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Ravi Dykema

By Ravi Dykema

When I ran a yoga teacher training in the late 90s I dreaded the possibility that the state might regulate my business. I worried about the paperwork and the costs. And beyond my own business, I worried that state involvement in the teaching of yoga would have the long-term effect of making trainings more similar to one another. The creator of a meditation-focused training, for example, might fear being rejected because her training lacked the “required” amount of movement practice. This fear might compel her to add more asana (poses) classes, and fewer meditation classes. After all, “yoga” in the U.S. means “exercise-oriented-yoga” to nearly everyone. But I knew yoga was much bigger.

Now, 17 years later, the prospects of regulation are upon us.

Because of recent regulatory rumblings of a state agency, yesterday the Colorado Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill that exempts yoga schools that offer teacher trainings from compliance with a 2002 law that regulates private vocational schools. The bill goes to the floor of the Senate soon. I think it’s likely to pass, and then could be introduced in the House. If it passes the House and is signed by the Governor, it will become law.

One sponsor of the bill, Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada, claims that for most trainees yoga isn’t a profession, it is a passion (Denver Post 2-15-15 story by Lynn Bartels), and thus falls outside the purview of the regulating agency. Other supporters (including the Denver Post Editorial Board) say yoga teaching will be harmed by the sort of regulation that applies to massage schools and truck driving schools. “The state should let sleeping dogs lie,” writes the DP editorial board (2-27-15).

The state agency that isn’t letting the yogis sleep, the Colorado Division of Private Occupational Schools (DPOS), sent letters in December to 82 schools that weren’t certified (6 were) asking owners to send a summary of their program, a copy of their school catalogue, and their recruiting materials. Few complied, and some enlisted the help of The Yoga Alliance, an international credentialing organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, to fight the DPOS. Frustrated by how that went, the teachers and the Alliance lobbied the Senate to exempt yoga schools from DPOS oversight.

They were inspired by yoga school owners in other states who got such laws passed: in New York, Arkansas, Texas and Virginia.

Sounds like all yoga academy owners hate regulation, doesn’t it? But they don’t. Denver studio owner Hansa Knox thinks state regulation will be good for yoga in Colorado because it will raise teaching standards and further legitimize the profession. She says, “I think other schools will find that their trainers, the people who teach other teachers, don’t meet the state’s standards, which are higher than the Yoga Alliance’s.”

She also counters a common argument against regulation that it is onerously expensive. “The cost is not a big deal,” she told me. And her school only admits six to ten students a year, which is small. The average yearly enrollment, according to the Yoga Alliance, is fifteen to eighteen. Knox also points out that the cost for a school to be registered with the Yoga Alliance (many local schools are) is similar to the state certification costs.

Hansa Knox is worth listening to. She runs PranaYoga and Ayurveda Mandala Training Center, which is certified by the DPOS and is also registered through the Yoga Alliance. She and I have known each other for years, and she’s a long-time activist in the national yoga community, having been a president of the Yoga Alliance itself and of Yoga Teachers of Colorado. And she is on the advisory board of the International Association of Yoga Therapists.

So who’s right? The studio owners who are pissed about that December letter or Ms. Knox and the regulators, who say they want to protect consumers and to mentor the occupational schools?

Well, both, as always. Because this regulation-thing is complicated. Even I don’t know which way to vote. If I still had a yoga teacher training school (mine closed in 1998) I sure wouldn’t want to spend $1750 to get certified for two years, plus $3.75 per student quarterly, plus a surety bond that could run hundreds of dollars. It would cost me, I figure, around $3500 over my first three years of certification. What’s the state going to do for me in return for my hard-earned money? I could raise my rates $80 per student and perhaps cover this if I have 15 students per year. But not until next year, when new students enroll. This could mean way fewer trips to visit my ailing mother. Or a huge cut in my marketing budget, which would hurt enrollment.

You see, small time studios aren’t getting rich on teacher trainings, although such trainings are a big help in keeping the studios alive in a competitive market. That’s why the number of such studios offering trainings increased by twenty percent in the last year. (That number comes from the Yoga Alliance.)

Get it? This yoga teaching gig doesn’t pay well. A lot of my compensation as a yoga teacher is feel-good; I just love to teach yoga! And I suspect that’s true of most of those teaching yoga for money. So most do it part time, and have other jobs too. And if we teachers want that to change, if we want to teach more and make a decent living doing this, we need the profession of yoga teaching to evolve. We need it to gain respect and credibility, and state regulation might help achieve that. The Yoga Alliance works toward this goal too, it’s true, so you could argue that the DPOS would unnecessarily duplicate the effort. That’s what the proponents of Senate Bill 186 say.

But Ms. Knox thinks regulation would offer a needed boost in respect and credibility. I think she may be right, and that eventually yoga teachers will seek state recognition such as that offered by the DPOS to the teacher-training programs, instead of fight it.

In the meantime, breath in, breath out, feel the breath . . . Repeat. And show up at those hearings so your breath is heard!