State senate says yoga regulation stretches too far

Senate proposal would ban requiring yoga teacher registration

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

A bill that would prohibit the state of Illinois from regulating yoga teacher training programs in the state passed the state senate by a vote of 53-0 last week and is now under consideration by the state House of Representatives.

State Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) sponsored the bill in the state Senate after hearing concerns from people in the yoga community that the Illinois Board of Higher Education has started requiring yoga schools that train yoga teachers to register with the state and pay fees to operate in Illinois.

Harmon says such regulation is not needed.

"Yoga has been taught for thousands of years," Harmon said. "I don't see the need to intrude with regulation now."

Harmon's bill would prohibit the state from regulating "a school or program within a school that exclusively provides yoga instruction, yoga teacher training, or both."

"I wanted to clarify the law to continue the exemption from regulation for yoga teachers and teacher training programs," Harmon said. "Over-regulation of yoga training disproportionally would impact small, women-owned businesses and advantage large chain fitness clubs. That's not good for business in Illinois."

The Illinois Board of Higher Education has the responsibility, set by state statute, to regulate post-high school education and vocational training in Illinois, said James Applegate, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Applegate said his board does not want to regulate yoga teachers but merely wants to make sure that yoga teacher training programs deliver what they promise. He said his board is acting to protect consumers and students by monitoring things such as financial stability, refund policies, and enrollment plans.

"Our responsibility is to review the programs to ensure that they are adequately serving the students and protect the students," Applegate said. "We do not certify yoga instructors or teachers or anyone. That's the role of the program. … We're just trying to make sure the school that you're giving your money to is legitimate and has the capacity to give you what they're promising."

Diana Shea, the director of the Yoga Center in Oak Park, says the Yoga Alliance, a not-for-profit trade association, does a good job of monitoring yoga teacher training programs with a registration program that mandates certain standards. A yoga teacher must undergo at least 200 hours of training to become a registered teacher recognized by the Yoga Alliance.

Shea supports Harmon's bill.

"We support his position on that issue," she said. "As a yoga studio, we self-regulate by making sure that our teachers have the highest quality training possible."

Kerry Maiorca, a member of the board of the Yoga Alliance and owner of a yoga studio in Chicago, said that, because most yoga teacher training programs are small, state regulation would be costly and burdensome.

"It would make it very difficult for the average yoga school to be able to stay in business because the costs are very high and the requirements are burdensome, considering the fact that for most of the teachers who come to these programs it's not a career, it's not a vocation that they pursue full time," Maiorca said. "It is something that they pursue part time."

Tom Wilkens, a yoga instructor at Dancing Cranes Yoga and Message in Riverside, says state regulation is not needed. 

"I don't want to have the state involved in telling me how to teach," said Wilkens who became a yoga teacher in 1998 and leads some yoga classes in Oak Park.  

Wilkens' wife, also a yoga teacher, went through a certification process in the state of Texas and Wilkens said it just involved a lot of paperwork and paying fees. Wilkens said he believes the state is moving to regulate yoga teacher training schools simply as a way to raise revenue. 

State Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) supports Harmon's bill.

"My sense is that yoga is something that when left to its own devices is perfectly safe," said Zalewski. "I'm with Don that there's no need to intervene on that."

Harmon said he was pleased that his bill passed the Senate without a single vote against it and that Republicans supported his bill even though the push to regulate yoga teacher training schools is coming from a board now under the control of Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. Harmon said Republicans should be inclined to support his bill, which aims to reduce regulation.

"It's a very Republican bill in many ways," said Harmon, who recently took his first yoga class at CrossFit Spero in Oak Park.

"I was pretty impressed with it," he said.

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