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Yoga Tax Deduction? Yes, Please.

It’s not news to any of us that yoga’s a de-stresser and all around health enhancer. Now it looks like Congress might be catching up. The PHIT Act (Personal Health Investment Today, pronounced ‘fit”), just reintroduced on March 1, would let yogis pay for up to $1000 worth of classes and equipment through their medical savings accounts, those FSAs and HSAs funded with pre-tax dollars.

Think about it: a discount on a year’s worth of yoga, even your straps and blocks. The ripple effect is likely help out studios as well as yogis, by driving newly motivated students to class.

The group that initiated the bill, PHIT America, is hellbent on decreasing the nation’s costly obesity epidemic. Believing that exercise is a cornerstone of preventive health, and a sedentary lifestyle is Enemy #1, their goal is to get the nation off its collective duff and put a dent in America’s chart-topping rates of chubbiness.

The PHIT Act presents a cash incentive to stay in shape by expanding the definition of medical expenses to include a wide array of fitness and exercise costs. Initially launched in 2006, it's one of the few healthcare legislation initiatives with strong bipartisan support.

Backed by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, the International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association, Gaiam and Nike, among others, the Act didn’t explicitly include yoga fees as a qualifying expense until the Yoga Alliance got involved last year.

“We saw an opportunity and we took it,” says YA COO Barbara Dobberthien. “Some folks brought cash to the table. We brought our 81,000 members. Active yogis are really loud. When they’re passionate about an issue, they roar.”

YA will be amping up the volume, spreading news on how to support the bill on social media (@yogaalliance, #passPHIT) and joining PHIT partners like the National Parks and Recreation Association and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America in Washington D.C. for the 18th annual Health Through Fitness Day on March 22 (#PHITday17), where they'll lobby Congress to pass the PHIT Act.

Integral Yoga New York, whose president, Swami Asokananda is on the board of Yoga Alliance, is also using its social platforms to keep the yoga community informed. “It would be advantageous to yoga teachers and schools,” says Chandra Jo Sgammato, general manager of IYNY, “if people were supported in their efforts to be fit and do more exercise.”

To learn more about the benefits of the Act and how you’d be able to offset the costs of everything from teacher trainings to straps, check out YogaAlliance’s handy rundown. A link near the end will take you to the PHIT site, where entering your zip code will pull up an email form for you to send to your very own congressional representative.

When everything else related to health insurance and Obamacare/the Affordable Care Act is fraught with confusion and divisiveness, the PHIT Act aims to be a positive unifier. “In the long run,” says YA’s Dobberthien, “if someone’s staying out of the health care system because they’re staying healthier because they’re more active, it’s a win for all of us.” Ohm to that.

-- Margot Dougherty

--illustration, Sharon Watts

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