NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. yogis are being asked to regulate more than their breathing -- and they are fighting back.
About 50 yogis gathered in New York recently to discuss hiring a lobbyist and raise funds to fight a state proposal to require certification of yoga teacher training programs -- a move they say would unfairly cost them money.
"It has brought us under one roof," said Fara Marz, who held the gathering at his Om Factory yoga studio in New York. "And this shows that yogis can be vicious, political, together."
Yoga enthusiasts who say autonomy is fundamental to what they do are pitted against state governments eager for a slice of what the Yoga Journal says has become a $6 billion industry with yoga practiced by 16 million Americans.
The fight has underscored the difficulty of regulating yoga studios that have become ubiquitous on Main Streets and in gyms across the country without appearing heavy-handed or infringing on religious freedom.
New York's yoga instructors first attracted the state's attention last spring, when the education department announced training schools could face up to $50,000 fines if they did not submit to state regulation that governs vocational training. After protests from yoga proponents, the education department withdrew its plans.
Perhaps yogis can breathe easily in New York. The state legislature is considering a bill that would exempt them from vocational school certification.
"The message from the community has been loud and clear: get your government hands off my yoga mat," State Senator Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. "Next time, the state will think twice before threatening a practice that brings so much tranquility to New Yorkers."
Meanwhile, in Virginia, yoga training programs are fighting a directive that they submit to oversight.
All 50 U.S. states require vocational schools to meet certification standards and many charge a registration fee for schools to maintain certification. But according to the Yoga Alliance, only 13 states actively enforce those requirements for yoga teacher training programs.
Yogis say their industry does need some regulation but are divided as to whether they can regulate themselves.
"Yoga seems to be popping up on every single street corner and what we're concerned about is that they're teaching good yoga, ethical yoga -- as opposed to, some people are only in it for the money," said Mark Davis of the Yoga Alliance.
The Virginia-based nonprofit group keeps a voluntary yoga school registry and their standards are now the industry benchmark.
"There have been consumer complaints to state agencies because of unethical behavior and there was no recourse because the school wasn't licensed," Davis said.
In New York, many yogis say the state has no business telling people how to practice yoga.
Marz, who also heads an architecture firm, said many yogis were reluctant to form associations and spend money on lobbyists and lawyers.
"Most of the people who open yoga studios, they did it because yoga changed their lives and they want to share it. They don't realize that such an incredible, complete beast is waiting there for them," he said of state regulations.
Editing by Michelle Nichols and Daniel Trotta