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September 18, 2019

Goat Yoga: who needs a Studio when you can Practice in a Barn?

I teach goat yoga.

When I tell people, I get mixed reactions—mostly laughter. No one has said, “That’s not yoga,” yet I hear the whispers of judgment underneath the giggles.

Maybe you’re laughing too. I might have as well, but no longer, and I’ll tell you why.

First, I’ll share that I have the deepest respect for a more traditional yoga class, one that offers time to go deep into self-reflection, with the smell of essential oils or palo santo wafting through the room, sacred art on the wall, and a nice ambience. This is the setting I was trained in, practice in, and will always come home to. These days, I teach in a barn, a really nice barn—but a barn, nonetheless.

Yoga rescued me when I was in the stages of grieving, when I was a frustrated parent looking for refuge on my mat, and when I was uncomfortable in my body. Yoga is an ancient healing practice, one that was originally intended to get the practitioner in touch with their inner self and connect with all that is. The meaning of yoga is to yoke or bring together body, mind, and spirit.

Some yoga classes teach the philosophy of yoga, discussing the yamas and niyamas, which are guidelines for life such as non-violence, truthfulness, and contentment. Most American classes focus on asanas (poses), pranayama (breathwork), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (state of ecstasy). Goat yoga classes focus on breathwork, poses, and meditation, with an emphasis on the layers of the body. There just happen to be Nigerian Dwarf goats in the room.

There is no better way to practice dharana or mindfulness than with the added challenge of a cute little goat on your mat.

There are many styles of yoga being practiced today—Hatha, Bikram/Hot, Kundalini, Laughter, PreNatal, Katonah, Aerial, Couples, Yin, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Kitten, and now Goat. Yoga has even more benefits than types, such as lowered blood pressure, stress reduction, flexibility, balance, clearer thinking, body awareness, stronger bones, improved respiration, energy, and vitality, increased muscle strength and tone, cardiac health, the list goes on.

Yet with all these benefits and more, only 8.7 percent of Americans give yoga a try. A study shared by Yoga Journal shows that 44.4 percent are interested in yoga but don’t make it to a class. Why? Fear of the unknown, fear of looking incompetent, fear of failure, fear it may imply some nebulous spirituality they don’t subscribe to, or just plain old fear.

That fear is why I choose to teach goat yoga. It’s a door-opener. After all, how fearful is an experience that includes cute and cuddly baby goats? I partner with a friend who owns Kingdom Kids Farm, a breeder of Nigerian Dwarf goats, in rural northeast Connecticut. In the past three years, the majority of our classes have contained approximately 50 percent yoga newbies—people who were interested but have been afraid to try.

The promise of baby goats and a light-hearted class on a farm, in a barn, alleviates all those fears I mentioned. So they come and experience the healing benefits of yoga and more.

Yes, more! Goat yoga includes the added benefit of pet therapy, which has been around about 100 years. Florence Nightingale, famed battlefield nurse and the founder of the modern nursing program, noticed that patients with chronic illness fared better with animal contact. Pet therapy was born and is also called Animal Assisted Therapy. It can be found in hospitals, nursing homes, private homes, and now yoga classes.

The human-animal bond has been long proven throughout history. Scientific data exists to show why this works so well for depression, anxiety, and general well-being. The measurable effects show an increase in the release of endorphins when we interact with an animal. Endorphins are the feel-good brain chemicals, which bind to opioid receptors and create euphoria. Oxytocin, a hormone linked to our happiness, is also produced from being around babies and animals. It helps lessen the more damaging hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, produced by our high-stress lifestyles. Goat yoga puts a smile on your face and love in your heart.

The combination of yoga and pet therapy is definitely good medicine. The fact that it all takes place on a farm lends a deepened connection to nature, sorely missing in most peoples lives. Is it any wonder people leave our class saying, “This was the best day ever!”? Yoga at its best produces a union of body, mind, and energy to bring about a state of peaceful connectedness.

If you’re an Earth-loving yoga practitioner and haven’t tried goat yoga yet, I invite you to find a farm near you and experience it for yourself.

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author: Sherry Guastini

Image: Author's own

Editor: Kelsey Michal