Yoga teachers bent on no regulations

Workers take a yoga class at the American Apparel garment factory in Los Angeles.

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Kai Ryssdal: I'm a day late on this one, but welcome to National Yoga Awareness Month everybody. You may not need a reminder that yoga is a $6-billion industry in this country. Maybe you're one of the 16 million Americans with a yoga mat tucked under your desk.

For the rest of us, it's worth noting that yoga has become an exercise in very big business. And with that comes something that leaves many devotees in a twist: A growing number of states are trying to regulate the yoga industry. Lisa Napoli reports.


LISA NAPOLI: Becca Hewes fell in love with yoga eight years ago. Now, she runs her own studio in Oklahoma. Hewes says there used to be one path to get to teach yoga.

BECCA Hewes: Years ago you would have had to have worked with your guru or your teacher for many, many years until they finally told you, OK, you're ready now.

Today, if you want to make yoga your profession, you pay to take a teacher training class. Courses can last from a few days to a few weeks, and cover topics from anatomy to meditation.

Here in California's Pacific Palisades, a few dozen would-be instructors are huddled over thick textbooks. They're analyzing illustrations of yoga poses. This 200-hour course costs over $3,000.

Mark Davis is president of the nonprofit group Yoga Alliance, which is based in Arlington, Va.

Davis says the Alliance has been trying to professionalize the business of yoga for 10 years.

Mark Davis: There was concern that there were people out there charging a lot of money, students were getting hurt because of inappropriate training of the teachers...

Now, educational laws that have been on the books for decades are being used to clamp down on yoga teacher training schools. About a dozen states have started scrutinizing curriculum, and imposing licensing fees. Wisconsin was among the first.

Pat Sweeney is with the state's Educational Approval Board.

Pat Sweeney: We want to make sure if somebody signs up to go to a school that the program is good, and they get their money's worth.

Sweeney says his job isn't to regulate yoga. It's to make sure the schools are legit.

Sweeney: What happens if somebody doesn't show up, what happens if somebody drops out after the second week, how much of a refund do they get? We want all of those things spelled out.

The same kinds of regulations that govern other vocational schools, like those that teach pet grooming and truck driving. Fees for licensing vary state by state, from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.

Yoga teacher Becca Hewes paid $1,200 to get licensed by Oklahoma. She says many of her fellow yogis around the nation have been balking at not just the cost of licensing, but at the very idea of interference.

Hewes: Yoga is supposed to be about peace and love and everyone getting along. Right? We don't need rules, we don't need the government.

And yet governments are stretching their reach ever more into yoga. Earlier this year, yoga studios in Michigan were given a week to undergo state certification.

And in New York, the state tried to shut down 80 yoga teacher-training programs. The New York effort's been pushed back for now. But those who watch the industry say regulation of yoga across the country is inevitable.

In Los Angeles, I'm Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.

About the author

In more then twenty years in journalism, Lisa Napoli has managed to work for almost every major

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