(Photo of Russell Simmons via PerezHilton.com, natch)
Earlier this month, a great cry of anguish went up among the otherwise tranquil and impassive practitioners of yoga, when they learned that the State Department of Revenue was going to start levying a sales tax on yoga classes. Can you imagine? Putting a sales tax on yoga--as if it were just something you consumed, rather than something you embraced, internalized, and embodied? These bureaucrats clearly were not carrying yoga's lessons with them "off the mat," as we yogis like to say.
Thankfully, however, the state tax assessors have, like a dewy-eyed student floating up to his first headstand, discovered a new level of enlightenment. After a barrage of negative publicity, and a "stakeholders meeting" on Wednesday with representatives from dozens of local yoga studios (including Hot Yoga of Laurelhurst, a place I must try), the Department of Revenue says it's planning to back off its earlier enforcement plan.
That will be a great relief to several yoga emporiums, which had recently been informed that they could owe three years' worth of back taxes because they were in the business of offering "physical fitness" (which is subject to sales tax), rather than general "instruction" (which isn't). Most other studios had started charging the tax as of Nov. 1.
"This was a case of an auditor going out and doing his job, applying the law as the Department interpreted it," says DOR spokesperson Mike Gowrylow*. But DOR has now decided to interpret the law another way. "In the process of talking to instructors," he says "we learned a lot about yoga. It's more of a meditative stretching kind of thing, and not primarily about physical fitness."
No doubt Russell Simmons (seen above) would agree.
*[Note: the quote from Mr. Gowrylow has been edited since the original posting to clarify his meaning.]