texas hold’em: yoga teachers stand up to govt regulation

After my posts here about the yoga teaching standards conversation in Toronto and the guerrilla mini-conversation in Montreal, I received an email from William J Collins III, a lawyer in Texas. He wanted to tell me how yoga teachers in the second largest US state were taking a gamble on freedom from state regulation.

Up in here in The Great White North, we are getting together to talk about possibilities and hypotheses, but we haven’t been under any sort of external threat. Several US states, including New York and Virginia, have received government pressure to step up and pay the proper fees if they’re training career yoga teachers. Both states fought back.

Willy (as he prefers to be known) and I had a long Skype conversation and he told me the story of the Texas yoga teachers. It’s a story of a community coming together, redefining the concept of teacher training programs, and subtly resisting, while working with, authority. It’s also an interesting reflection on the growing popularity of yoga and how it fits within the professional landscape.

It all started in January 2010, when the Texas Workforce Commission informed studios in Houston and Dallas that if they’re teaching people how to teach yoga, they’re considered a career school and subject to regulation and licensing fees of $3,000 – $5,000 per year. They were given 14 days to comply as a vocational school or seek exemption.

This wasn’t a problem for large corporate studios who were already involved in the process and they had the revenue to pay the fees. Smaller community studios, however, didn’t.

The Houston and Dallas yoga communities mobilized under the leadership of Jennifer Buergermeister, who founded the Texas Yoga Association in 2009, and Vicki Johnson, a Dallas teacher and community leader. Willy, a lawyer who practices regularly at a Houston studio, was brought in to help with legal matters.

The teachers looked into their options: they could pay up, shut down or see if studios could fit into exemptions by registering as an avocation (they based this possibility on a bible studies school in Florida). The group met with government representatives in Austin, the capital of Texas.

They found that they were facing a question of semantics – “teacher training.” They were able to get around that by changing name to “yoga empowerment,” “immersion,” etc.

The TYA decided to take it a couple of steps further and hired a lobbyist to change the bill so yoga could be exempt, just as martial arts and fencing are. They expect to have two senators sponsor the bill, based on the interpretation of career school.

The exemption, known as Section 132.002(3) cites “examples of courses that have been determined to be purely avocational or recreational unless there is evidence to the contrary: dance, music, judo and karate, physical fitness, riding academies, rifle ranges, sewing, knitting, sports or athletics and swimming.”

In a further development, the Texas teachers invited new Yoga Alliance president John Matthews to Houston to meet with teachers in a town hall kind of event. He also met with teachers in Dallas. The Commission had actually accessed the contact info of the Texas studios through the YA registry, so the alliance had some responsibility.

In the past, YA had refused to get involved and wouldn’t lobby on behalf of the Texas yoga studios. But the new president had already been to Virginia to mend fences, and he was committed to doing the same thing in Texas. He promised that the YA would get more involved, the standards and certification would mean something, and he would recommend to the board that the YA become a trade association.

John also suggested that the Texas teachers create a 15 person committee to sign an agreement with YA, to help with legislative efforts, and abide by some form of protocol.  He encouraged the Texas Yoga Association to envision people working together to create best practices.

At the moment, the association is in the process of raising the $30,000 to hire a lobbyist and change the bill. The association is working with the government, but members still consider themselves renegades.

Willy notes the importance of educating people to think beyond the certification process, to be creative with the idea of  “teacher training.” He also sees the importance of developing the relationship with YA, even though it doesn’t presently recognize other forms of deepening a yoga practice besides training as a teacher. And so, the story continues.

  1. My issue with this is that Yoga Teachers are not in fact a ‘vocation’ – as in knitters, sewers, or judo practitioners. They are being trained with the ultimate goal of being yoga teachers – and to teach in studios – with the idea of being paid to do their job. A job they love, but being employed nonetheless. Should they choose to not use their skills in a career way, or for non-monetary manners, that is their choice.
    But it is not the other way around – that the Yoga Teacher Training program’s goal is to provide extra-curricular information to yoga students with teaching as a career the exception.

    That said – I think it’s ridiculous the timeframe the government gave Texas studios. However, I’m also of the opinion that Certification and regulation of Yoga Teachers is a good thing for the profession – and working towards that as a team, as a community, will yield positive and healthy results.

    • hi eco ~ i think you’ve zeroed in on a very interesting point here, and it’s a tension that lies at the centre of this conversation. is teaching yoga a profession, or is it a passtime akin to knitting, sewing, and judo?

      the thing, everyone knows that many yoga studios start teacher training programs to subsidize the business. it’s very hard to run a studio on income generated from just classes, so many studios create TT programs to keep the doors open. when their business is taxed, it threatens their livelihood. so it makes sense that they would seek exemption, and changing the definition of a TT is a way to do it.

      my sense is that of TT grads, there are many more people who go on to never teach than there are people who go on to make a living teaching yoga. if you want to deepen your yoga practice, one of the few ways to do it in north america is to take a TT program.

      i’m still undecided on how i feel about things. really, i wish that there were ways that people could develop their yoga practice and understanding without having to shell out thousands of dollars on TT. i wish that there were more opportunities for informal learning (ie, a yoga free school), accessible classes on philosophy and anatomy. anyway, it’s a complicated and fascinating topic which is going to continue to evolve!

  2. So, “Yoga” is divorced from the Hindu religion. Now, people are free to exercise their egos and make money. Now, the government rightly steps in and taxes and puts regualtions on this exercise stuff, and the spurious yogis/yoginis cry foul. “We are spiritual, blah, blah, blah.” So, which is it? Can you “have your cake and eat it too?”

    Swami Param
    Dharma Yoga Ashram (Classical Yoga Hindu Academy)

Trackbacks for this post

  1. What Do YOU Want from Yoga Alliance? Notes from Meeting with President John Matthews
  2. YogaRose.net Explainer: What does ‘RYT’ after a yoga teacher’s name mean? | YogaRose.net