Smartphones and Yoga Teachers: a Tool, a Crutch, or a Distraction?

“If you haven’t done so already, begin to make your way into Shavasana. Lying on your back, arms either open and receptive at your sides or else one hand finds your heart, one finds your stomach. Eyes close. Release any control of breath you may have maintained throughout your practice. Relax your body.

“Once you’ve established this quiet, relaxed space, try to stay present. Feel the mat, or the floor, underneath your body. Feel the air circulating around your skin, entering and leaving your body with breath. Be present.”

My breath releases in a sigh as I turn my attention from my students to my smartphone.

I check my email, then glance up and look around. Everyone is still relaxing, so I check Facebook, then look up again. My students twitch, shift, and breathe, struggling with the difficult task I’ve set them: remaining present, relaxing, trying not to fall asleep. Occasionally they don’t succeed and gentle snores fill the studio, but at least they’re trying – unlike me.

Over the last several weeks an embarrassing irony has grown in the back of my mind: I tell my students to remain present and then immediately check out myself.

How did this happen? I wonder and, perhaps more importantly, What can I do about it? Do I want to do anything? Do I need to?

Your first response might be an eye roll and a disgusted, “Easy – leave your phone with your shoes. Phones have no place in the yoga studio anyway.”

Generally, I agree with you – for students anyway – but here’s the thing: I (and easily 75% of the yoga teachers I know) use my (our) smartphones for music during class.

Now, your next response might be, “Well then, just don’t look at it.”

Yes, obviously, I’ve thought of that. I’ve even been a bit better about not looking since I’ve noticed myself doing it, but I haven’t stopped completely. Like many modern smartphone owners, I’m accustomed to checking my email every 10-15 minutes (at most) and going an entire yoga class without can be challenging.

Not only that but, as a self-publishing author, I have so much that might be in my inbox. It could be correspondence from that author I emailed last week, it could be my cover artist with a new sketch for me to look at, or it could be any number of, if not vital, then at least vitally interesting things demanding my attention.

Plus, my students all have their eyes closed. It’s not like I’m giving dialogue. I’m not taking away from their experience, I’m just decompressing from a solid 50-60 minutes of being “on,” fully present, in the moment, engaging my students. It’s hard to understand how tiring this is if you haven’t done it. It’s like giving a lecture for an hour, except you are moving, walking, adjusting.

It’s somewhere between a class and an improve performance. After all that work, I deserve a little break right?

Well…maybe, and maybe not.

It’s true that my students are supposed to have their eyes closed (and many may be mortified when they read this), but what if they didn’t? What if they glance up at the front of the room and see me there, on my phone – what kind of message does that send?

Or, worse, what happens when I press the center button on my phone too long and Siri’s beeps shatter the stillness (oh yes, that’s happened). Or I forget to turn the sound off on my phone and the letters from Words with Friends bubble onto the screen, “Boo-boo-boo-bup.” Yep, that has happened too.

Those are the worst things that have come of my consumption.

Here are some of the good things:

1) As mentioned, it helps me decompress for class, which is especially important if I’m going to teach another one in 15 minutes.

2) It helps me get through shavasana.

This is an entirely new aspect of the problem. I like giving long shavasanas.

When I was a Teacher Trainee, I was told that yoga classes should warm up, culminate in a peak pose (like half moon, or full bound side angle), then begin to slow down, and end in shavasana. However, for me, the peak pose is shavasana. It’s the culmination of all the work my students just did and I want to give them plenty of time to absorb that work – particularly because many teachers only leave a few minutes at the end.

I have absolutely nothing against that style. As a student, I frequently appreciate short shavasanas and grow frustrated and antsy when an instructor leaves me there “too long.” This is precisely why I hold my students there. It’s hard, and it’s work, but I think it’s important work that I want to share with my students…I just don’t want to do it myself apparently.

Here’s another thing: it’s even harder for me to sit quietly in shavasana as an instructor than experience it as a student, probably because instead of putting my body through a demanding asana practice I’ve just spent the last hour focusing as hard as I can on my students. I’ve become hyper attentive to their every twitch and movement, and I feel self conscious as I watch them struggle to remain still. I begin to have doubts.

Am I leaving them in the pose too long? Should I say something? Offer something to focus on…What else can I do?

However, the best thing I can do for them is set them up then say nothing. Using my smartphone may be a crutch, but it helps me shut the hell up and let my students have their own experience in shavasana.

The answer, I think, is one familiar to most yoga practitioners: I’ll have to make it a practice.

In an ideal world, I would like to be able to use my smartphone to play music (aka as a tool), then sit with my students through a beautiful ten minute shavasana without resorting to the distraction that my phone provides. However, it’s a bad idea to walk on a broken ankle without support. Sometimes we all need crutches.

The trick is recognizing when it’s time to let the crutches go.

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