Yoga teachers challenge state regulations

By Heather Sullivan - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Some yoga instructors are taking the state to the mat. They have filed a lawsuit to try to stop state regulations on yoga instructors. But the state says the rules are necessary.

The state says teachers or schools that train other yoga instructors have to be certified because it's a vocation. But three yoga instructors in Arlington filed a lawsuit, saying the state is stretching too far into their rights.

Yoga is the ancient, Hindu practice of postures and meditation to achieve well-being. These yoga instructors say the state has no business regulating it.

Said plaintiff Suzanne Leitner-Wise with U.S.1Yoga, "It's a way of life and it's something that is passed down from one great teacher to another great teacher, and from there on to students. It's been going this way for thousands and thousands of years."

SCHEV, the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia, regulates many types of vocational schools. Kirsten Nelson with SCHEV says she can't discuss the lawsuit, but says the state believes the regulations are necessary. "Part of the certification is making sure the school is meeting minimal industry standards. You don't want to send people out into the workforce that don't meet minimal standards for that particular work."

Nelson says the regulations enable students to get part of their money back through a bond if a yoga school goes belly up. Said Nelson, "We used to get a lot of calls from students who say 'My school closed. What do I do?' As far as your tuition is concerned, you were on your own."

SCHEV certification for a yoga school costs $2,500, plus annual fees that start at $500 and depend on the school's annual revenue.

Reacts plaintiff and yoga instructor Beverly Brown, "For small schools, it will put schools out of business. It will put us out of business because we can't afford it."

The yoga instructors say the fees will not only drive up the cost of yoga classes, the regulations quash their right to free speech. Said Brown, "Yoga is an oral tradition and what we're passing down are thoughts and teachings of yoga as an oral tradition."

Adds plaintiff Julia Kalish of Double Dog Yoga, "Here we are in a time of recession and I think the state should be supporting small businesses rather than asking them to pay these fees and jump through all of these hoops."

Meanwhile, bills in both the state Senate and House propose exempting yoga instructors from state certification if they disclose to students their curriculum standards. Senator Mark Herring's ((D) - Leesburg) version has passed through the Senate Education and Health committee and is expected to come up for a vote before the Senate on Wednesday, February 10.

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