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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.

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