A Washington yoga studio is using a religious exemption to stay open amid gym shutdown orders, claiming the studio's workouts are a 'spiritual practice '

  • The founder of a yoga studio in Washington state is claiming a religious exemption to stay open despite lockdown orders. 
  • Fitness centers have been ordered closed as the state continues battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Hauteyoga founder Leah Zaccaria told "Fox News First" on Tuesday yoga is a "spiritual practice" and shouldn't be lumped in with gyms.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A yoga studio in Washington state is staying open amid state shutdown orders after its founder claimed it has a religious exemption.

In a Tuesday appearance on "Fox & Friends First," Hauteyoga founder Leah Zaccaria said she believes yoga should not be considered a physical fitness center or gym.

Zaccaria told the show she has not officially "proclaimed myself a church or a religious organization" in the eyes of the law, but believes the exemption applies to yoga because it is a "spiritual practice" that includes "mind, body, and spirit."

"It is more than a fitness practice," she said on the show. "So when the governor closed down all the fitness centers and gyms, I had a really hard time that I was put under the umbrella of a gym because I believe I am much more than that."

The state's COVID-19 guidance orders fitness centers and gyms to remain closed for indoor service until January 11, but indoor religious services are allowed at a reduced capacity.

The state's Department of Health didn't immediately return Insider's request for comment on the classification. 

Despite the state order, Zaccaria announced in a December email obtained by Insider that her studio in Seattle's Queen Anne neighborhood and its sister studio, Shefayoga Roosevelt, will be open for classes.

In the email, Zaccaria said, "We have chosen to be a light in the darkness" and continue to operate during the shutdown, while also announcing that a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19.

"While we have decided to keep going, we are taking a slight pause," she said in the email. "One of our teachers has received a positive covid test after being asymptomatic but getting tested in order to be with family for the Thanksgiving holiday. As a precaution, we have decided to close hauteyoga until Tuesday, December 8th effective immediately."

After the "pause" the studio reopened. Zaccaria told "Fox & Friends First" that class sizes have since been reduced to six people, who are all socially distanced and wearing masks.

She told the show she credits the "intentions" that members set at the beginning of yoga class as a defining characteristic that makes yoga a more spiritual practice than other fitness activity. 

"You can call them prayers if you will," she said.

A post shared by hauteyoga Queen Anne (@hauteyoga)


She also noted yoga studios are already classified differently than other fitness centers in state retail tax law, which she told the show is a sign the government has "recognized we are more than physical fitness."

Zaccaria said she believes yoga classes at her studio are "more safe than going to the grocery store" and opposed government shutdown orders.

"That, for me, has been really eye-opening in the way of, are we really living true in a free government, in a free country?" she said.

There have been more than 256,000 confirmed cases and 3,482 deaths from the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state.

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