Yoga Class Tax

The possibility has been brewing for a while, and as the yoga industry continues to expand, even Uncle Sam wants a cut.  In Missouri, yoga studios are now required to pay sales tax on classes and services beginning November 1.  This after the decision that yoga studios and classes fall under a state law mandating that places of "amusement, entertainment or recreation, games and athletic events" are subject to sales tax.  Yoga teachers are riled by the fact that yoga classes fall under any of these categories, and are paying the taxes “under protest.”  

This situation is sticky when it comes to the spiritual vs. non-sectarian debate that is forever raging in the yoga world.  Teachers and studio owners in Missouri are disagreeing with the characterization of yoga as entertainment, amusement, or even athletic.  Studio owner Cathleen Williams says, “Whoever categorized it doesn’t understand what yoga is.”

While this is mostly likely the case, there is still an understanding that yoga studios are a business.  While the teachers and or owners may have a strong understanding of yoga philosophy and ethics and even try to impart that understanding to their students, students may not be attending the classes for this reason.  Many of the modern day yoga “experimenters” are simply looking for a good workout or a way to relieve stress, and are uninterested or even offended by the inclusion of yoga’s spiritual core in asana classes.

This law and this practice are far from black and white issues.  Some asana classes are strictly physical and fall more under the category of a physical fitness or athletic events, while others work hard to bring the heart of the practice into the studio.  In some asana classes, the practice of physical asanas is supplemental to the more spiritual aspects of the practice.  So how do you generalize such a large range of experiences?

Hindu clergyman Rajan Zed emphasized that the Yoga is part of the six systems of Hindu philosophy whose practice is outlined in several major religious scriptures. "I still think it’s a spiritual practice, yoga," he said. "It doesn’t matter, the campus where it’s held.”  But what does this distinction mean for all of the studios and teachers who work so hard to delineate the practice as separate from any religious affiliation?

Does this mean that in order to be correctly classified, western Yoga will finally have to “come out of the closet” and start to more fully embrace the aspects of religion that are contained within it, or undergo the complete antithesis and move toward a completely secular experience that is simply a physical practice without any spiritual basis?

Maybe the solution lies in the tendency to group spirituality with religion in the eyes of the state and federal government.  Rather than morph our experience of Yoga into an either or category, maybe a whole new classification of business should be created to encompass spiritual practices and arts like yoga, meditation, tai chi, and even martial arts that has its own set of rules and regulations as deemed appropriate for its definition.  After all, this practice is difficult to define in black and white terms as it has crossed cultural and religious boundaries, and exists as a gray area of understanding meant to elevate our own personal experience, however we choose to define it.

Should Yoga studios be subject to state sales tax laws? What do you think?

Comments 3

  1. After reading your article, one could not possibly disagree with you on the fact that Yoga is not just black and white. There is definetly a “grey middle” in which most people dwell; the area in which they are getting interested and involved in Yoga not neccesarily to practice it as a means of reaching personal growth by means of spiruality, but partaking in it to recieve a great workout or as a way to help them deal with the tension they face in their everyday life. Personally, I do believe that Yoga is more than the above. However, to answer your question I do believe that Yoga studios should be taxed. Like I stated before, I do not consider Yoga class to be a place where I go for “amusement, entertainment, or recreation…” On the contrary, in the short time I have been practicing Yoga, not only have I seen physical results (the asthetics of Yoga if you will), but I have also started to admire and respect the practice, dicipline, and the knowledge that comes with it as well. I have also felt the difference, noticing that when it is done, I feel a little bit more at peace with myself and the day that lay ahead. Now, this could be because I just attempted to do a headstand and all the blood is rushing to my head. But I like to take the other route and ask myself the question…”What if is is something else, something that I was not even aware of?” This all being said, that does not mean that a person or establishment should be exempt from paying the taxes that so many others have to pay. For example, what about a college professor who is helping hundreds of students a day perhaps reach enlightment or some other epiphany by teaching their class? They are getting taxed for their services and they are also teachers helping others open and expand their mind. Granted, I know that this is in a completely different way than Yoga. The point I guess I am trying to make is, do they not share a common unique thread? Unfortunately, because of the “grey middle,” and because of so many people in the world, spiritual practices (like Yoga)and just religions in general have turned into money making businesses. I believe where their is profit being made, whether it be from helping someone reach enlightenment, or by helping someone start to love their body, then a little but of mula should be paid.

  2. Well, there are many things that make more mullah than Yoga studios that are not taxed. I personally would qualify the consumption of my chocolate candy as an amusement. It certainly serves minimal health benefits. As far as Yoga is concerned, I would like to see our new health care reform including the likes of Yoga in addressing PREventative healthcare. A common sense hand in hand component to medicine. Give us a chance at constructive health maintenance prior to expending life savings on medicine; which may never be needed for self imposes diseases like diabetes. And as far as I know (at least here in California, chocolate candy nor medical treatments are taxed.

  3. beat the tax its simple call your yoga studio a church. come out of the closet any true yoga knows its a spiritual practice any way. and is far more spiritual than many so called hyped up money grubbing fear based religions and is due the same tax break. look at all the rodeo arenas owners across Texas that call them selves cow boy churches what do you think that’s about

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