Ballet studios are not taxed for teaching ballet. Martial arts centers are not taxed for presenting different colored belts to students as they move up in rank. On average, a person who takes one yoga teacher training does not stop with the first – he or she will take many throughout their lifetime. Completing a 200-hr training course – or 500 hours, or even 1000 – no more guarantees a person a career built on yoga than does a black belt ensure a career teaching karate.
Yoga For New York had a victory where the Senate voted unanimously to permanently protect both New York yoga studios and yoga teachers from being subject to fees of up to $50,000. But the fight is not over yet. Earlier this month, the State ofLouisiana began issuing letters to yoga studios demanding that they either pay a $6000 licensing fee, or shut down the so-called“vocational” teachertrainings and, in some cases, even yoga workshops. Currently Virginia, New York, Texas, Louisiana, Washington, and Missouri are undergoing – or have already undergone – state–proposed bills that would regulate or tax teachers and teacher trainings. What that means is that governments in six states are trying to classify teacher trainings and workshops as state–regulated vocations that must have certified state accreditation and paperwork on file, and pay taxes and annual renewal fees.
The victory in New York was enormous. However, the struggle to get there brings to light the need for a more stable infrastructure than what is currently available through Yoga Alliance, and other long standing media entities. Yoga is evolving and the community itself must constantly educate ourselves about our inner workings and learn to live more effectively and consciously. Organizer guru Alison West, who helped inspire volunteers, teachers and studios for the lobbying against the NY legislation, explains on the website: Yoga 4 NY –
“The State’s attempt to license yoga teacher training touches everyone, not just teacher training programs. Yoga classes need yoga teachers, and yoga teachers need training. Without strong training programs, yoga lovers would find it difficult to find classes. Studios that rely on training fees would close, hurting their staff members, landlords and suppliers. Diversity would be lost. The entire yoga community would suffer.
Licensing of vocational programs is chiefly a consumer protection service for those wanting to enroll in the program. The licensing process would give participants recourse in the event a program is canceled or a studio folds and their money is not returned.
It is important to realize that the licensing of yoga teacher trainings as envisioned by BPSS does not have any relation to oversight of the quality of yoga teaching or yoga teacher training, as the license stands now. No one at BPSS is qualified to judge the merits of a program (other than it has a real schedule) or to assess the quality of a teacher. There are no assessments of quality of teaching.” (Alison West)
This is in part because there are no across-the-board standards used to judge yoga as a whole–that idea goes against the very tradition of yoga itself. Most of the iconic yoga teachers who teach today learned everything they know from the 5000-year-old tradition of passing information down from “teacher” to “student.” Even these teachers will be affected: guest teachers would have to pay a state licensing fee based on the number of participants, and, in some cases, $5000 to the state as a first year licensing fee.
Some bigger-business studios and larger product corporations view regulated vocational yoga teacher training schools as a good thing. Big business believes that they can make more money breaking yoga into small pieces to maximize profits. — Don’t be fooled by the media’s portrayal of the yoga industry – First, the big wheel “Yoga Media” giants have not covered the State Regulation issue. Second, the majority of teachers and studio owners today are not making six figures. Most teachers spend their extra time working a second job, or working out how they increase their take-home pay so they can continue sharing their passion with their peers; If state regulation of yoga passes in any state, the ONLY people who will be effected are the teachers and the studios, and they will get priced right out of practice.
In most parts of the world, yoga is a simple practice rooted in a lifelong passion that is passed from teacher to student, until thestudent becomes actualized into the teacher – end of story. The mental and physical benefits gained from a steady yoga practice are becoming more and more sought-after; state governments don’t have the right to go on a yoga-teacher witch-hunt in an effort to make money off those who are trying to teach their fellow students kindness, compassion, and patience. In addition–and perhaps more immediately important–the government’s argument is built on a faulty premise. The vast majority of all yoga teachers are forced to turn to entirely different jobs for their primary income; most teachers teach yoga on the side because it is their avocation, or passion. It’s very, very rare that I meet a teacher who can depend entirely on his or her teaching income alone.
What can you do specifcally? Yoga for New York has had volunteers and lobbyists advocating for the state since summer of 2009, and the Texas Yoga Association has volunteers and yogis lawyers in Texas (who are currently working pro-bono with studios and teachers.) Teachers and studios need to communicate and understand that there is more strength in numbers, than broken up into individual states.
“The united response by yoga studios and teachers coordinated through the Texas Yoga Association has positively engaged the standing of yoga with state regulators. The continued growth and organization of the Texas Yoga Association is vital for advocating for the integrity of yoga. This was a great first step in educating our government about yoga but it is only the beginning.” ( Texas Yoga Association)
As we were leaving, Sean Johnson from Wild Lotus Yoga in New Orleans found out that his studio,
too, had received a “Letter of Legislative Intent”; I thus suggested planning an impromptu studio and teacher gathering at Wild Lotus’ studio during The Big Soak, an April 2-4 yoga workshop in New Orleans. Sean and Dana Flynn, The Big Soak’s main organizer (of Laughing Lotus in New York and San Francisco), were both excited about the idea, so I got on the phone with our Texas legal contingent and Jenny Buergermeister. On behalf of Yoganomics, I will join them in New Orleans to present what’s been learned so far from our predecessors in NY, WA, VA, and TX. What started as just the seed of an idea has grown organically into a successful and prosperous event to unite the states of Washington, Virginia, New York, Texas as one yoga.
The issue is whether or not we will continue to stand together, as teachers, as mentors, as students, as advocates for yoga, despite this attempt to divide yoga in each state. It is solely because of backbone of the skilled and independent studios and teachers that yoga has seen the growth and progression that it has in this country. Make no mistake… the issue at hand is far from over, and at it’s root, is more about undermining the legitimacy of yoga, and diluting the practice.
Teachers and studios must organize themselves together into one self-sustaining community. Yoga will accomplish much more together than it will separately. If you are a supporter of the benefits of yoga… if you are a student, a teacher, or just a friend – please show your support and write emails, or letters to your public officials, and tell them that you do not think that Yoga Schools are Vocational Schools, and that yoga is a practice that deepens our knowledge of a 5000-year-old spiritual and physical discipline, without government interference. Contact me if you want to know who specifically you need to contact in your local governments. – namaste –
Brian Castellani ( :: castellani.me :: ) is a yoga teacher from San Francisco, California, who began Yoganomics® – a blueprint of yoga business, as an online community specifically to address yoga and business. He has worked for 12 years in one form or another of small business development and he worked for Yoga Journal for four years. If you want to read his personal you can at: Castellani.me or email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org –