Legislating Yoga

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The more you do yoga, the more you realize it's as much a spiritual practice as a physical one. That's why a new law in Utah lumping yoga with aerobics and Pilates is both baffling and disturbing to local yoga teachers. Called the Consumer Protection Amendments, the act claims that yoga primarily helps customers "improve their physical condition or appearance through change in weight, weight control, treatment, dieting." It requires studio owners to invest in consumer protection plans that guarantee customers a refund for prepaid yoga classes if the studio folds.

"We don't sell better bodies," says Leslie Salmon, owner of the Yoga Center in Salt Lake City. "We sell a better way of life." While yoga teachers say they aren't against consumer protection, they argue that the law mislabels yoga and could keep Utah's small yoga community from expanding by making it too expensive for teachers to own studios. "We'll have to try to change the law when the legislature meets again next year," Salmon says.

Adam Ballenger, the new owner of Yoga Space Studio in Salt Lake City, says the law could put him out of business; he is challenging it through a formal rebuttal process and is refusing to comply in the meantime. "This is a gross example of the state falsely defining yoga," says Ballenger, an Anusara teacher. "Even if you remove the spiritual aspects of yoga, what we teach is more like dance or martial arts." (The law does not apply to dance and martial arts studios.)
Ballenger says he would comply with a law that required studios to inform customers whether their bulk classes are insured or not, so students could make informed choices, but to comply with the new law he would have to dish out an extra $9,000 to $10,000 per year, or refuse his students the right to buy discount classes in bulk. Either option, Ballenger says, would force him to raise prices and could put him out of business.

Ballenger will find out in the next few months if his rebuttal is accepted . "I don't see how I can't win," he says. Utah Rep. Sheryl L. Allen, who sponsored the amendments, and officials from the Utah Department of Commerce, Consumer Protection Division, did not respond to questions from Yoga Journal.