Animal therapy meets yoga – here’s why you should give Goat Yoga a try
You’ve probably seen pics of goat yoga pop up on your Facebook feed: a goat, perched atop someone in downward-facing dog, maybe? Or balanced precariously on the tail end of a child’s pose? More than a year after its inception, goat yoga looks as though it’s here to stay.
Goat yoga involves introducing goats (usually youngsters; you don’t want a full-sized goat on your back!) into a yoga class, and strangely, it’s proved a worldwide hit. The trend has even attracted celebs such as Khloe Kardashian, Kevin Hart and Kate Beckinsale (who used d it as a hilarious way to celebrate e her 45th birthday).
Raine Dunn, instructor of the e goat yoga class at Fairview Wine ne and Cheese Estate in Paarl, says goats are the perfect animal to invite to your yoga class – if you’re willing to risk ending up with a nibbled-on yoga mat, that is. ‘Goats are very curious and playful by nature, and they like to climb on things,’ says Raine. ‘Some days they’re interactive and they’ll nibble on your toes or your hair. Occasionally they’ll climb on you if you’re in certain poses, but we’ve got no control over it,’ she laughs.
Where it all began…
The practice has been adopted internationally, but it all started with one woman and some goats on a farm in the US.
Lainey Morse, the founder of goat yoga, had been spending time with her goats as a form of stress release after being diagnosed with a disease and going through a divorce. ‘I found it so therapeutic; it was just impossible to be sad and depressed. I started inviting friends over who were also going through a hard time and everyone always left happy. I started calling it “goat happy hour”,’ says Lainey.
A chance encounter with a yoga instructor who asked to use the farm as an outdoor venue led to Lainey’s idea of combining goat happy hour with a yoga class.
The idea is now so popular that Lainey’s quit her marketing job. ‘I was doing 30 to 40 media interviews a week and although the interviews have calmed down, I still do one or two a day.’
The savvy entrepreneur also has a book coming out this year and is opening The Goatel, an inn that is a goat vacation destination offering goat yoga and goat happy hour.
Why are goats and yoga such a winning combo?
The classes are fun and provide cute Insta-opportunities, but there are significant health benefits to both yoga and animalassisted therapy. The physical benefits of yoga alone include improving flexibility and strengthening the body, and depending on the type of yoga, there can also be cardiovascular benefits.
‘There is a very large spiritual component to yoga,’ says Raine, ‘but I believe it transcends any religious beliefs, so it doesn’t matter what your religion is or what you believe, anybody can enjoy it.
‘Even if you don’t believe in anything, you’ll still get massive benefits because meditation teaches you how to be present in the moment. It teaches you to think before you act and how to handle stressful situations; it’s a very beneficial tool. There are so many different types of yoga – everyone can find a type or a teacher that appeals to them.’
Adding goats, while it’s adorable and entertaining, also enhances the benefits – as in other animal-assisted therapy, which generally involves the aid of animals as a form of treatment and is used to improve social, cognitive, physical, mental, and emotional functioning and skills.
Animals that are usually incorporated include dogs, cats, horses, rabbits and, in some
‘I started inviting friends over who were also going through a hard time and everyone always left happy.’
cases, dolphins (not all for yoga, of course). Smaller ‘pocket pets’ such as hamsters and rats can also be used as therapy animals.
Sune Scholtz, an educational psychologist completing her doctorate in animal-assisted play therapy, says, ‘Animals in general help with daily issues. I don’t think it has to be animal-assisted therapy; just being around animals can be therapeutic. There are a lot of studies that show that spending time with animals lowers blood pressure and relieves stress – there’s incredible research on it.
‘Animals live for the here and now. They don’t care who you are, what you’ve done, or what happened to you. It doesn’t matter if you’re just relaxing and sitting next to an animal or if you’ve experienced trauma, I think anyone can benefit.’
Lainey’s seen many people positively affected by her classes. ‘I’ve seen people suffering from cancer come to the class as a reward for finishing their chemo treatments. I’ve seen people who have multiple sclerosis or who’ve had a stroke just sit in a chair and do movements with their hands as best they can. I have many visitors with mental health issues who come and just disconnect from depression or anxiety. It’s not healing diseases, but it is giving people a much-needed happy distraction.’
Part of a bigger picture
Although some may scoff at the idea of a goat yoga class (hey, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it), its overwhelming popularity has shone a light on the need to find new ways to cope with the stresses of life. Practices such as yoga and animal-assisted therapy have seen a surge in public interest because of a growing awareness of the need for self-care and healthy living.
‘People are slowly realising how valuable it is in terms of looking after yourself,’ says Sune. Remember that with goat yoga, as with any other form of animal-assisted therapy, the wellbeing of the animal is paramount. ‘It’s very important that wherever you incorporate animals you need to consider the welfare of the animal as well. You need to provide basic needs like water and food, but also a safe place where they can go when they’re under pressure. They’re just as important.’
This hasn’t been a challenge for the goats on Lainey’s farm, many of which are rescue animals that love interacting with the classes.
‘The goats love to be around people. They love to get attention and snuggle up next to people on their yoga mats or climb up onto their laps. I’m surprised that they aren’t used as therapy animals as much as horses or dogs,’ she says.
The demand for goat yoga seems only to be increasing, and it’s hard to imagine that one woman’s idea on a small farm in Oregon has become part of a much larger discussion on mental health and wellness, something Lainey admits to as well.
‘Honestly, who could have ever imagined anything like this would have happened. It’s just mind-blowing. I think the time was ripe: politics was crazy, the news was always negative. Everyone needed a happy distraction, and that is what goat yoga is. An escape into happiness…’
We know exactly what she means!
THIS PIC: DOWNWARD-FACING DOG? ACTRESS KATE BECKINSALE GAVE IT A GOAT!
THIS PIC AND BELOW: THE CURIOSITY AND PLAYFULNESS OF GOATS LEAD TO MANY FUN INTERACTIONS.