Tax Department to Yogis: We'll Be Flexible

The city tells the yoga community they won't be taxed unless they’re trying to get fit. Seriously.

Washington yogis have received official word: No sales tax will mar their pursuit of contentment and ease—that is, unless they're really just looking for some tight buns. Then sales tax will apply.That was the essence of the verdict last week, as the state Department of Revenue issued an Excise Tax Advisory [PDF] about yoga. As we have reported ("Stretching Dollars," Nov. 26), the DOR has been grappling recently with where yoga falls in our state law's somewhat bizarre distinction between "physical fitness services" and "instructional lessons." The first category is subject to sales tax, the second is not.After briefly threatening to impose the tax on yoga studios, DOR has since determined that physical fitness is only "a secondary or incidental benefit" of yoga and "not typically the primary focus." Instead, the classes "emphasize significant breath regulation and meditation components as well as significant discussion of the historical and philosophical origins of Yoga." As a result, auditors are going to presume that yoga studios aren't subject to the tax from now on.By contrast, the Department says that when yoga classes are offered by fitness clubs, gyms, and the like, it will assume the opposite. Those classes will be taxed because, like other gym activities, they're primarily about physical fitness. What's the difference? Well, the guy who works in the weight room may show you how to use the squat rack, or the Step Aerobics teacher might demonstrate a few new moves. But teaching is not the main focus of the facility (even if the weight guy also provides lessons in his "philosophy" of positive thinking).That all make sense? Good, then you have a bright future as an auditor.The ruling may perplex the many yoga teachers who teach identical classes at yoga studios and health clubs. It also could give pause to those yoga studios, such as Slobody in downtown Seattle, that cater to people who don't want any of that namby-pamby Eastern stuff and just want to buff up their butt.Slobody's slogan? "No incense. No chanting. No nonsense." Perhaps they'll have to add: "No tax break"?

 
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