Goat yoga? It’s a growing craze

A goat brings a smile to the face of Nicole Bechkos while she's enjoying her Fox Den Studio goat yoga class, held at a Red Ribbon Stables barn in Niagara-on-the-Lake Friday evening. Rebbeca Parton, can't help smiling at the goat's antics. Fred Mercnik/Special to the Advance

A goat brings a smile to the face of Nicole Bechkos while she's enjoying her Fox Den Studio goat yoga class, held at a Red Ribbon Stables barn in Niagara-on-the-Lake Friday evening. Rebbeca Parton, can't help smiling at the goat's antics. Fred Mercnik/Special to the Advance

It’s hard to be serious about holding a perfect downward dog pose when you have a goat prancing around underneath you.

And that’s exactly what Melina Morsch, owner of Fox Den Yoga in Niagara-on-the-Lake, loves about the growing craze of goat yoga.

When she opened her studio three years ago, her goal was to keep her classes fresh, interactive and entertaining. Yoga classes that focus on the traditional movements and meditation can be pretty serious and quiet, and she wanted to lighten them up a bit. So she looked for ways to break up the monotony and make them fun, she says, combining yoga with beer or taking her classes outside for picnics at a local winery.

When a friend discovered eight baby goats that needed a home, Morsch, an animal-lover who had heard about the craze of goat yoga in the U.S., decided to help nurture them and introduce them to her students, taking her classes to a friend’s barn.

She expected it to be a short-lived trend, a joke that would soon die, she said.

But to her surprise, the craze continues to grow. She’s having a hard time getting her head around how popular it’s becoming and how much attention her classes are garnering, including coverage from a Toronto TV station and a segment on a popular show called Animal Planet, where she was asked to talk about the great therapeutic value of combining goats and yoga.

But she’s going with it, holding sold-out classes at the Red Ribbon Stables on Concession 6, which is better known for its riding lessons, as well as some outdoor sessions in Burlington and Mississauga parks, also sold-out, often with a lineup of people she accommodates by adding extra classes. She has people signing up from the U.S. and all over Ontario. “It’s becoming a tourist attraction, another reason to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake,” she says.

She’s buying more goats from a local farmer, and offering classes for corporate team-building workshops, fundraisers and private parties.

Although she’s staggered by the positive response, with no end in sight, she says she’s not at all surprised by the transformation she sees when she takes her classes to the barn and watches her students share their yoga mats with adorable, affectionate miniature goats who frolic around them, thinking they’ve found a new herd to join.

“The goats all have a ‘shtick,’ their own little quirks or habits that make them really endearing,” said Morsch.

“We have one that will stick her head in someone’s shoe and walk around with it on her head. Another always picks one person to cuddle with for the duration of the class. And we have one male who looks for the alpha male in the class and butts heads with him. It makes it so much fun for all of us to watch.”

The goats are pygmies - small, herding animals which are very playful, intelligent and often kept as pets. They mirror the energy they sense, she says.

“When the class is energetic and everyone is laughing, the goats get super playful. They jump on people, crawl on people - they think it’s time to play.

“But when we get quiet and have a meditative moment, they become quiet. They’ll lay down beside us and get really still.”

Some of those who attend her classes don’t have much opportunity to get close to animals, unless to feed them at a petting zoo, and the goats really want to interact, she said.

“They make us communicate with each other. They are social, and we become social around them. It gives us something to focus on other than ourselves. If we’re thinking about the past or the future, the goats help us to be in the present, more childlike. We forget about unhappiness and stress, and this is what yoga is all about,È said Morsch.

“The more I watch what happens the more I feel this is something we need right now. It’s very healing.”

The classes, she says, are developing a “cult following of people who love the goats. They want to name them, and they get jealous if their favourite goat goes to someone else.”

And instead of the usual quiet concentration of a typical yoga class, “people giggle. They become very bubbly. They talk to each other, and you can see they’re happy.”

Yoga, says Morsch, “is all about calming the fluctuation of the mind. The goats help us to let our inhibitions down, and let our childlike curiosity out.”

For those whose curiosity leads them to wonder about goats relieving themselves during class - a question Morsch is asked regularly - she says people get used to it.

“The goats are not house-trained, they’re livestock, and they’re going to do what they do.”

But it doesn’t happen that often, she said, and when it does, there are cleaning supplies and clean mats close by.

“When people realize how much fun they’re having, the ‘ick’ factor goes away pretty quickly.”

Joanna Gorski is one of the regulars at Morsch’s classes. She’s become a huge fan of goat yoga, although having studied the more traditional discipline of yoga for about 10 years now, she says, she never could have imagined she’d be on her mat one day with goats playing around her.

“I really enjoy the classes, and I love the goats. They are really cute, affectionate and lovable little animals. It’s not serious yoga, it’s fun yoga,” she said.

“It’s amazing to watch 40 to 50 adults playing with goats while they’re doing yoga, and it’s fabulous to see so many happy people. It really lightens up the classes. You’re being entertained by the antics of the goats while you’re moving through the poses, and it makes for a fun afternoon or evening. It’s very uplifting.”

To find out more about goat yoga or to register for a class visit www.foxdenyoga or call 905-468-9042. 

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