The joy of goat yoga, ‘raisins’ and all
On a cool Saturday morning in October, a herd of 10 or so baby goats leapt out of a trailer at Western Trails park and gamboled into the grass. A morning session of goat yoga was about to begin. Various bystanders — birds, dogs, and a handful of early human attendees — all stopped to applaud the goats’ arrival. Suddenly, it smelled like a farm.
Goat yoga, a recent trend in novelty yoga practices (others include weed yoga and horseback yoga), arose in 2016, when Lainey Morse, an Oregon farm owner, started hosting “goat happy hour” on her farm in Albany, Oregon. Morse, who began adopting goats as therapy animals following an autoimmune disease and a divorce, organized these events so that she and stressed-out friends could unwind with her goats. One day in the spring of 2016, Morse’s yoga instructor friend inquired whether she’d like to throw some yoga into the mix. Goat yoga was born, and, not surprisingly, went viral on social media.
In the midst of that social media storm, Brandon Nobles, owner of Jeffry’s Farm Rescue, a working farm and animal rescue in Las Vegas, was tagged in goat yoga-related posts nearly a hundred times in a single day. Nobles had goats, so he decided to offer a trial goat yoga class. Sure enough, the sign-up list filled within a day. Now, almost four years later, Nobles offers four goat yoga classes each week, including a sunset class that’s followed by two hours of bottomless wine. (All proceeds from goat yoga fund the Jeffry’s Farm animal rescue.)
It’s easy to understand the appeal. When asked about their initial reaction to the words “goat yoga,” several class-goers said they replied, “hell yes” or “I want to do that.” Who doesn’t want to hold a tabletop pose while fuzzy baby goats stand on your back?
Monica and Ross, two three-week-old baby goats named after the characters from Friends, quickly took to the tattooed woman sitting next to me: Monica climbed up her back and started chewing her platinum blonde hair as Ross cuddled against her sweatshirt sleeve. “My husband was like, why don’t you just do yoga at home, and not with goats?” she told me. “But this is worth every damn penny.”
Nicki Taylor, the instructor, began with a caveat: “The first thing I wanna let you know is that this is not a very serious yoga class. If you came just to pet goats today, that’s a hundred percent fine.”
The fuzzy, tiny creatures in various shades of white and gray wandered freely as class began; a few set themselves down near the colorful yoga mats, while some immediately made their way up the shoulders of people resting in child’s pose. Others cavorted on the grass. Fleetwood Mac and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros played as we practiced basic yoga poses: downward dog, cat-cow, cobra. At one point, once everyone got into table-top position, the goats scaled peoples’ backs and began jumping from plateau to plateau. “It’s like a mini goat-massage!” someone said. The instructors occasionally provided a “recess” break, allowing participants to feed the goats and pose with them for photos.
The primary focus of the class seemed to be taking photos for social media. We were encouraged to have our phones and cameras open on our mats, to snap pictures of our classmates and exchange photos with them after class. At the end, the instructors came around to each person with goat feed to incentivize the goats to pose. When it was my turn, Nobles instructed me to lay on the mat, and sprinkled goat food all over me, prompting half-a-dozen goats to start eating off my body as Taylor took pictures.
Of course, there were some obstacles — most in the form of fecal matter. “Our safe word today is raisins,” Nobles warned. “If you guys see any raisins, please don’t eat them. I promise you they are not raisins. I have to say that because it has happened.”
At one point, a goat trotted onto someone’s mat and released a stream of perfectly round raisins. Instantly, Nobles ran over with a dustpan, brush, a towel, and cleaning spray and cleaned it up. I was lucky to find only a few raisins on my mat, and quickly brushed them off using a leaf I’d found. It was icky, but a small price to pay for an hour of snuggling with baby goats.
I’d arrived at the park feeling excited but skeptical. My cynical side snarked that a $30 goat yoga class sounded like something for wealthy suburbanites with curated Instagram feeds and too much time on their hands. But the moment the baby goats came running toward us, all my negativity melted away. Petting and playing with bleating baby goats, letting them ascend up my back and nibble at the fringe on my scarf (and my shoelaces, and my yoga-mat carrying strap, and my tote bag) was the purest, most unadulterated joy I’ve felt in months.
While having a focused, meditative yoga session wasn’t exactly a priority in this setting, participants seemed more enthusiastic and willing to hold the more challenging poses that the class might normally groan about. “I actually had a really good yoga session. But maybe that’s just because I was feeling peaceful and relaxed with the presence of the goats,” said one participant, Ann Fast, who surprised her fiancé with reservations for the class.
“It’s such a feel-good experience, and then you do get the physical benefit of going through the motions of the poses, which are powerful enough on their own, and then at the same time you have the goats with you, and you can’t not smile when baby goats are bouncing all over your bellies and backs,” Taylor said. “People say that it puts them in a really good mood, and it’s cheaper than therapy.”
There’s certainly something to be said about the healing power of animals. We often think of goats as angry creatures that head-butt anything in their path. But these goats were gentle yet rambunctious, sweet and playful, and fully comfortable around people. Each one seemed to have its own personality: some shy, some more independent and willing to climb atop your head without hesitation.
“We never force the goats to come to goat yoga,” Nobles told me. “We just open the trailer and whoever comes comes and whoever stays stays, and that’s why our numbers vary between classes. It’s a goat playground full of humans, and they love it.”