Virginia Regulations Tie Yoga Teacher-Trainers in Knots

February 1, 2010

Entrepreneurs are the backbone of our economy. They come up with new ideas, take chances, create jobs and improve everyone’s standard of living. In these tough economic times, states should encourage entrepreneurs, not put stumbling blocks in their way. But that is precisely what has happened to some small business owners in Virginia.

Julia Kalish, Suzanne Leitner-Wise and Beverly Brown are all yoga devotees who have spent years mastering the art. In fact, they are so proficient at yoga that they teach the discipline to others, including people who want to someday become yoga teachers themselves.

And that is where the problem begins: In Virginia, you don’t need a license to practice yoga, and you don’t need a license to teach yoga. But, incredibly, Virginia demands that you obtain its permission before you teach someone how to teach yoga.


According to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, anyone who offers “vocational” training has to first get a government-issued license.

Yoga teacher-training programs have been running in Virginia for years without any complaints. The Commonwealth’s sudden interest in regulation came when an agency bureaucrat learned about the programs and realized that, because they taught a marketable skill, they qualified under the statute. This push for regulation for its own sake is completely contrary to America’s tradition of individual freedom and limited government.

The practical consequences of Virginia’s regulatory scheme are daunting. Yoga-instructor schools must pay a $2,500 application fee and a yearly renewal fee of anywhere between $500 and $2,500. In addition, they must prepare and file a mountain of financial records and other administrative documents. And schools must submit their curricula to Virginia bureaucrats—none of whom (it is safe to bet) know anything about yoga—who will pass judgment on whether it is of sufficient “quality.” If a person dares to teach others how to teach yoga without first registering, she will face thousands of dollars in fines and up to one year in jail.

These obstacles would severely burden any small business, but for yoga-instructor programs, which rarely teach more than a few students each year, these regulations amount to a death sentence. Suzanne Leitner-Wise, owner of an Alexandria-based yoga-training program, said, “If I had to comply with the Virginia regulations, then I wouldn’t be able to continue.”

Indeed, many yoga-instructor schools in Virginia and other states have been forced to shut their doors as a result of such regulatory pressure.

Suzanne, Julia and Beverly have joined forces with the Institute for Justice to challenge these pointless and burdensome regulations. The First Amendment protects the right of individuals to speak and to listen to speakers of their choice. That means that just as Virginia cannot require writers to ask for permission before publishing a book, it cannot demand that our clients seek its approval before talking with others about yoga instruction. By striking down these arbitrary barriers, the Institute for Justice will help protect economic liberty and ensure that our clients—and innumerable others across Virginia—remain free to chart their own destinies and create their own success.

Robert Frommer is an IJ staff attorney.

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Virginia Regulations Tie Yoga Teacher-Trainers in Knots

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IJ’s Constitutional Law Fellowships: Harnessing Young Legal Talent in the Fight for Liberty

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