Missouri enforces tax on yoga, Pilates centers

Thursday, November 5, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri is now imposing a 4 percent sales tax on yoga and Pilates class fees, despite concerns from teachers and practitioners that these are spiritual pursuits.

Under the provision, 60 cents would be added to a class that typically costs $15. One lesson a week for a year would add $31.20 to the fee.

The tax stems from an existing statute imposed on “admission and seating accommodations, or fees paid to, or in any place of amusement, entertainment or recreation, games and athletic events.”

The tax is collected on a number of spectator and participatory sports, from baseball and football games to gyms and other health clubs. Commonly, it is added to ticket prices or club dues. The tax was extended to yoga and Pilates classes on Sunday.

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.”

Lutz said she has raised prices on lessons in order to accommodate the tax.

“I’ve started collecting, and then I’ll give a rebate if anything changes,” Lutz said. “I don’t run my business with a very large profit margin. I can’t afford to pay for it and not have the students pick it up.

"I don’t know how much money (the state) thinks they’ll be getting on yoga centers, but I can’t believe it’ll be very much.”

She said she has taught yoga as cardiac rehabilitation in Boone Hospital Wellness Center and believes yoga to be more medical in nature than recreational.

“I have people in my classes with Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, knee, back and neck issues," she said. "Almost everyone comes in with an ache or a pain, and we have to teach to that issue.”

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.

Lutz said when she started teaching in Columbia 18 years ago, she had trouble finding a venue. Many places told her that yoga was “anti-Christian” and couldn’t be taught there.

That “a gym would consider this a spiritual endeavor and not appropriate” was clear evidence that yoga did not fall within the realm of amusement, entertainment or recreation that the tax covers, she said.

Ted Farnen, Missouri Revenue Department spokesman, said the sales tax on services provided by yoga or Pilates centers has long been on the books and was recently clarified by the Missouri Supreme Court in a 2008 case.

An e-mail sent by Farnen also said the department will consider religious exemption issues on a case-by-case basis. He noted that the state was “not seeking retroactive payment of these taxes.”

Washington state dropped a tax on yoga in 2008 after practitioners lobbied in protest. Lutz plans to send a letter to Gov. Jay Nixon and state legislators expressing her concern about the enforcement of a recreational tax on yoga studios.

“Should we pay a tax?” Lutz said. “Honestly I don’t know. Should all medical treatment pay a tax? I don’t want to be unfair. But we’re certainly being misrepresented.”

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