I close my eyes, press my palms into my mat, and stretch into Downward Dog. Birds twitter overhead and the wind rustles the leaves of nearby apple trees. The family and friends I’ve brought along to this outdoor yoga class are in various states of mindfulness.
My football playing 14-year-old son, Aidan, is doing his best to stretch his calves, but his Downward Dog looks a little more like he’s poised on the 50-yard line. My husband, Jeff, keeps snapping photos with his phone. My 12-year-old daughter, Anya, is sitting quietly in a Lotus pose (more criss, cross, applesauce) in a circle with half a dozen of her sixth-grade besties. They are all fawning over a goat. They’ve even braided its chin hair.
Wait. Goats? Yes. Goats. In goat yoga, the latest (or maybe first-ever) fitness craze to hit the farm, practitioners unfurl mats in a fenced-off field and flow through their yoga poses while a collection of baby goats romps around playfully. The goats, which are very social animals, cozy up to the students, seeking attention. If you’re in a Child’s pose, they might crawl on top of your back. And they’ll probably poop and pee on some mats. (Best to be prepared—and really it’s okay!) “Goats are vegetarian; the poop is no biggie,” says Taber Ward, yoga teacher, environmental lawyer, and cofounder of Mountain Flower Goat Dairy, in Boulder, CO. She’s leading today’s session.
The first goat-yoga class was held on No Regrets Farm in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 2016 after a visiting yoga teacher asked to host a class there. Owner Lainey Morse agreed, but in a moment of epiphany, she insisted that the goats be in on it. After all, research shows that contact with animals such as horses and dogs can offer therapeutic benefits to people. So why not goats? “It’s hard to be depressed when you’re surrounded by baby farm animals!” says Morse. Before long, she had a waiting list 2,400 deep for what she coined “goat yoga.”
Mountain Flower Goat Dairy, one of dozens of farms nationwide that are now hosting these whimsical classes, also sees goats as therapy. Classes often attract students with disabilities or folks who are new to the practice. “Goat yoga is accessible,” says Ward. “It’s less intimidating. It’s easier to lose your ego, to get outside of your own self.”
And looking around me, I see that this proves true. Today, I don’t care that I can’t do a Crow pose. The kids are game to attempt more complex yoga moves, without any frustration. And Jeff, who has never taken a yoga class in his life, is perfectly happy doing Sun Salutations and flicking goat pellets off his mat. (It’s really not as gross as it sounds!) We drop into Warrior Two. “Try to connect with the earth,” says Ward. This seems easy enough, since we can literally feel the grass, rocks, and dirt under our feet. And some of us have a friend at our feet too. The goat who has settled onto the mat of my daughter’s pal is named Schadenfreude. “It’s a word that means ‘taking pleasure in somebody else’s misfortune,’ ” Ward explains. It’s not very yoga-like, but everything today is unexpected.
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As Aidan leans into a Prayer Twist, a goat ambles in for a nuzzle. Transfixed, he looks deeply into the goat’s eyes and ruffles the fur behind its ears. What homework stress? And if you want to talk mommy stress, consider this: Last night, I hosted a sleepover for a gaggle of tweenagers for Anya’s birthday. Imagine the chaos! The girls, who’d giggled into the wee hours, are now mellow and contemplative. Everybody’s blood pressure is down—mine included. I’m sure of it. For us, the class is also a chance to get a dose of nature in an urban setting. After class, we’ll get a tour of the farm and a taste of fresh goat’s milk. But first, Taber tells us to take a deep breath in and hold it. We collectively exhale, and then we hear laughter. A goat has moved onto Jeff’s mat and won’t take no for an answer. Forget Shavasana—it’s cuddle time!