ST. LOUIS — Yoga practitioners are criticizing a Missouri sales tax that applies to yoga classes, claiming they should be exempt because the lessons include spiritual elements.
A Missouri Department of Revenue official sent letters to 140 yoga and Pilates centers on Oct. 13, telling them they must collect sales tax on the fees for their classes and services and pay them beginning Nov. 1, if they weren’t already.
The sales tax on money paid to places of “amusement, entertainment or recreation, games and athletic events” isn’t new, said revenue spokesman Ted Farnen. He said the letters were sent so the businesses would know that yoga centers offer the same types of fitness services that the Missouri Supreme Court has found taxable.
The state gets about 4 percent sales tax; local communities charge sales tax on top of that, though the amount varies.
But the tax took many Missouri yoga instructors by surprise. They’re bristling at the notion that the ancient practice could be construed as recreation or entertainment. “Whoever categorized it doesn’t understand what yoga is,” said Cathleen Williams, the owner of Urban Breath Yoga in St. Louis.
Practitioners such as Linda Lutz, director of Elm Street Yoga, said yoga is not recreation.
“A lot of medical research articles show that (the style of yoga I teach, Iyangar yoga,) is used frequently with physical and emotional problems,” Lutz said. “I am a little miffed that we are considered a recreational endeavor.”
Some practitioners think such a tax is unconstitutional. They argue that yoga, with roots in ancient Indian meditation, is as much a spiritual practice as an exercise routine and should be exempt from taxation.
Yoga is a series of exercises and postures (asanas) which are advertised as a way to tone up, reduce stress and experience tranquility.
Yoga though is an intrinsic part of Hinduism. Swami Vishnudevananda, well known authority of Yoga, in his book The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga explains the purpose of Yoga, “It is the duty of each developed man to train his body to the highest degree of perfection so that it may be used to pursue spiritual purposes… the aim of all yoga practice is to achieve truth wherein the individual soul identifies itself with the supreme soul of God.” – Source: Yoga, a Profile by Watchman Fellowship