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Yoga enthusiasts push back against state regulation

UPDATED: FRIDAY, FEB. 3, 2017, 10:19 P.M.

Paddle board instructor Katie Fitzgerald strikes the “Warrior” position during her class on Lake Coeur d’Alene in this file photo from 2013. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Paddle board instructor Katie Fitzgerald strikes the “Warrior” position during her class on Lake Coeur d’Alene in this file photo from 2013. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

BOISE – Yoga enthusiasts were aghast when state officials in Idaho and Washington suggested yoga teacher training should be regulated just like for-profit vocational schools that train students in truck driving, power-line repair or welding.

“Yoga teacher training is really where people would go to deepen their practice in a group setting,” said Barb Dobberthien, executive director of the Yoga Alliance, a group that represents 80,000 members around the world, most of them in the United States. “It’s really about taking their practice of yoga further – very few people make a real living, earning a living wage, at teaching yoga.”

Despite its members’ calm mien, the yoga group is vigilant about regulatory incursions into their search for balance, flexibility and relaxation. The alliance has hired lobbyists in both states, and legislation is advancing in both states’ legislatures to exempt yoga instruction from the type of state registration requirements applied to “proprietary schools” like the Pooch Parlor Pet Grooming Academy in Ponderay or the Sage Technical Services Truck Driving School in Coeur d’Alene.

Dobberthien said most of the people running yoga businesses aren’t really about business. “They love yoga, and they want to share yoga with people,” she said.

Blake Youde, spokesman for the Idaho State Board of Education, which oversees the state’s proprietary schools registry, said some yoga studios have advertised courses that allow students to become a certified yoga instructor. The proprietary schools law covers for-profit education that “actually certifies you to do something,” he said.

Dobberthien won’t go so far as to say there’s no such thing as a certified yoga instructor. She did say, however, that she’s been unable to find the advertising in question. “We don’t certify anyone,” she said, instead maintaining a “voluntary registry” of members.

She compared standards for yoga instructors with those for martial arts, where students progress through ranks until they achieve a black belt and are recognized as being eligible to teach others. “This is much like that,” Dobberthien said. “You are recognized by the community as being able to share your knowledge with others.”

In multiple states in recent years, the Yoga Alliance has pushed back – gently – against state efforts to regulate its instructors as vocational schools. “We believe it’s an expensive and burdensome regulation that’s really not necessary – it’s not adding anything to the protection of consumers,” Dobberthien said. Rather than being comparable to vocational, technical or professional training, she said, yoga is more recreational in nature.

“We believe it should be exempt from regulation,” she said.

Youde, of the Idaho State Board of Education, said the board is neutral on the issue. “Whatever the statute is at the end of the legislative session, we’ll follow,” he said.

The Idaho bill, introduced on Thursday by unanimous vote of the House Education Committee, adds yoga instruction or practice to a list of exemptions from Idaho’s proprietary schools registration law that already includes, among others, workshops or seminars of three days or less; free courses offered by an employer to its employees; and bar exam review courses.

Similar legislation in Washington has cleared a Senate committee and is awaiting a vote in the full Senate, while a companion measure is awaiting consideration in a House committee.

In the past three years, the Yoga Alliance has persuaded seven state legislatures to enact legislation to ward off what it views as inappropriate regulation of yoga instruction. Dobberthien, invoking a metaphor better suited to the noise of a baseball stadium than the soothing quiet of a yoga studio, said, “We’re batting a thousand.”



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