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Falls Church Yoga Studios Decry Proposed State Regulation

Yoga instructors across Northern Virginia are stretching into some new position, suddenly needing to advocate against new regulations from Richmond that, they say, threaten to downsize their businesses and cut off thousands of dollars of revenue.

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Cindy Wargo of Sacred Well Yoga in Falls Church. (Photo: News-Press)

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), which has since 2004 certified  massage parlors and other vocational schools where students learn trade skills, sent notices to Virginia’s 25 yoga studios last month, stating that they need to register a license with the state and potentially pay hundreds of dollars in fees each year.

The recent decision has left Falls Church’s yoga studios with a stark choice: pay Richmond or cut teacher instruction, a move that would siphon substantial income from business, said area studio owners.

“With this, there will no longer be teacher training,” said Cindy Wargo, the director of Sacred Well Yoga Studio in downtown Falls Church. “We just simply can’t afford the fees.”

“What the state is doing,” said Wargo, “is hurting small business, and it certainly won’t lead to any more tax revenue.”

The initial fee for certification will be $3,000, plus additional annual fees determined by studio profits, said Kirsten Nelson, SCHEV’s Director of Communications.

According to Nelson, SCHEV inadvertently overlooked yoga studios for licensing when the state had charged the council to regulate vocational schools in 2004.

Nelson said SCHEV’s priority was “purely to protect students from losing their money” and “to ensure [yoga studios] meet at least minimal industry standards.”

Certification will also require yoga studios to be bonded, which means that should a studio close, a student might get partial reimbursement of tuition.

Still, Wargo said the state regulation “is a solution seeking a problem.”

“The yoga industry is already self-regulating,” Wargo continued. “The Yoga Alliance certifies yoga studios nationwide and keeps up records and standards across the board.”

She added, “If Virginia’s looking for regulation, it’s already there.”

Paula Baake, owner of Falls Church’s Dancing Mind Yoga studio, shared Wargo’s concerns, estimating her own potential loss of between $20 – 40,000 in revenue, if the state licensing plan goes through.

“They want to charge thousands more in fees than we charge in tuition,” Baake explained.

Faced with the fees, however, Baake said the effect would be “highly damaging” and may lead to scraping the yoga teacher instruction program altogether.

“We don’t have the capacity to keep up with all of the paperwork and the fees, they are far too high,” Baake said.

She added that the licensing may also regulate yoga studio practices, warning that “for yoga studios, it is a highly individualized program, to teach students a pose is one aspect, but it is a much larger focus,” Baake said. “We teach them how to live their lives and heighten awareness.

“To regulate an industry, first you need to understand the industry as it already is.”

SCHEV could not comment in detail on the aspects of the licensing program, as several Northern Virginian yoga instructors, represented by the Institute for Justice,” filed a lawsuit early last month to block the new regulation, citing a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

Area State Del. David Bulova, a Democrat, said he intends to introduce legislation during the new session of the General Assembly, which begins Jan. 13, to exempt yoga studios from state regulation.

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