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The Yoga Tax: Teachers and studio owners speak out


Kula yoga
Kula Yoga has been at the forefront of the movement to prevent taxation and regulation

 

After reporting on the taxes and regulations that yoga studios may soon be subject to, we decided to take the pulse of the community on the issues and see how they’re sitting.

What are some of the New York yoga scene’s most influential studio owners and instructors thinking about the taxation of studios and yogis being classified as employees?

What follows are their selected (and often insightful and passionate) remarks. Some chose to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic.

Add your voice to the conversation in the Comments section, below!

ON THE SALES TAX

Nikki Vilella
Nikki Vilella of Kula

Taxing studios, which are already feeling the hit of our current economic crisis, threatens the heart of many communities. If students start to drop out because of cost increases, not only do studios suffer, but students suffer, and the community suffers. It is important to the city that we have stress-relieving activities and outlets that are affordable to all levels of income and are GOOD for our society! —Nikki Vilella, co-owner, Kula Williamsburg

Personally, I think that all activities that promote health and wellness in New York shouldn’t be taxed. When people engage in practices that promote physical and mental health, all of New York benefits because health care and long-term disability expenses go down and people miss work less. In these times of hardship, people need yoga, not a penalty for taking care of themselves.  —Amy Quinn-Suplina, owner of Bend & Bloom

I don’t support the sales tax on yoga. But yoga studio owners can’t be surprised that this happening. They should have anticipated it 5 or 6 years ago. Any industry that generates billion of dollars a year—they have to assume that the state will come after that. Is it going to put some people out of business? Yes. But just like restaurants, you can’t just start serving food out of your front door—there’s licensing and taxes and regulation that comes with it. —Experienced yoga instructor who currently teaches at two of Manhattan’s largest studios

ON TEACHERS BEING CLASSIFIED AS EMPLOYEES

The thing is, we’ve all chosen to do this for a living. If we valued insurance, retirement plans, paid sick days, and vacations over the work we do, we’d quit and go work for some miserable agency with good benefits like the New York State Department of Taxation or something. —Manhattan/Brooklyn teacher with almost 10 years of experience and a following

In part, it’s the state not understanding what this industry is like. But also, many of the people teaching happily under these laws are very young and haven’t had a 9-to-5 job with benefits. They don’t understand what the difference is, and the safety that benefits allow. I would totally pay for a $35 yoga class if I knew my instructor was getting benefits and getting their taxes paid, instead of this idea that it’s okay to have a $12 class. Why is it okay? It’s a valuable service, and the instructor should be valued as part of that.” —Cadence Dubus, owner of Brooklyn Strength and Kula student

Anya Porter
Anya Porter of Breakti

I have been very fortunate in my situation, and I do think overall my independent contractor status is helpful. I teach at both larger and smaller studios and enjoy the qualities that both possess. But most importantly I have freedom; freedom to take leave to study from time to time, freedom to explore the depths of practice and what is inspiring me with my students, a lot of freedom overall. This work is not easy, nor is the reality of living in New York as a yoga teacher. But I can place a sure bet that most teachers you meet will tell you the benefits far outweigh the hardships.  —Anya Porter, creator of Breakti

Yoga teachers need revenue from a number of sources to make a living. These sources include working at multiple studios, teaching private and corporate clients, workshops, and leading retreats. Being a full-time employee could compromise a teacher’s ability to draw on those different sources and could make making a living much more difficult, if not impossible. —Summer Shirey, yoga instructor at Prema Yoga, Kula, and Bend & Bloom

Becoming an employee is a beneficial thing for working teachers. To have flexibility in your schedule is one thing, to have health insurance is another. I’m going to err on the side of health insurance. And there’s no paid time off. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a yoga teachers union, but I think that’s where this should go. —Experienced yoga instructor who currently teaches at two of Manhattan’s largest studios