Playful goats mingle with students in a new twist on yoga
"People have asked me, 'Why goats?' "
It's a fair question posed to Nicole Nathan. Why set four frisky goats free during the yoga class she teaches?
"Yoga doesn't always have to be so serious," she answers. "It can be playful and fun and unknown and a little bit, you know, farmy."
Literally farmy. The class, called WI Goat Yoga, is offered on a hobby farm owned by Linsey Carey and her husband, Matt, in the northwest Wisconsin community of Stone Lake.
They raise alpaca and sheep and run a fiber mill, Luxe Fiber Designs, where raw wool is processed into yarn. But they had some space to spare.
"I said 'we need to get goats, and we need to do yoga classes because who doesn't want to do yoga with goats?’” Linsey told me.
Her rhetorical question was answered when the first classes in May began filling up with students. And goats, of course. The boy goats, Artie, Leonard and Issac, are kids at 9 weeks old, and Daphne is the wise 1-year-old.
Here's how it works. Twelve students spread out their mats in a large tent and take instructions from Nicole. The Nigerian dwarf goats mingle and pretty much do what they want.
"You never know what to expect because they're just kind of everywhere," Linsey said. "Goats are like toddlers. They can be sitting there for a moment and all of a sudden they spaz out and jump off your back or eat your hair or whatever. There's lots of laughs and smiles."
Ashley Beatty was in the first class. "Downward dog provided a perfect opportunity for one of the goats to nibble on my hair. Warrior pose made a great tunnel for the goats to walk under," she said. "You have to keep an eye on your belongings because these mischievous goats loved to check out your water bottles, socks and sunglasses."
If you want to skip a pose or two, the goats are happy to cuddle.
Linsey is unaware of any other goat yoga classes in Wisconsin, though I found one starting up this month in Burlington at Oak Hollow Acres and Serenity Soap Works. Lainey Morse, a farm owner in the state of Oregon, is credited with coming up with the idea last year.
Crazy yoga doesn't start and end with goats. Classes have popped up around the country using dogs and horses. You can find beer yoga and cannabis yoga, naked yoga, karaoke yoga, screaming yoga, glow in the dark yoga, and yoga in the snow, or snowga.
Linsey has created a web page, WiGoatYoga.com, that answers frequently asked questions. The classes run one hour and cost $20. Water and snacks are provided, along with all the goat photos you want to take and post on social media. Students must be at least 14 years old and are asked to pay online and bring a mat or beach towel.
I'm not making up this question on the page: "Will the goats poop and pee on me?" The answer is more complicated than the quick “no” you're hoping to hear. "The goats prefer to go in a private area before class, but sometimes they get so excited to see everyone that it could happen. Please make sure you wear comfy, washable, goat-friendly attire."
The next classes are June 6 and June 17. Other sessions will be added this summer. The farm is thinking of branching out to other events like goat slumber parties and goat movie nights.
Instructor Nicole runs Hayward Fitness Fanatics. She received traditional training as a yoga teacher but loves this barnyard twist. She knows animals can have a calming and grounding effect on us humans.
During the first class, a goat sneaked up behind her as she extended her leg in a pose. It nibbled her foot.
"Of course you're startled at first, but suddenly you're finding yourself laughing because it tickles and it's funny," she said. "If it gets people to try yoga, which they know is really good for them, I think it's wonderful."