Ordinary yoga can feel complicated enough sometimes, with the focus on breathing, and the search for an “intention” that many yoga instructors ask students to reach deep within themselves to find.
Goat yoga has all that, plus a half-dozen goats, mostly miniatures, and all of them completely accustomed to people and our deeply strange habits. They wander around with their collars and name tags, looking for affection, or a bit of grassy kibble (like many yogis, they are vegetarians), and seem entirely unfazed by the sight of 20 or so people posing in downward-facing dog, out in the pasture as the sun sets on a lovely fall evening.
The goats are in their element amid the hummocky, fragrant tufts of grass. As you smell that grass while reclining on a yoga mat, you realize that you have entered the goats’ world, not the other way around.
Geese honk overhead, flying south in formation as a soft wind rustles by. Chickens cluck and scratch, as loosely regulated as the goats, though the goats themselves are mostly silent.
The idea of goat yoga was hatched at a birthday party this spring in Lainey Morse’s backyard in this agricultural community about 70 miles south of Portland. A bunch of 6-year-olds were partying with the young goats — “kids and kids,” the party invitation said.
Morse began adopting goats last year as pets and for a kind of self-administered therapy after an illness and a divorce. One of the moms, a yoga instructor named Heather Davis, turned to Morse and said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea.”
The Oregonian then wrote a story, and the Internet sent the idea careening around the globe. More than 600 people joined a waiting list before the first half-dozen classes were held. A couple in Germany wrote, saying they would like to come and spend their whole vacation with the goats, sight unseen. A woman in Michigan sent Morse a bracelet with the phrase “goat yoga” formed by keys from an old manual typewriter, which Morse wears like a charm.
Kasey Luby made the 90-minute drive from Portland with her husband, Zack. She has a tattoo of a goat on her arm and was predisposed, Luby said, to anything goats. Rachel Hanson, a wedding planner from Eugene, Ore., is similarly drawn to goats for reasons she can’t fully explain.
“I have a goat problem,” she said.
My own close encounter came toward the end of class, on a night in early October. We were doing boat pose, with our legs and arms raised, when the tiniest member of the herd, Annie, wandered by and stopped in front of me, under my outstretched legs.
Annie is 4 months old and weighs all of 20 pounds, a fuzzy, big-eyed love-magnet that members of the class had been holding on their laps before we began. Boat pose was forgotten, along with any notion of a mental “intention.”
Annie was saying hello, and goat yoga no longer felt mysterious or complicated at all.