{ Health & Wellness }

What’s Hot Now

Zen or Zoo

Animals are headed to a yoga class near you.

By Andra Coberly

It is a lovely day out on the farm.

A fetching Dexter cow stares with mild curiosity. Chickens cluck. The bluebird skies lend the quaint Weld County homestead an even more picture-perfect charm.

Kaitlin Mueller walks between yoga mats and Lycra-clad young people who are attempting tree pose while holding goats. She is calm and focused, somehow keeping this spectacle in control and on track.
“And release the goats,” Mueller tells the class. People unfold themselves and put the animals down as gently as possible.

A little goat has just pooped right next to my mat. I can’t be sure which one. It doesn’t matter. There are certain things you have to expect when you put on yoga clothes, drive out to a farm, step into an outdoor corral and submit yourself to the wonders of “goat yoga.”

Goat yoga—as you may have seen on the Internet—is yoga with the added bonus of baby goats. It is part of a bigger trend of animal yoga: kittens and cats, puppies and horses. Mueller’s Om Kai Yoga began hosting puppy yoga classes early in 2017. She added goats in the spring and has dabbled with kitten yoga.

It’s not purely a gimmick. There is a method to the madness.

“It’s hard to get out of your head when you come to a yoga studio and take a class,” Mueller tells me. “Sometimes that’s good for you, but sometimes that’s not what you need. Animal yoga makes you focus on [the present] place and time.”

She says the animals also make the practice of yoga less intimidating, attracting a wide range of skill levels.

Yoga has always made me feel anxious—about my own lack of flexibility, balance and skill. It’s very un-zen.
However, I get this weird feeling in my stomach as I drive out to Om Kai’s goat yoga class at Barnyard Buddies Farm.

It’s sheer joy.

The joy fuels me as I walk through the barn, sign in, grab a mat and find a back corner spot in the corral. The goats welcome me with sniffs and nibbles.

Barnyard Buddies owner Janet Farkas breeds purebred Tennessee fainting goats, who have a condition that causes their muscles to freeze up when they are startled. They’re only sold as pets, she tells us. They are sweet and social.

Mueller has developed a class that keeps participants at goat level, allowing us to interact with the animals as much as possible. She encourages us to hold the goats, pet the goats and soak in the goat-y goodness. They amble around, jumping on participants’ backs, chewing on our hair and curiously exploring shoes, clothes and faces.

Mueller and her husband ensure everyone is getting attention from the goats. At one point, she has us form lines on our hands and knees. She places goats on our backs—because, well, why not? They give us handfuls of goat food to encourage interaction.

For Mueller, the animals are both a challenge and a blessing. Her classes sell out as soon as she opens registration, and she has the opportunity to bring attention to organizations like Barnyard Buddies and Bounce Animal Rescue, with which she partners for classes.

However, it’s not easy to teach a class that is fully dependent on something that is undependable by nature. It’s also a challenge to balance the needs of a more diverse group of participants.

“If someone is coming to get a good sweat, you want to balance that with the people who are just coming to sit on their mats and hold animals,” she says. “I want them all to get something out of it.”

She says the popularity of her classes is reflective of our society. We are office dwellers who are disconnected with nature, community and animals. Her classes give people an opportunity to disconnect from computers, breathe fresh air and enjoy the innocent and pure energy of baby animals.

“The animals bring smiles and laughter to classes,” Mueller says.

At one point, a goat climbs on top of my stomach as I lay on my back. I can’t help but laugh. It stands there for a moment, surveying the scene from the new vantage point. It eventually hops off in search of food or shade.

Oh yeah, and there is yoga too. I stretch and bend and balance and not-so-gracefully attempt to grab my feet while laying on my stomach. I smile constantly and feel overwhelmingly happy. I not once feel embarrassed or anxious about my lack of yoga skill. I silently hope for more goat-based exercise classes in my future.

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