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Colorado Yoga Studios Are Stuck in State Regulation Standoff

in YD News

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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

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12 comments… add one

  • Anon da

    Since yoga is not just physical culture, but actually has foundation in a spiritual tradition it should be accorded the same tax exemption (and regulatory interference) that a seminary is accorded. And aren’t Scientology courses free from certification by the state.

    The State of Colorado is showing its ignorance of what yoga and asanas are and the state is treading on very thin ice constitutionally.

  • The answer to the question of do YTT programs prepare students for ‘gainful employment’ seems to be ‘yes’ when convenient, and ‘no’ when convenient. This issue will probably shift the rhetoric away from offering gainful employment, and towards an avenue for self-development, which is a more accurate statement anyway. Those that got into the game early and made $$$ offering false promises of yoga teaching careers are laughing on the way to the bank. Its like the stock market… get in early and make a killing… get in late and lose your shirt. A moment of truth has arrived… and which is a good thing. Otherwise, it has become the case that the glut of YTTs had led to a competition for $$$ that has led to people trying to stand out… and much weirdness has followed which is not in line with what Yoga is. I wonder what will happen next?

    One of the tragedies of the glut of YTTs has been the movement towards more and more extreme postures, which more and more people wish to emulate. Now this amounts to encouraging in people the erroneous thinking that there is a connection between the extremeness of posture performed with some sort of genuine progress in Yoga. Also, this has generated in many people the desire to emulate these postures, which amounts to anti-Yoga, amounts to generating Vasanas (unfulfilled desires). This is the tragedy. The acrobatic teachers are responsible for this state of affairs. But they have made their mark, made their money… and now the rest of us have to clean the mess up.

  • John

    “The acrobatic teachers are responsible for this state of affairs.”
    Really? Krishnamacharya with his troupes of boys performing gymnastic routines branded as “yoga” is responsible for the state of Colorado deciding to force YTT courses to be honest about the likelyhood of employment resulting from course completion? Perhaps it was David Williams and then David Swenson. They were pretty acrobatic in their youth, with their traditional Astanga. No? Iyengar used to hop around a fair bit, too, though his alignment wasn’t good enough for acrobatics till he went off on his making perfect static shapes kick. It wasn’t him you had in mind?

    I think you’ll find the people who kicked off the whole two week YTT thing were… the Sivananda centres, with their whole “turn up for two weeks and get certified” thing. You can accuse the Sivananda organisation of many things but only a tiny minority of its members would in any way qualify as “acrobatic”. Besides, they pretty much invented the whole “if we aren’t up to doing it we’ll dismiss it as mere gymnastics” thing.

    In fact, the thing about “acrobatic” practice is… it’s difficult. It’s rare to find people with the genetic predisposition, the willingness to work hard, the time, and the access to instruction, to perform those “acrobatic” practices. That’s why we celebrate them when they come along. If you want to cut down on the “glut” of teachers then demand a challenging physical practice as a prerequisite to teaching.

    People aren’t getting hurt doing “acrobatic” practices; we’re at the point where crow is perceived as “difficult” and headstand “dangerous”. People are getting hurt doing down dog and warrior 1 and 2 over and over again, because they’re being told it will somehow, magically, solve their problems “off the mat”.

    As for who to blame… well… when I qualified as a teacher I could easily have taught yoga 15 hours a week and made a comfortable living – and teaching yoga is not the most strenuous task I’ve ever undertaken. I decided not to quit my day job because, if I could spot the gap in the market, so could a bunch of other people and I figured a bunch of failed dancers and gymnasts would soon discover the yoga world was a whole lot less competitive than their first choice of career and flood out the market.

    The fact is, people want yoga cheap, they want it to be easy, and they want it to be dressed up in cod “philosophy”, and that’s what they’ll go for.

  • John, I do believe dancers and gymnasts hopped on the bandwagon for sure, and obscured that the most difficult and essential posture in Yoga is Stillness, and that the rest is optional and not necessary.

    I also think that the emphasis on Asana given by Iyengar, Jois and others has proven problematic. But also, I believe that its possible to make lemonade if lemons are what are around. Its also the case that the word “Yoga” is now known far and wide due to all the above actors, and something useful can come of all this. But there will be resistance, I believe, by people who have managed to convince the populace that doing the crow and whatnot means anything other than being able to do the crow etc.

  • John

    Every single person who “teaches yoga” contributes to the oversupply of teachers. The problem is not those teachers over there with a different emphasis. The problem is that getting paid reasonable money to teach yoga (any sort) is a very attractive proposition and calling a course a “teacher training” advertises a course as a way to do just that. Those offering such courses in Colorado should either take the “teacher” bit out of the course title or man up and pay the regulator to make sure courses are honest, well run, and value for money.

    There are plenty of people who’d like to be philosophy lecturers but can’t be doing with all that academic rigour stuff and have decided that instead they’ll be “real” yoga teachers, ones that offer something “more” than “mere gymnastics”. Given all but a few of them teach asana they worry me more than the failed gymnasts and dancers. At least gymnasts and dancers know physical injury is real and painful. People who disparage the physical but teach Asana anyway are the ones I make most effort to avoid. There are a lot of people who think sitting in lotus for hours (a physical action) has magical effects but flowing through crow has no effect on the mind or emotions at all. There’s a basic logical contradiction there that immediately makes them some one I won’t be taking “philosophy” instruction from.

  • John, sitting is lotus is no different than sitting in a chair… without a grounding in what the aim is at least, there is no getting anywhere. So, people can get their aerobics, movement, physiotherapy, psychotherapy, preening, “yoga gear” etc. lots of places… but when one wants all of that, and what Yoga actually aims at in a 1 hour class, well… there can be little expectation of focus on the aim.

    It might be that we find out that people are not actually interested in Yoga, after all. That is ok too, as least clarity arises about what it is supposed to be and whether or not one is interested. The next few years will tell where all this goes. But I am thinking more long term, as I expect the aims of Yoga, the epistemology involved in self-knowledge and knowledge in general will gain more adherents. Monotheism is going, Scientific Materialism is going too… and then what is left is the Dharmic approach… long term thinking here. Right now, the ground is being prepared for all that… that’s my crystal ball. Contact me on Facebook if you want me to point you to the specifics of what I mean.

  • BTW, you can read the comments in this epic FB thread to see the problems and solutions for the road ahead… https://www.facebook.com/sean.feit/posts/10206076878465096

  • Asananine

    Pankaj Seth, I find your analysis to be disingenuous at best. You are not above impugning the reputation of “acrobatic” yoga teachers to aggrandize yourself as self designated to “clean up the mess”. All YTTs contribute to the market glut and yours is no exception.

  • Asananine, I have not trained any persons to be Yoga teachers, but do offer some small courses on the philosophy and meditation which are open to everyone and does not result in certification. My own background is not connected to having taken any 200, or 500 hours course, but is part of my own self-development. I decided to teach some things once I had known them theoretically, textually and experientially, but not towards any certification.

    Also, I am a Hindu, by virtue of being born in the Hindu culture and treat texts such as the YS and the Gita as sacred texts of the Hindus. That is my relationship to ‘Yoga’, which is not to say that persons with other backgrounds cannot or should not approach these texts and practices from where they begin their journey.

  • S.

    It’s no use arguing with these commenters. They are stuck in the paradigm of yoga as a business model vs. Yoga as a means of seeing one’s true self through the cessations of citta vritti . Just do your daily practice and 20 years later we will see who is still doing Yoga, and who is on to the next money making phenom.

  • Yoga as a means of seeing one’s true self is not a ‘Paradigm”. Its actually the definition — LOL. If you are averse to taking decisions, action, but just like to pooh pooh those who do, then what is your motivation? Is it to be ‘above it all” or some such? Fine, live your life in the clouds. But change happens, and it can be directed. Otherwise, inertia and entropy… not my choice.

  • John

    Ironically, what YA has done is successfully argue there is very little reason for their existence. They are not a “real” accreditation and most people who go through teacher training won’t be teaching.

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