My mom, a devout film buff, once said that--despite our ingrained social habits--going to the movies is actually a very solitary experience. You're sitting in a dark room, looking straight ahead, (hopefully) not engaging in conversation with those around you. But part of the fun of going out to see a movie in a public theater filled with friends and strangers is that you are participating in a group energy. Scary movies are scarier when those around you are scared; we laugh harder at the funny parts when those around us are laughing.
Group yoga classes are much the same way: yoga is a practice that encourages you to internalize. Hopefully, you're keeping your eyes on your own mat, tuning out the distractions around you, and not competing with your fellow practioners (Devi forbid!). But at the same time, you're participating in a group energy. You're more likely to feel charged up to make it through one more vinyasa when you're feeding off the energy in the room. What's so cool about that is, each and every one of us is contributing to the experience, creating a unique class experience every time, simply by showing up and doing the work.
Movie theaters and group yoga classes have one more thing in common: if you're tapping away on your phone in the middle of it, you miiiiiiiiiiiiight be an asshole. (And I say that with love, of course.)
Interestingly, the days of phones actually ringing and people answering them are pretty much over. (Seriously, who actually talks on the phone anymore??) Sure, it happens from time to time, and in the studio, when it does, the perpetrator either awkwardly waits (interminably) for the ringing to stop so we can all feign innocence, or he/she quickly and contritely runs back to silence it. When these occurrences arise, I typically steal a line I stole from one of my mentors, Iyengar master Gabriel Halpern: "You guys know the rules. Cellphones and pagers are only for midwives and drug dealers."
This acknowledges the incident in a light-hearted way, and re-enforces our phone-free culture without making anyone feel like they're actually in trouble.
But alas, it's not the ringing or the vibrating anymore. Just like in movie theaters, perpetrators seem to believe that as long as your phone isn't making any actual noise, you're in the clear. Instead, it's the Facebook, the Instagram, the texting, the emails....and the baby monitors. (I have a lot of questions about that last one, but that's for another time.)
During a movie, these screens are egregious, because in the darkened room, that shit lights up like a beacon and all I can do is stare into the light until my retinas burn out. And don't try to tell me it's an emergency. I can see you're on Facebook from five rows back. BECAUSE IT IS LITERALLY ALL I CAN SEE.
In the yoga studio, it's sort of like the phoners think a temporary cloak of invisibility enrobes them every time they drop down to a half-assed Child's Pose to respond to a text. To those people, I say this: I HAVE EYES. I CAN SEE YOU.
There is probably some science out there somewhere about how cell phone gamma waves scramble your brain when they're too close to your mat during savasana, or something. But I'm too lazy to look that up, so I'll offer these reasons to leave your phone in your bag instead:
1. As teachers, we are doing our best to create a transformation experience--or even just a fun, feel-good experience--for YOU. If you're interrupting your own practice to check your phone, YOU are missing out. I know you think you are an expert multi-tasker, but believe me, if you're on your phone, you really aren't all in. You're not going to absorb the benefits of the practice as deeply.
2. Your actions are affecting those around you. The yoga studio (and the movie theater!!) is supposed to be a sacred space. It only works if we're all contributing. Even if you think you're being discreet, you are still creating a disruption. And that is disrespectful to everyone in the room who carved out the time to truly be present.
3. YOU GUYS. IT HURTS MY FEELINGS. I really try to keep my ego out of the equation, but come on...help me out. I'm generally not much of a hard-ass about studio "rules." I know we are all just trying to hold our very busy lives together by the tiniest thread. We all have a million things to do. I do my best to just treat everyone like adults, and hope that they will behave as such. I also try not to make assumptions about what it is that is so pressing that you have to be on your phone. But here's a thought: If you're actually in the middle of an emergency, just tell me. If your mom/spouse/kid/whatever is in the hospital and you really needed to get out to clear your head for a minute but you're waiting for an update that could come at any moment, I recognize that a) you could probably really use a little yoga, and b) you might actually really need to have your phone by you. Just tell me!! We'll work it out!! Don't make me wonder.
When you're on your phone in class, it's pulling ME out of the experience, because now I'm thinking about how to address the matter instead of what I'm teaching, and how people are responding to it. I guess what I'm saying is, help ME help YOU.
And I haven't found the perfect solution. Sometimes I let it slide. Sometimes I ask people to leave the room. Sometimes I stress about how or whether at all to enforce rules if I thus far haven't been able to enforce them consistently. My boss at one studio will brazenly walk over to your mat, pick up your phone, and carry it over to the shelf at the back of the room. While teaching into a mic and without ever breaking from her class script.
My balls are not that developed, so earlier this week, I tried a new (albeit passive-aggressive) approach when my repeated stink-eyes proved ineffective on a particular offender:
"You guys, the phones. All I'm gonna say is, I've been married twice. I know how to shatter an iPhone and make it look like an accident."
We'll see if she takes it to heart.
Side note to Apple: Thanks so much for introducing the AppleWatch to the world. Now my job is even harder.
I like careers that involve wearing comfy pants. If I weren't a yoga teacher, I'd try to write full time for a living. Join me here to see what's on my mind, and share your thoughts with me!