Colorado yoga studios are feeling major heat from the state which is suddenly cracking down an old law requiring studio owners to pay certification fees for yoga teacher training. The real bone of contention lies in whether or not yoga teacher training can be defined as preparing students for “gainful employment.” Now that’s a loaded subject.
The 2002 law, which requires all yoga teacher training programs to be certified by the state, has been all but ignored until recently. According to the Denver Post, only a handful of studios, apparently just six, had actually been compliant with the law, but after one yoga teacher complained about everyone else managing to escape the fees all this time, the government has finally woken up to get their due. Alas, yoga studios betrayed by one of their own! Though it seems only fair that everyone be included. But is the certification requirement itself actually fair for everyone? Studio owners say no, but it may be an uphill battle to change the current mid-stream.
In December, the Division of Private Occupational Schools sent out letters to 82 yoga teacher training schools asking them to provide a brief summary of their operation, a copy of a school catalog and brochure and their recruiting materials. “If tuition is collected with the intent of training someone to get a job and teach that particular skill, then the program would probably need to be certified,” said Lorna Candler, director of the Division of Private Occupational Schools. If these studios meet that criteria they’ll be required to get certified with the state, which, of course, entails paying fees.
Here’s what that looks like:
The state charges $1,750 for an initial provisional certificate that is good for up to two years, then $1,500 for a renewable certificate good for three years. It also charges $175 for every “agent” authorized to enter into a contract with a student, plus $3.75 per student per quarter. In addition, schools that have been certified must secure a minimum bond of $5,000, which is based on the amount of tuition collected.
However, Colorado yoga studio owners consider this a bureaucratic money squeeze and a threat to their small businesses. On Tuesday many showed up before the state board to present their case against the certification and fees. The dominant argument also points to the grayest area: Are yoga teacher trainings preparing people for “gainful employment” or are they simply for self-improvement? Are yoga teacher trainings vocation or avocation?
Is it all a matter of semantics?
Colorado studio owners are trying to draw a line between career training and something one chooses to do for self-betterment. Calling yourself a “yoga school” offering “teacher training” has backfired big time.
Yoga instructors said they probably created part of the problem by referring to “teacher training” and schools, when what they do is more of a yoga immersion program. They disagreed that what they are doing is training someone for “gainful employment” because so few people teach yoga full time. That’s because of the physical demands and because most people couldn’t support themselves, they said.
“I teach people to breathe, relax and be content. I don’t know how you regulate that,” says Yoga Alliance Treasurer Roger Rippy, a studio c0-owner himself in Texas. “Most people do this because they love it, not because it leads to a career.”
That may be true. For the majority of yoga teachers, teaching is not a lucrative career move and if you don’t love it, you’ll learn that real fast. This is often a recurring problem for people who quit their jobs to become yoga teachers, or yoga studio owners. Many yoga teachers will tell you how laughable it is to attempt teaching full-time — they don’t do it for the money! And a large portion of yoga studios don’t really either. They’re lucky if they break even, and that’s been a common theme lately as we continue to hear of more yoga studio closures and owners/teachers disenfranchised by the yoga studio business. (See also: Get a Life, Yoga: Kill the Studio Paradigm)
From our experience, most people do teacher training because of one or two things: 1) They have an interest in teaching it at some point, 2) They want to “deepen” their practice, which is how many yoga studios present their trainings now, and for several reasons, the number one being that it brings in more money and makes the business more sustainable than relying on revenue from yoga classes alone. (For reference, the average 200-hr yoga teacher training in NYC is about $3,200. The more teacher trainees, the more money they make, the more potential yoga teachers there are in the job-seeking pool. But some studios wouldn’t survive without the constant churning out of YTT grads. Maybe this is where the system is broken? But that’s for another post.)
(NOTE: This may be a wake-up call to anyone planning to do their yoga teacher training any time soon with the expectation that they’ll transition right into a full-time gig and a spot on the yoga festival circuit. Don’t be fooled. This is not likely. Like any freelance job, teaching yoga is a major hustle.)
Reminiscent of the battles waged in NY State where legislators tried to regulate yoga with a licensing structure as well as tax yoga classes based on their categorization as “fitness,” Colorado is only facing what we see as part of the growing pains involved with yoga becoming so popular and part of peoples’ lives for a myriad of reasons from spirituality to heart health to shifts in career path. (By the way, in NY, the state lost both times, but only because NY yogis put up a hell of a fight. Washington DC was not so successful.)
As for Colorado, the state Division of Private Occupational Schools ended up putting the certification on hold for two months while they work it all out. The conversation will pick back up at the March 24 state board meeting. The Yoga Alliance, which itself charges studios a fee to be registered with them, has stepped in to help, hiring Squire Patton Boggs law firm to defend the interests of the studios. YA also launched an online petition asking for signatures in support of fending off “excessive, bureaucratic and arbitrary regulations.”
On January 12, YA issued their official stance on government regulation primarily government licensing regulations and post-secondary education and vocational training regulations. In it they expand the reasons why yoga teacher training should be exempt from regulations placed on normal vocational or post-secondary institutions.
We believe that YTTs fall outside the Department of Education’s purview and should be exempt from state regulation of post-secondary schools because:
YTTs do not set general educational requirements for admission. Unlike colleges and other post-secondary educational institutions, YTTs do not require a high school diploma or GED as a precursor to admission.
YTTs do not meet the statutory definition of “postsecondary vocational institutions.” Unlike colleges and most post-secondary schools, YTTs are not nationally accredited ; therefore, registration with Yoga Alliance Registry does not count as an accreditation. In addition, YTT students typically do not qualify to receive federally-funded Title IV loans because a YTT does not meet the definition of an “institution of higher education,” a “proprietary institution of higher education,” or a “postsecondary vocational institution.”
YTTs are not vocational schools because they are not designed to prepare trainees for or lead to gainful employment.Vocational schools provide job-specific training programs that serve as a gateway to a profession, trade, or vocation. Vocational schools offer students certificates attesting to their training for a number of trades ranging from bartender to mechanic. Yoga Teacher Trainings, by contrast, serve a broader purpose; statistically, most YTT students enroll for personal development, not to begin or further a career path.
Teaching yoga is not the primary income source or vocation for most YTT students. Of the trainees who register with Yoga Alliance as Registered Yoga Teachers (RYT®s), only a fraction teach yoga full-time while most hold other careers. The small percentage of YTT trainees who go on to teach typically teach part-time or less frequently, not relying on it for their primary income. The YTT trainees who dive head-first into a full-time yoga career, such as owning a studio, constitute a minority and are not representative of the YTT trainee population.
Most YTTs do not operate like vocational schools. Programs of many YTTs are irregularly scheduled; some YTTs are based in yoga studios, others offer classes in the instructors’ homes, some even have no fixed location! No two YTT programs look alike, with many having a focus or theme to the training to allow the student to find a more personalized program. All YTTs registered with Yoga Alliance are required to cover specific curricular elements, which provide a framework for comprehensive teaching. Government attempts to treat YTTs as vocational schools, therefore, miscomprehend the nature of YTTs and impose unnecessary and inappropriate burdens on YTT programs.
You can read the whole thing here.
To be continued…
image via Change.org petition