The latest trend in alt-yoga is the cutest endorphin-rush you’ve never had
I’m looking between my legs in the downward dog position at a 30-pound pig sniffing around my feet. I can feel the hot air of its breath tickle my toes as it roots around in the hay. At the same time I hear the sound of something being dropped near my face. I pivot my head and see that the goat trainer has once again come around and dropped small green-brown pellets at the top of my yoga mat.
Within seconds there are multiple adolescent goats knocking heads and fighting over the food, inches from my face. I try my yogi best to concentrate, take deep breaths and center my energy — but it’s a difficult task. Everywhere I look there are goats, ducks and pigs cavorting about. But no one seems fazed in the least. The dozen or so people attending class are giggling euphorically and clapping like they’re on some seriously high-quality drugs, snapping selfies and just enjoying the hell of out of themselves.
Watching this play out I can’t help but think that this is the sort of thing that certain left-to-be-unnamed conservative news networks would point to as one more sticky data point that the liberal Bay Area has truly lost its mind. It certainly seems to have tread into territory that is well beyond overpriced avocado toast and narcissistic social media: it’s yoga…with goats…on the San Francisco Peninsula. I start to think I’m embarrassed for agreeing to this; that I’ve willingly embraced the absurdity of a Portlandia moment. And then I realize…I haven’t laughed like this in years. I’m actually having fun. A lot of it.
Somewhere between the goats fighting around my face and the yoga teacher laying on the barnyard puns, I realize — goat yoga is the shit.
Towards the outskirts of Half Moon Bay, on a winding stretch of Highway 92, lies Lemos Farm. My girlfriend and I pulled into the gravel parking lot on a Saturday morning and grabbed our mats. Both of us are certified yoga instructors, and while we had both heard about various alt yoga trends—from beer yoga to chair yoga to cannabis yoga—neither of us knew much about what we were getting into at Lemos Farm. Goat yoga, huh? It was hard to shake the feeling that we were about to take part in something utterly unique and kind of absurd.
We were greeted by a young man in a jean jacket who took our tickets and showed us into the yoga studio. And by yoga studio I mean barn. A barn with straw spread across the floor and various saddles and farm-related paraphernalia hanging on the walls. The first thing I noticed was a rather large pig and a few ducks roaming around, but no goats.
We spread our yoga mats out and waited as the rest of the participants filtered in, a mix of twenty-to-thirty somethings mostly. Before the yoga began we stretched and took in the scene. The pig and I had a nice moment and were friends from the start. I can deal with this! We sat around giggling at one another until the yoga instructor came in, along with another woman who proceeded to walk by each person’s mat and drop piles of food pellets. Ahhh, now I see how this is going to work.
And then — the goats. A side door in the barn was let open and fifteen small goats rushed in, bumping into one another and running immediately to the food on each of the mats. Without meaning to, I immediately began yelling and clapping wildly like Will Ferrell in Elf.
The instructor explained straight off that, while she would be teaching a light vinyasa class, the goal for everyone there was to enjoy themselves: “Do as much yoga as you want. Pet the animals. Take photos. Laugh and enjoy.” So, in the midst of all the farm animals we moved through a nice beginner’s flow (vinyasa) practice. We stretched our spines and hips, did sun salutations and a number of poses that got the blood flowing. It felt great. Anyone who wanted a mellow workout could get one. Some people just sat and pet the goats.
As the yoga class brought us into a “down goat” (yup, there were consistent goat puns throughout the class) I nuzzled my face into the big round belly of a goat. (No judgement here, right? This is the internet!) So yes, I put my face on some goats. OK, several goats. Beside me my girlfriend giggled, clearly delighted, as goats pranced and played around her.
During a down moment I spoke to the caretaker and trainer of the goats, Erika Wilborn, who has worked at Lemos Farms for the past five seasons. She’s cared for the goats from birth and trained them to help with the yoga class.
“Many goats love it and are naturals. Our star goat, Shelby, loves goat yoga and it’s hard to get her out of the room. She loves working with the people and performing. People don’t realize how smart they are. They’re like dogs in the sense that they love human interaction.”
It struck me just five minutes into the class: Goat yoga is an absolutely ridiculous activity. Of course it is. My judgement before coming was that the instructor, the students… someone was going to take this seriously! But everyone, and I mean everyone, was laughing wildly. Deep belly laughs. Right from the start. Could this even be considered yoga? This felt something more like barnyard animal therapy or a rural version of a Tokyo cat cafe.
We moved through a standing sequence, tree pose and dancer before making our way back to the ground and into “table-top” position. Once there, we were given the option to have a goat jump right up on our backs. Why, you ask? I have no idea! But I agreed immediately to let the goat jump on my back and enjoyed every moment, as strange as it was.
To my side a young woman let out a high-pitched scream. Having learned (probably incorrectly) as a child that goats will eat just about anything, I was met with visions of goat Tyson v. Holyfield. Missing earlobes fill my mind. I jerked my head to look at what was sure to be carnage. Luckily, the goat had simply pooped little tiny goat poops on her head. Carnage nonetheless — but slightly less violent.
Her screaming turned to laughter and again the whole class was in stitches over the scene. The woman who had dropped the food pellets came quickly with a broom and tidied up the goat goodies. “It’s all very clean. They mostly just eat grass!” Everyone seemed to accept that answer and continued on: What’s a little poop on your head when you’re having fun, amiright?
The yoga lasted 45 minutes and was a mix of actual practice, photo ops and just staring in awe at fifteen goats, two ducks and a pig wandering around and interacting with a class full of yogis. As a grand finale we were asked to line up in table-top (hands and knees planted on the ground) so that everyone’s backs made one long bridge. The star goat, Shelby, jumped on our backs and walked across. There was uproarious applause as she completed her trick. As a group we closed the class together by sitting cross-legged and chanting “goooaatttttttttt” in place of “ommmmmmmm.” I cringed and loved it at the same time.
After class, I caught up with our yoga instructor, Amber Richetti, to get some insight into the ideas behind the class and why she felt goat yoga was such a success here on the Peninsula and elsewhere.
“Yoga can be intimidating for those who haven’t practiced before or are just starting out. That pressure can keep people away from yoga studios. With goat yoga you’re here to have fun — and the goats don’t care about how well you do yoga.”
Amber, who first discovered goat yoga in the Midwest (so it’s not just us liberal Californians!), pointed out that while this class is great for beginners it also provides a challenge for those with a more advanced practice. Can you focus your breath and “asanas” (physical postures) with so much distraction and madness all around you? I’ll admit that I fully checked out and forgot about the yoga for portions of the class. I was too busy having fun.
Yes, it’s a certifiably insane thing that goat yoga exists. Conceptually, I’m embarrassed for our culture and the world. However, in practice I can’t recommend goat yoga enough. Go forget yourself for a minute. Get pooped on (mostly grass!). Take some selfies, damn it! I promise that you won’t hate yourself any more than you already do. And besides, if the yoga doesn’t put you in a good headspace, the loving kindness of the goats just might. And you can do it all for the price of a week’s worth of avocado toast.
Goat Yoga is held at Lemos Farm in in spring and winter. The schedule and tickets can be found on the Lemos Farm website. Open Saturday and Sundays from 9–5.
Amber Richetti is a native of Half Moon Bay and specializes in prenatal, new mom, kid, and yes, goat yoga; as well as Barre and reiki classes.
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