During this past legislative session, legislators found themselves in all kinds of contorted positions as they considered a proposal to deregulate yoga instructors — a proposal that would impact bhavan-collective, the yoga studio that Tonia Crosby had opened in the Cole neighborhood last July.
The Division of Private Occupational Schools — a branch of the state Department of Higher Education — is charged by statute with “regulating schools that provide occupational training for any occupation you could imagine,” says DPOS Deputy Director Mary Kanaly. “We regulate over 370 schools in Colorado. It could be anything from cosmetology programs to truck-driving and dog-grooming schools.” And for many years, that included yoga teacher-training programs.
Last November, DPOS received an inquiry from a yoga teacher about several yoga teacher-training programs that weren’t registered with the state. Technically, yoga teacher-training programs fell under DPOS’s authority and were supposed to be registered — but of the dozens of yoga teacher-training programs in Colorado, only six were registered. So in December, DPOS sent questionnaires to about eighty yoga facilities, indicating that it planned to step up its oversight of yoga teacher-training programs. And in January, DPOS placed a two-month hold on all new and pending yoga teacher-training school applications while it investigated the issue.
Submitting an application for a new school costs $1,750; after that, DPOS-regulated schools must renew their licenses every three years for another $1,500 and undergo quarterly assessments costing a few dollars per enrolled student. Those are hefty fees for small yoga studios, and some yoga teachers and studio owners questioned the need for oversight at all. Not only did the state have no business regulating yoga, they argued, but those licensing fees would be cost-prohibitive — especially for small-business owners struggling to make ends meet. Crosby, for example, says placing yoga teacher-training programs under DPOS’s watch “made it so studios like mine would never be able to afford to pay fees to offer trainings.”
Advocates for deregulation gathered at a DPOS board meeting in March, where they said that most yoga instructors can’t make a living teaching yoga — and that therefore, teaching yoga isn’t even a part-time occupation. The argument was a little shaky, seeing as how the term “occupation” isn’t defined by gainful employment and “yoga teacher” is recognized as an occupation by the federal government. (“When yoga teachers file their income tax, there’s an occupation code for them,” Kanaly explains.)
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Still, Colorado yoga instructors were joined by folks from the national Yoga Alliance in supporting Senate Bill 186, which Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law on April 16. The new law, effective immediately, exempted yoga teacher-training programs from DPOS oversight. “Basically, those programs no longer fall under our jurisdiction,” says Kanaly. “We didn’t oppose or support the complaint or subsequent legislation; we’re just here to enforce what the legislature puts into effect."
Although Crosby supported taking away the DPOS’s authority over teacher training, she still wonders if some regulation might be in order. “We are kicking out yoga instructors who are totally unprepared to be teaching any sort of meaningful or authentic yoga,” she says.