Promontory tries goat yoga, but yogis’ opinions are split on benefits of furry friends
July 11, 2018
"The albatross and whale, they are my brothers," music from an iPad softly crooned, sitting in the shaded grass at the Promontory soccer field. It belonged to Jennifer Schnabel, owner of InBALANCE Yoga, who sat on her mat nearby. Though her Orem-based studio is primarily a hot yoga venue, Schnabel occasionally breaks from tradition, including on Saturday when she led three classes of 25 yoga students in goat yoga, or "goga," in Summit County.
"No one has their shoes inside?" Schnabel asked her audience. "The goats might try and eat them."
Schnabel and the students sat inside a temporary fence, underneath a canopy of awnings almost as blue as the sky overhead.
Before the class had even started, the students were mingling with the goats, which they occasionally said were a lot like docile dogs. Nancy Kaplan, a soft-spoken visitor with short, silver hair, and no prior experience with goats or goat yoga, was cuddling one in her lap as if she had known it all her life.
"Watch the poop right there," her neighbor had said, as Kaplan had taken her mat.
The poop was certainly a factor. So was the pee.
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Usually, during the occasional indoor goat yoga sessions at InBALANCE, the goats would wear diapers. But because the venue was outside, and it was hot, Celeste Burr of Burr Farms, the animals' caretaker, said she opted to let the goats relieve themselves au naturel, which would make them more comfortable and less prone to infection. But it also meant guests had to bring a greater sense of adventure, and an unwavering faith in the power of disinfectant spray.
Just before the session began, a small goat unloaded its bladder onto the front of a man's yoga mat. The man raised his arms, palms up, as if to show his inability to prevent it as the goat continued to form a sizable puddle. The goat then started to walk slowly across to the front of his neighbor's mat, trailing urine and stood there until it finished. However, the considerable volume it discharged did nothing to dampen the spirits of most of the group, which had erupted in laughter at the sight.
Jenny Hardman, another yogi, wasn't quite as convinced.
"I like trying new things; I'm all about a new adventure, but I didn't really think ahead to the whole bathroom situation," she said.
Hardman said she found the goats' bodily functions distracting, especially when the goat urinated on her neighbor's mat.
"There was pee all over it, so every time the goats came over I kept shuffling my mat," she said.
Burr, along with her two sons, helped clean up the urine by mopping it up with paper towels. Burr also introduced the goats, describing their role on Burr Farms, which is a working educational farm. The Burrs give demonstrations on how a farm works, including milking the goats, which were Nubian, mini Nubian, and Nigerian breeds. As dairy goats, the animals' day jobs are to provide milk for the Burrs, who bottle it and distribute through a herdshare (where people buy products of a herd) or turn into cheese. Burr saw a short news segment on goat yoga and sent it to Schnabel, her friend, because she thought it was funny, but Schnabel said the two should try it, so this year InBALANCE has hosted three goat yoga sessions.
Promontory picked the event up after its fitness coordinator Marisa Ball started seeing videos of goat yoga pop up around the Internet, and after some research, found InBALANCE. When she announced through Promontory's newsletter that there would be goat yoga, it was immediately apparent she had found something the community was interested in. The session's registry filled up, so Ball created the option for a second session, and then a third, all on Saturday.
The second class of the day started with its members reciting "lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu" — a Sanskrit mantra used in the Hindu religion which means, "May all beings everywhere be free and happy."
And while the goats were penned in, Burr said the yoga sessions are more or less enjoyable for them, too, so at least the goats could share in the "happiness" aspect of the mantra.
"I think they like to cuddle with people," she said. "I don't know if they like to be picked up and hauled around as much, but they like to be around people."
The yoga itself was, for the most part, similar to a normal class, but with goats around. Occasionally, when someone went into a plank or downward facing dog position, Celeste would hoist a goat onto a yogi's back, much to their delight – usually resulting squeals, laughter and a round of photos from friends.
Schnabel worked some goat-oriented poses into the routine. At one point she showed students how to stack on top of each other while planking, with a goat posed on top. Toward the end of the class, she lined the yogis up shoulder to shoulder, and tried to coax one of the smaller goats to walk across, though it struggled to find its footing on the students' backs and preferred to jump off.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the activity has its origins on an Oregon farm, where a Michigan native hosted a happy hour with goats, which eventually became goat yoga. The founder, Lainey Morse, told the Free Press she considers it a new form of animal-assisted therapy, because goats are so playful and so social that they help people forget their worries, and relax.
When Saturday's session ended, Schnabel addressed the class.
"We often forget, as adults, how to be playful," she said, adding that the goats are a reminder of how to keep that child-like state.
"Baahmaste," she said, dismissing the class.
Then everyone gathered for a photo, saying "Goat cheese!" To smile for the shot, then started to leave.
"I've been on farms and touched goats, but this was definitely a first — doing yoga with a goat," Karen Strauss, a friend of Nancy Kaplan's, said. "And it does have a calming effect."
She said it was different from normal yoga in that people wanted to socialize.
"It was very neighborly," Kaplan added.
Kaplan said one time might be enough for her, adding that it was "not true yoga," in that it wasn't as focused on exercise and breathing, but that it was fun to be outside in a group.
"You'd like to do it with a group of friends," Strauss said. "It's kind of a really nice bonding thing, and it would be a great thing to do then go to dinner or something like that."
Hardman thought, goat urine aside, the Promontory members loved goat yoga, though she didn't feel the need to try it again, saying, "I think I learned from this class that I'm a city girl."