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Animal Form

Inside the shocking and controversial practice of 'goat yoga'

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GOT YOUR GOAT But why else take up yoga, if not so little cloven hoofs can perch on your back?
  • GOT YOUR GOAT But why else take up yoga, if not so little cloven hoofs can perch on your back?

"Goat yoga isn't really about the yoga."

So says Alana Joy Eckhart, of Santa Rosa's Goatlandia Farm Animal Sanctuary, as she gently places a two-month-old, three-legged Nigerian dwarf goat named Poppy in the lap of a visiting journalist.

"Goat yoga," smiles Eckhart, stepping back to let Poppy snuggle in for a scratch behind the ears, "is all about joy."

Goat yoga, a real and admittedly offbeat practice—in which humans do yoga in the presence of goats—originally began in 2016, in Corvallis, Ore. That's where Lainey Morse, a one-time marketing expert and longtime goat lover first coined the ear-catching phrase, teaming up with a local instructor for popular goat yoga sessions on her rural farm.

Goat yoga now stands alongside a widening array of alternative yoga offerings, from the popular hot yoga offered at many studios, to Lagunitas Brewing Company's weekly yoga-and-a-beer sessions, to yoga classes surrounded by fish at San Francisco's Academy of Sciences, to Jedi yoga (yes, that's a thing, too).

With just a little effort, depending on where you happen to be, you can experience yoga on beaches, yoga on horses, yoga on paddleboards, yoga in caves, yoga in planetariums, yoga in bowling alleys, yoga on ice, yoga with snakes and yoga with sloths, plus karaoke yoga, nude yoga,"ganja-smoking yoga, heavy metal yoga, laughter yoga, and even Harry Potter yoga, which is pretty much what it sounds like (Downward Facing Dumbledore, anyone?).

And in Cloverdale, for what it's worth, a local studio called the Yoga on Center has recently struck a resonant chord with its popular weekly class titled "Yoga for the Inflexible Male."

But few innovations have made as big a leap into the mainstream as goat yoga.

"The beginnings of goat yoga, I suppose, were a bit of an accident," explains Lainey Morse, contacted at her farm in Oregon, from which she now oversees a growing nonprofit called Original Goat Yoga, with satellite locations all over the country. At the moment, the organization's sole Bay Area location is in Morgan Hill.

The fact that her life is now built around goats and yoga is still something of a wonder to Morse, she admits. "I'd started something called Goat Happy Hour at my farm," she says. "I called it that because everyone who came and spent time with my goats always left happy."

Morse says she learned first-hand about the power of goat-related therapy when her life took several unexpected turns.

"I'd been diagnosed with a disease and was going through a divorce at the same time," she says, "and I was thinking, 'I should be more upset. I should be really sad.' But I'd get home from work and spend time with my goats, and it just made me feel good. My goats definitely kept me from slipping down the rabbit hole of depression."

Goat Happy Hour led to other events, including kids' birthday parties. It was during one of those that a local yoga instructor suggested that it would be fun to do a yoga session in the field with the goats.

"I said, 'OK, but the goats are going to be jumping all over the yoga students,'" recalls Morse, who agreed to give it a try, and soon after came up with the term "goat yoga."

"It just sounded so ridiculous and fun," she says, "though I assumed that only our friends and family would come and do goat yoga—and maybe not even them. Then we had our first class, and it was sold out instantly."

Morse took pictures and sent them to Modern Farmer magazine.

"I thought their readers might find it kind of cute," she says.

The magazine ended up sending our a reporter and running the story, with great pictures of people doing yoga with baby goats on their backs, and in short order, Morse got calls from The Oregonian, the New York Times, Huffington Post and others. The resulting demand was instantaneous, with the waiting list for people eager to experience goat yoga growing to 2,300 names.

"It was wild. It just absolutely changed my life," Morse says. "I was probably doing 30 or 40 media interviews a day, while also having a full-time job that I loved, and had had for 10 years. I finally decided, this just doesn't happen to people, and I'd regret it if I didn't take the opportunity life was giving me. So I quit my job and went all in on goat yoga."

Morse says she's often asked, "Why goats?" She has two logical responses.

"For one thing, goats have tiny little pellets, like rabbits do," she points out with a laugh. "Goat poop doesn't stink, and it's not messy, so if a goat happens to drop its pellets on your yoga mat, you can just shake it off. It's no big deal. But if you're doing yoga with a pig or a cat or a dog, and it poops on your mat, that's not going to be pretty.

"And the other thing," she says, "is that goats, quite simply, are the most loving and gentle creatures. Goats are the perfect therapy animal."

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