Yoga students have fun with goats at farm outside Chicago
ELBURN, IL - Seven kids munched away for an hour Wednesday at their home at Rustic Road Farm near Elburn.
The goats didn't seem to mind that they had to share a makeshift pen with a bunch of humans, including a couple of kids of the other kind.
Welcome to the latest craze in exercise.
"Let the goats come to you," said Mary Cwiklinski, an instructor with The Middle Place Yoga Studio and Wellness Center, as the class began. But there was a little incentive, as helpers distributed handfuls of food pellets on the yoga mats.
And while the students did their asanas -- positions including monkey, cow-cat and the downward-facing dog -- the goats wandered around and through them. They ate the pellets, they were petted, they rose on hind legs to eat bark and branches on a tree. One persistent little guy kept trying to escape.
"Check for (back) alignment. Check for goats," Cwiklinski said, as students stretched their legs backward.
This was the first time for yoga at the farm, which may be one reason the goats didn't climb on people's backs, as they do at her other classes. These kids are also a few months older than others she has used in other goat yoga classes.
A 5-year-old, full-grown billy goat named Rusty ambled over and appeared ready to join the class.
"He's very sweet, but I don't know if he can walk on anybody's back," Rustic Road co-owner Mark Bernard said.
A couple of free-range chickens also took a look-see.
People find the presence of goats or other animals during yoga calming, Cwiklinski said. It increases students' sense of being connected to the things around us, she said.
It fits the philosophy of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin-based The Middle Place, which embraces holistic and Western-medicine approaches to health.
"Partnering with Rustic Road today for our goat yoga was about more than just the goats. It's about a shared belief that good food matters, that care and concern about how animals are raised matters, and supporting local business matters," Cwiklinski said.
She and her sister run The Middle Place. Both lived in Geneva until Cwiklinski's husband took a job in Wisconsin.
Perhaps something you wouldn't expect from people who frequent a farm, but Bernard said Rustic Road's customers have been asking for yoga classes.
The goats were all bottle-fed as babies, so they are used to being touched by humans. And they are favorites of young visitors to the farm, who line the fence, holding out food pellets, fistfuls of grass or leftover beet leaves for the goats to munch on.
"I can't tell you how many have come to see the goats," he said.
The herd started with Rusty five years ago, then added a doe. "He's everybody's daddy," Bernard joked.
All told, there are 26 goats on the farm, which opened in 2012. It keeps about 600 chickens for eggs and meat, a few sheep, goats and 100 pigs. It is expecting its first batch of piglets later this summer.
The farm also grows vegetables and sells sauces, soups, and other items canned by Bernard, who quit his job two years ago as an executive chef for Lettuce Entertain You restaurants to focus on the farm.
And after Wednesday's success, Bernard wants to have more yoga classes.
His clients agree.
"It was really fun," joked JoAnne Lefelstein of St. Charles, "but I am a little disappointed that I didn't end up with a goat on my back."