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Under threat of rigid new restrictions, a coalition of yoga teachers and students is flexing its political muscles in state capitals across the country in hopes of clarifying sometimes opaque laws.
In many states, regulators have said current law might require yoga instructors to register and fill out forms in order to receive formal certification. Those who practice the art of calm stretching and isometric holds are pushing bills in several states to exempt themselves from the licensing requirements applied to other specialized vocations, like beauticians and electrical repair workers.
Yoga teachers should be exempt from those requirements because most practice their craft as a hobby, rather than as a full-time business, said Barb Dobberthien, executive director of the Yoga Alliance, an Arlington, Va.-based advocacy group. Classes training teachers might offer a certificate of completion, but that certification does not carry a government stamp of approval in any state in the nation.
“Completion of a teacher training program is not a prerequisite to teaching yoga anywhere, and yoga isn’t licensed anywhere,” Dobberthien said. “Most participants attend for their own purposes to deepen personal practices. They may get a certificate at the end of that class, but that varies by location.”
The Yoga Alliance is backing legislation currently under consideration in Idaho, Washington and Massachusetts to exempt their teachers from certification requirements. Similar bills are likely to be introduced in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois and Missouri.
The group has already helped pass legislation in Virginia, Texas and New York.
About 36 million Americans practiced yoga in 2016, according to a study sponsored by the Yoga Alliance. Most small yoga studios are owned and operated by women, Dobberthien said, and licensing requirements could mean onerous new barriers to entry.
To protect their low-key practice, yoga backers are turning to high-powered lobbyists for help. In Idaho, the group has enlisted Jason Kreizenbeck, a former chief of staff to Gov. Butch Otter (R), to advance their cause. They have two registered lobbyists working the halls in neighboring Washington.
And in D.C., the Yoga Alliance gets advice from David Pryor, the chief lobbyist for Microsoft and a member of the group’s board.
The Yoga Alliance is backing a bill soon to be introduced in Congress, the Personal Health Investment Today Act, that would expand the IRS definition of medical expenses. The bill, introduced by then-Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles BoustanyLobbying World Former GOP rep joins K Street lobbying firm Capitol Counsel Yoga lobby fighting certification for teachers MORE (R-La.), would allow the use of pre-tax medical accounts for physical activity that prevents medical conditions, including yoga.
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