JEFFERSON CITY | Is yoga karmic or commercial?
Missouri insists that it’s the latter and therefore should be taxed.
The Department of Revenue on Sunday began enforcing collection of a 4-percent tax on yoga and Pilates classes, upsetting instructors and studios who contend their practices transcend mere recreation.
And yoga practitioners aren’t taking the change lying down — or even in the corpse pose.
“This is a couple people up in a room somewhere far away from yoga classes making arbitrary decisions so the state can make more money,” said Debbie Borel, studio director at The Yoga Barn in south Kansas City. “It’s inappropriate.”
State officials said the classes, which are rooted in Eastern religions but abound in fitness centers and commercial studios, are subject to a sales tax on places of “amusement, entertainment or recreation.”
“It was not because of the state’s revenue situation,” said Ted Farnen, a Revenue Department spokesman. “It was based on the fact that we wanted to apply this tax in a fair and even way.”
Revenue officials argue that a 2008 state Supreme Court ruling upholds the tax’s applicability to services provided at fitness facilities.
But yoga practitioners maintain that the spiritual component of their classes may afford them First Amendment protections from taxation.
“The practice of yoga in a studio setting is a spiritual practice, and is not done for entertainment,” said Michael Shabsin, a St. Louis-area lawyer and yoga instructor.
Shabsin said he is leading an effort to clarify the legal definition for places of amusement, entertainment or recreation and exclude yoga-specific studios. That effort could include legislative proposals and lobbying, he said.
Farnen said in a statement that the Revenue Department would consider religious exemptions to the tax on a case-by-case basis.