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Yoga Teachers Sue VA State: Licensing Debate Gets Hairy

in Business of Yoga, YD News

va_is_for_regulators_yogaYoga Teacher Training: Vocational? Or Avocational?

Update! The licensing battle of VA Yoga studios VS. the State is getting hairy – Three yoga teachers have moved to sue! Operating on the defense that regulating YTT is “just dumb” and that any sort of state clampdown is a threat to free speech, VA yoga teachers are coming out swinging:

“It’s just daft. It’s just a ridiculous idea,” said Suzanne Leitner-Wise, one of the plaintiffs and a yoga instructor who has provided training to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. “It’s the students who determine whether you’re a competent teacher,” not the state.

Attorney Robert Frommer has their back:

“The Virginia bureaucrats who will pass judgment on these instructors have no expertise whatsoever in yoga,” said Frommer, adding that there is significant debate within the yoga community about what is considered proper technique and philosophy.

More broadly, Frommer said that teaching is a form of free speech. And if the state wants to regulate free speech, it needs a compelling reason to do so. Keeping tabs on the development of new yogis and gurus does not meet the bar, he said.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), which regulates training for vocations like bartending and dog-grooming, sniffed out yoga teacher training late last year as a target for $2500 fee, audits, annual charges of at least $500, and a bucketload of paperwork .

Sounds like a huge, and expensive, pain in the asana, but council spokesperson Kirsten Nelson maintains that  “the licensure requirements mostly involve mundane, content-neutral issues revolving around development of a solid business model and posting a bond that enables students to be reimbursed if a program goes defunct.”

WHAT ABOUT YOGA ALLIANCE? Don’t they already “regulate” to a certain extent? (and to some yogi’s chagrin). Shouldn’t they be supporting the studios fighting back?

R. Mark Davis, president and CEO of the Arlington-based Yoga Alliance, said more than a dozen states are regulating yoga teacher-training; many of those states incorporate the alliance’s standards.

He said the alliance’s goal was to establish a form of self regulation and takes no position on whether states ought to issue licenses, but he said in other states most practitioners report no problems.

Er, OK.

For NY State the battle is in a holding pattern as we await legislature. While the fate of fellow ‘Ginny yogis is yet to be discovered, at least they have some inside support. As we mentioned in an earlier report, Virginia Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax is working to introduce legislation to exempt yoga from regulations.

“I have not seen a compelling reason so far for why we should go ahead and add this burden on yoga studios, especially in this economy,” Bulova said.

Seriously. (but don’t hold your breath)

Not only do we have to debate how OLD yoga is, apparently we have to define WHAT yoga is, not for the yogadorks, but for everyone else <sigh>

[Associated Press] [Washington Post]

EarlierVA Licensing Update: Yogis Rally Rebuttal, Open Avocation vs. A Vocation Debate

Missouri Taxes Studios, Texas to Join in Licensing Battle, Everyone Tries to Define Yoga

Update: Victory for NY Yoga Studios! Licensing Shakedown Squashed

8 comments… add one
  • Even if regulating certain yoga studios is a bad idea, it seems like a stretch (pun intended) to argue that it violates free speech to do so. I look forward to reading the complaint as soon as I can track it down. It does seem a little weird though to see yoga instructors teaming up with the country’s leading gun-rights lawyer. It should be an interesting case.

  • This issue popped up on Yoga Journal’s “Yoga Buzz” today. I referred readers to YogaDork for in-depth coverage. Here’s what I wrote there;

    “I haven’t been following this issue closely enough to know the answer to your question, “Do you think this argument will hold up?”. But anyone interested in this issue should definitely read the YogaDork blog:

    “Yoga Teachers Sue VA State: Licensing Debate Gets Hairy”

    There are lots of links there to previous YogaDork coverage and other outside resources.

    I thought the most curious thing in the YogaDork coverage was that the Yoga Alliance is neutral about licensing. Must be some really interesting politics behind that. Or perhaps just a difference of opinion.

    The problem with the free speech argument is that many Yoga programs really are 99% exercise programs. If other exercise programs are regulated, it would be hard to argue these Yoga programs should be exempt.

    But those Yoga programs that include a heavy dose of spirituality and philosophy would probably fit the free speech argument to a tee.

    I can see how the regulators would be confused because Yoga is much more diverse than the average business they’re regulating. But then, wouldn’t this be an strong argument in itself NOT to regulate it?

    Just thinking out loud here. I don’t know enough to speak with any authority on the subject. I just feel for my many Yoga teacher friends who are afraid of what if would mean for their businesses.

    Bob Weisenberg

  • Hmmm. I don’t fully understand this issue, but I’m not as dead-set against regulation as some people are. Saying “it’s up to the students to decide if you are a competent teacher” is a stretch. Why not simply allow patients to decide who is a competent doctor? Or lawyer? These regulations are in place to protect the consumer.
    The glut of teacher training programs out there is really discouraging. There are simply too many teachers being churned out, because these programs are cash-cows for studios.
    On the other hand, the taxes will be oppressive enough to keep all but the larger corporate studios from having programs, so that can’t be a solution either….
    I don’t know. Maybe I’m missing something.

  • Robert Frommer

    For a great video that explains the theory of the case in more detail, check out

  • Robert Frommer

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