One day Megan Kibby and Jason Lewis, owners of Decatur, Georgia-based Red Wagon Goats — where you can adopt a goat, or rent one to clear property of unwanted brush — took a female kid to a friend's house for a backyard get together.
"She loved getting held the whole time," says Kibby, via email, of the tiny goat. "And each time a new person held her you could see [that person's] countenance change. We all agreed that night that if you hold a baby goat to your heart, it'll melt the pieces back together."
Kibby then had a thought: Why not incorporate goats into the yoga classes she taught? Although she wasn't the first to come up with the idea, her students loved the concept of fleece meeting spandex. Now, during any given class, 10 to 20 goats wander as Kibby's students stretch to upward-facing dog, or contort themselves into pigeon pose, head down on left foot.
"Instead of doing a lot of standing poses, we do a lot of seated stretching poses and poses lower to the ground so we're more at eye level with the goats," Kibby says. "Jason goes around during the class and puts a handful of treats (corn and grain) on people's mats, which brings the goats out to play and interact. After class, we invite people to get into table top pose [all fours] and we will put goats on people's backs to pose for photos."
Cats, Dogs and Horses, Oh My!
Goat yoga. Cat yoga. Dog, horse, and alpaca yoga. What in the name of the Bhagavad Gita is going on? Practicing yoga with your favorite animal is all rage these days, whether it's rabbit yoga in British Columbia, or horse yoga in Argentina. And why not? Numerous studies have shown animals are great relievers of human stress (unless, of course, your cat is constantly clawing at the curtains or your dog just got into the garbage); and yoga relaxes the mind, renews the spirit and strengthens the body.
"It's such a sweet and silly and healing practice it's impossible not to laugh during it and leave with a smile," Kibby says. "I try to create a very relaxing, stress-busting class, so there's the 'yoga drunk' feeling, coupled with the warmth of these wonderful creatures."
Although it's hard to pinpoint where the idea for yoga with animals came from, cat blogger Ingrid King says the combination is a no-brainer. Cats are her spiritual animal of choice. "Yoga is good for physical and mental health, and it's a great stress reliever," she says in an email. "We also know that cats are good for our health." She could be on to something. A University of Minnesota study found that cats could actually reduce your chance of a heart attack by 40 percent.
King even puts her favorite felines to work in another healing technique — reiki. The ancient Japanese practice is based on the principle that a therapist can activate a patient's natural healing ability by means of touch. "My two current cats, Allegra and Ruby, are a little too high-strung to make good reiki assistants, but my cat, Buckley, was a regular participant in human sessions," King says. "She was what I call a healer kitty. She would intuitively know where a client needed more energy and lay on that part of the client's body for part or most of the session."
While healing the mind, invigorating the spirit and exercising the body are just some of the aspects of animal yoga, Kibby and Lewis have seen their business grow since beginning the goat yoga classes. "We've definitely been getting inquiries as a result of the classes, either the students themselves or their referrals," Kibby says.
Even Shelters Are Doing It
Many animal shelters also use yoga with animals as a mechanism to increase adoptions. One such shelter that's capitalized on the idea Good Mews in Marietta, Georgia. The 5,500 square-foot no-kill, cage-free shelter has 40 or so cats participate in yoga classes.
"The volunteer marketing committee, which I chair, was brainstorming ideas to draw new potential adopters to the shelter," Nancy Riley, the shelter's volunteer marketing coordinator says in an email." One of the volunteers had heard about a cat yoga class in California. We thought it was a crazy idea, but why not?"
Riley says several yoga students adopted cats they met in class. One student kept going to class to interact with a shy feline named Ping Pong. It was love at first lotus position. When she showed up, the always-timid Ping Pong couldn't wait to bounce onto her mat. Eventually, the two adopted each other.
Adoptions aside, combining cats and yoga is all about the healing properties each possesses. "Not only do the students experience a relaxing, meditative yoga class, they also benefit from the interaction with the cats," Riley says. "The people seem to take satisfaction in helping to socialize shelter cats, but they also feel the peace and serenity of sharing their space with a purring cat. No one leaves disappointed. Even experienced yoga students come again and again to experience the interaction with the cats as much as the health benefits of the yoga poses."
What do the animals think of all this? No felines, billies or mares wanted to comment, but all humans agree the animals benefit — even the goats.
"Each goat has a unique personality," Kibby says. "Boeing, one of the babies born at our house, is incredibly outgoing and likes to be the star of the show. Sometimes he jumps on people's backs, licks people, especially if they're sweating, or plops down and cuddles. Others are more shy and hang out on the sidelines until we draw them in with treats. All and all the goats love it...[some] that [are] more shy seem to have opened up a good bit as a result of the peaceful exposure to humans."