In parks and open spaces in cities across the U.S. each morning, it's easy to fine people stretching and reaching and posing in the blissful serenity of outdoor yoga. But as serene as it may seem, that downward-facing dog pose could be illegal.
Yoga or "boot camp" or any other paid fitness class taking place in a public park is a criminal activity, according to D.C. Council member Tommy Wells. He argues that these classes are making money from participants and are therefore a violation of a city law prohibiting private companies from conducting commercial activity at parks.
"There's two ways to look at this," Wells recently told WAMU. "One way is you're providing a service. It's great you are offering something otherwise not being offered for people to get fit and healthy. The other way to look at it is you are making money, and shouldn't you share some of that revenue with the government?"
Wells isn't trying to kill yoga in the park, but rather to make sure that the city can get a piece of its success. He's proposing new regulations that would require trainers or yoga instructors to apply for permits to conduct their classes in public parks, paying a fee or a certain percentage of their revenue to the city.
Other cities should be paying attention. It's increasingly common to see fitness classes taking place in parks. Donation-based yoga is a good way for yoga instructors to build a clientele, and the public nature of city parks means the space is free to use, as opposed to the expense of renting studio space. Military-style fitness programs known as boot camps also take advantage of public park space, as instructors bark orders and exercisers sweat through pushups.
The District of Columbia isn't the first to take issue with these sorts of classes. The city of Irvine, California, has boot camp requirements, charging organizers who run them on city property a $26 hourly fee and a $200 deposit. Chicago requires a special event permit for any fitness or yoga classes in the city's parks. The San Diego suburb of San Marcos cracked down on boot camps back in 2009, requiring that any classes using parks apply for a permit and pay a usage fee. But rather than seeking a cut of the revenue, San Marcos officials were mainly concerned about the city's liability for any injuries that might occur. The city now requires any boot camps classes to carry their own insurance.
It may not be the end of yoga in the park, but as more cities begin to see these activities taking place on public properties, more will likely have to pay closer regulatory attention to them – for reasons both financial and legal.
Photo courtesy lululemon athletica