructors aren't the only one sympathizing with Van Ness. Her personal website has started to collect an array of supportive comments.

"Brava Alice! I too read the article about how you were fired for giving a 'disapproving look' to the brat that was texting during your class. What was she thinking, or better yet, what was the fitness center thinking? If I lived in your area, I'd be proud to take your class," says one comment.

Van Ness has landed a job with another yoga studio. She continues to ask students to put away their cellphones before class.

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