By Brion O’Connor Globe Correspondent July 21, 2017
As a certified yoga instructor, Christina Nice knows this ancient physical art takes the names of a number of specific poses from the animal kingdom, including the Cat, the Downward-Facing Dog, the Eagle, the Camel, and even the Rabbit.
Now, she’s adding goats to the menagerie, but these are live babies who jump up on participants looking for treats or cuddles.
At Great Rock Farm in Georgetown, Nice is one of the instructors for the new Yoga with Goats program, where these good-natured, curious creatures playfully mingle with instructors and students.
“Throughout the class you have an opportunity to hold the baby kids, do poses with them, and be connected to them,” said Nice, of Amesbury. “With goat yoga, you get a little flow but it becomes more about the goat friends, the connection to the place, the sounds of the farm.
“There is a sweet innocence about the goats,” she said. “They’re interactive and fun. All have their own personality.”
Michelle Aulson brought goat yoga to her family’s farm after she returned following a 13-year stint in Washington, D.C., as an engineering manager with the Navy.
“Great Rock Farm was the perfect location so we could let people come out of their everyday city or suburban lives and onto the farm for some tranquil healing with our baby goats,” said Aulson. “Everyone has a smile on their face throughout the class. It’s incredible to watch the baby goats – kids as they’re known – interact with people.”
The very nature of yoga, which focuses on measured, disciplined movements, is an invitation for these four-legged participants.
“We tell people, if you move slowly, they will come to you,” said Aulson. “But if you move fast, they’ll run away.”
Great Rock Farm currently has 35 baby goats, most of which are Myotonic (fainting) and Nigerian dwarfs, she said. The classes are taught in a quintessential farm setting, surrounded by the smell of fresh-cut hay and the sounds of roosters crowing, horses whinnying, and sheep bleating.
Nice said the sessions provide her with an opportunity to relive a part of her youth.
“I grew up on a small farm,” she said. “There is so much peace that comes with being around the animals for me. There are so many important lessons you can learn from the farms, the animals, and that lifestyle. This is also a way for us to get out of the busy schedules and just let go for an hour or so, and just be present.”
A typical goat yoga session, said Nice, starts with 10 to 15 minutes warming up with seated poses, allowing the baby goats to get acclimated to the participants. The students then delve into the “flow” portion of the class, featuring warrior poses, lunges, and balance poses, followed by about 10 minutes of seated poses and “hip openers” before finishing with “savasana,” or complete relaxation. Then it’s playtime with “goat snuggles and pictures,” she said.
The sessions are proving to be a success with families, since children of almost every age (except the very young) can take part. Melissa Whitten of Essex, a running coach who works in outdoor retail, first learned about goat yoga when “I saw a colleague of mine was attending through social media.
“My first thought was this would be a super fun way to connect and try something new with my college-age daughter,” said Whitten. “I would definitely like to do it again.
“I think it’s more of a fun thing to do occasionally as opposed to a regular fitness routine. My other two daughters are already hounding me to take them.”
That’s probably because their older sister, Julia, said she had a great time.
“We sat down by a small pond with our yoga mats and were given a bag with treats for the goats,” said Julia, a student at the University of Rochester. “After getting settled, the instructor unleashed 15 or so baby goats onto the class.
“Most of the class was spent attempting to do light, pleasant yoga moves without succumbing to the desire to catch a baby goat and cuddle it,” she said. “About a quarter of the class was spent actually doing yoga, and the rest was devoted to playing with the goats.”
Similarly, Willa Worsfold of Wenham took a class with her daughters, Camilla and Fiona.
“I grew up with goats, and the babies are the sweetest, kindest, most curious and playful things you’ve ever met,” said Worsfold, a graphic designer and yoga instructor.
“When I saw my friend, Christina, was teaching in Georgetown, I grabbed my own kids, and off we went together. It’s probably the only way they would ever come to yoga with their mom.”
Camilla Worsfold, a research scientist, described goat yoga as “a loosely guided, gentle-flow yoga with a few furry distractions.”
“Depending on how social the goats are feeling on any particular day, there may be more or less yoga than you expect,” said Camilla. “But the hope is that you can get through a few sequences while also enticing the goats to join in on your poses. I had to remind myself to do yoga every few minutes.”
Jana Olenio of North Andover is accustomed to teaching yoga in intriguing settings, including on stand-up paddleboards and with horses at her Nature, Harmony and Horses retreat in Vermont. Infant goats, she said, are the ideal playmates for an out-of-the-ordinary yoga session.
“The best part is connecting with these precious animals and being out in nature,” said Olenio. “Everyone gets a good laugh when a goat sings out during class.”
Aulson said she was pleasantly surprised by the popularity of the classes at Great Rock.
“We were originally only going to offer just one class in June, as a welcome home event for the goats – our goats vacation and give birth in Florida around March,” she said. “But we had so much interest from instructors and people wanting to do yoga with the goats, we decided to offer more classes. We have an interest list of over 800 people. So we plan to offer the classes through October.”
Nice said the program might initially look like a gimmick, but the goats sell it.
“This offers a time to step outside all of it and find some solace and playful happiness on a beautiful day, or evening, on a farm with baby goats and yoga,” she said. “You can’t beat that kind of good medicine for the soul.”
Most goat yoga sessions cost $25. Visit www.goatstogo.farm/events.
Brion O’Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.