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Downward-Facing Dog… Cat… Goat…

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— September 24, 2017

Downward-Facing Dog… Cat… Goat…

  • Unlike most yoga classes, this one has onlookers, many using their phones to take pictures.
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It’s a breezy early September evening in Smithtown, New York, and more than a dozen yoga practitioners have gathered for the first of two hourlong sessions. Instead of a standard studio, though, they are laying out their mats at the Smithtown Historical Society’s Frank Brush Barn, where some very special visitors are waiting for the practice to begin. Ten goats amble about the tarp-covered practice space, which has been carefully fenced to keep them from wandering off. One woman with a broom and pan follows them, discreetly sweeping up waste. The goats behave, well, like goats. They bump the steel gate or use it to rub an itchy leg, nibble on the tarp and the teacher’s tunic, lap water from a pail in the corner and calmly lick their backs. One goat nuzzles a woman’s arm as she lies on her mat. For the most part, the animals appear to take the experience in stride. As for the people, they appear to be having a blast. Giggles erupt at every bleat and one yogini modifies her Chair pose to include some goat scratching. Handlers place the two baby animals (one contentedly chewing its cud) on people’s backs as they go into Child’s pose; one little goat is carefully balanced on a practitioner’s upswept feet. Unlike most yoga classes, this one has onlookers, many using their phones to take pictures. “This is one of the funniest things I ever saw in my life,” one of them remarks.

A Lighthearted Approach

Goat yoga has been a hit at Smithtown ever since the first session was held this past June. The historical society’s executive director, Marianne Howard, explains the program’s popularity this way: “I think it’s a combination of people wanting to relax and be around the animals, getting to play with the animals in a safe and fun seeing.” Instructor Lois Carboni agrees, saying, “Everybody’s very happy. Their energy is focused on the goats. It’s a fun experience.” The whole thing was the idea of Karen Bayha, owner of Steppin’ Out Ponies & Petting Zoo in Dix Hills and one of the evening’s goat wranglers. She brought it up “just joking around” after seeing goat yoga on YouTube. Although the animals are fed before being brought to the barn, Bayha says they nibble because “they’re like kids, they like to touch everything.” Goat yoga began when a yoga teacher attending a 2016 party hosted by Albany, Oregon, farm owner Lainey Morse suggested setting up mats in Morse’s goat-studded field. Pictures of the event went viral, and a new trend was born. According to her website, goatyoga.net, Morse has turned the concept into a full-time business, with a full schedule of classes and an online store ordering goat-themed yoga apparel, totes, and jewelry. Going to the Dogs (and Cats) Goats aren’t the only animals scampering about during yoga classes: Dogs and cats are also making the yoga scene. Sometimes animal yoga classes are held to promote a good cause. That’s the case at Good Mews Cat Shelter in the Atlanta metro area. Community outreach chair Lisa Bass, RYT, offers cat yoga classes, noting that “as soon as the mats go gown, there’s a cat on every mat.” Bass says the main reason for the classes is to show the cats some love. “There’s a lot going on during the day,” she explains. “Yoga takes it to the other end of the spectrum. It has this calm energy and I think the cats are attracted to that. We’ve had cats who would head bump every participant.” The only rule: “If there’s a cat on your mat, you have to work around that cat.”

Jana Combs, 46, a homemaker from Sandy Springs, attends the Good Mews classes regularly. “The moment I heard about the idea of combining my love for yoga with my love for cats, I was in,” she says. “The cats truly seem to like the interaction and the attendees really enjoy the relaxed, easygoing atmosphere.” Unlike classes with goats and cats, Doga—created by Suzi Teitelman of Jacksonville Beach, Florida, where she teaches a class on the beach every month—involves dogs as active practice partners with their human caretakers. “You’re hands-on with the dog,” says Teitelman, who adds that she has taught Doga (dogadog.org) to other instructors. “The poses are created for both of you and you’re both getting physical benefits from the yoga.” Like other teachers of animal yoga classes, Teitelman has gotten a lot of positive feedback. She says, “When you’re in a calm yoga state, the dog can see that.” That easy feeling helps explain the attraction of yoga with animals in general. As Bass puts it, “It’s unique; you get to bond with animals. It’s so good for the soul.”

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