I don’t remember where I first read about goat yoga—maybe CNN or Vogue or NPR—but I do remember smiling at the idea. This was late summer in Oregon, the time of year when people savor warmth before “the rains” return. It was also the final months before the election and I was so certain, then, that we wouldn’t give the presidency to Trump. Things were coming that I knew to dread, you see, and things were coming that I couldn’t have imagined.
I say all this as there is no separating goat yoga and the viral phenomenon it has become with this anything-but-normal election season. In the face of so much hate, little Annie Goatley’s soft belly. In the face of demagoguery, Dodger’s floppy brown ears.
While there might be a 2000+-person waiting list for a goat yoga class now, back then, in early October, I could snag a ticket. It cost me 30 bucks plus the nominal Eventbrite fee, which is where classes are posted, typically announced and linked to via the Goat Yoga Facebook page. Themed classes will cost you more (a recent Valentine’s class at a local vineyard with wine and snacks included was listed at $75 per person, beyond my reach but not so for others; it sold out). In addition to standard release forms, I consented for my image to be used in promotional materials; I got an email that a reporter for The New York Times would be there. This was no normal yoga class.
I live a 15-minute drive from Lainey Morse’s No Regrets Farm, a property with panoramic views of the Coastal Range and the 100-year-old barn where the goat yoga idea was born. At a child’s birthday party hosted at the farm, Morse and mother Heather Davis (a certified yoga teacher at Live Well, a local studio) got to talking about how perfect the back pasture would be for yoga classes with Morse’s social goats as guests. The idea was an instant success and Davis has led nearly every class since, including the one I went to in October.
When I arrived that day, most of the others were already out back in the pasture, laying out their yoga mats in a circle. A herd of knee-high goats grazed nearby. Someone handed me a palmful of green pellets (goat treats) that I would later store in my empty shoe. Someone made room for me in the circle. A woman I’d later know was Morse gave me a warm smile. While she owns the farm and the goats, she doesn’t teach yoga classes. She doesn’t participate either, happy to sit at the periphery and take occasional pictures on her iPhone. Some of them might end up on social media, where she maintains a chirpy, lighthearted presence, documenting the life of her little herd. You might see tan and black Ansel climbing on hay bales or curious Preston grazing in the sun. They are pets, after all, and theirs is a life of leisure.
There are things you can expect from a goat yoga class, in my experience anyway, and things you cannot. I’d argue that’s the point. It’s one hour. It’s beginner friendly. You move through an accessible mix of sun salutations, balanced postures and restorative stretching. But it’s less about the yoga than the goats. In both classes that I’ve taken the instructors have been top-notch—assured, encouraging and completely understanding of the fact that when a goat nibbles your mat, you break posture to give her a scratch. Gone are the pretentious airs of some yoga classes I’ve taken. There are goats wandering around, after all, playing together and nuzzling you and deciding to plop down on your mat at the exact wrong moment in the exact place you’re supposed to put your hands. Perhaps you’ll rest your feet on a goat’s soft back in boat pose or one will settle down beside you for savasana. They might walk under you in downward dog or ignore you altogether for a while. It’s all happened. It’s all good.
But I’d be lying if I said nothing felt strange. How desperate I must have looked reaching with treats in my hand in warrior three, trying (unsuccessfully) to ply a goat to my side. I was a little sad when the herd congregated at the other end of the circle despite onlookers tossing treats our way to try and encourage them to circulate. Nearly everyone had their phones out for goat selfies (myself included) and I was embarrassed at the rush of energy I felt knowing that I’d post about this later and the attention I’d receive.
What these things reveal has more to do with me, though, than with the experience. So, when I heard about another class in December, postelection, I jumped. My dear friend and I went together, someone who, like me, was heartbroken about how Nov. 7 had played out. Once more to Morse’s farm, to a barn door sliding open and fresh hay, to those happy goats and twinkle lights strung up in the rafters. In my mind, this class was even better than the first but maybe that’s because I needed it more. Since it was held indoors this time, the goats didn’t have as many distractions. I had learned that scratching between the front legs would keep a goat by your side a bit longer. And there was wine after. My friend and I splayed out in the hay holding glasses of red and laughing like we always do together, goats climbing into our laps. It was a pocket of magic in a dark time.
And, ultimately, that’s what it’s like to take goat yoga: a pocket of magic, a “happy distraction” as Morse calls it, where your troubles (whatever they may be) can hang back for a while. Recently, she and I walked her field with the herd and we talked about all that she’s accomplished and what lies ahead. Parked outside the barn was a new van wrapped with her logo and the cheeky warning CAUTION: MINI GOATS ON BOARD. She’d sorted through liability concerns and insurance paperwork to find a new permanent home for goat yoga classes, had spent recent weeks worrying round-the-clock over her newest additions to the herd, two baby brothers who had been ill. She’d left her job to do this full-time. Years before she’d been as low as she ever had—divorced, diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, unsure of the future—and now this new life. Goats are the star of the show, sure, but she is the committed, open-hearted engine.
Headlines may read that goat yoga is an Oregon stereotype magnified or a wacky trend. It sounds a little crazy, I know. But in an election year like this one, we’ve all heard worse, we all can do (and feel) better.
Kristin Griffin’s short fiction can be found or is forthcoming in places like Joyland and Bodega magazines, and she freelances as a food writer. While Boston will always have her heart, she lives in Oregon now and teaches writing at Oregon State University.