Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/5/2017 (855 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Welcome to the first instalment of Jen Tries, a semi-regular feature in which Free Press columnist Jen Zoratti will try something new and report back.
ANOLA — Upon arriving at 10 Acres Farm, a bucolic petting farm and animal rescue just east of the city, I feel my whole body exhale. It’s one of those perfect mid-spring evenings, when the sun is warm but the breeze is cool. I am here to try goat yoga — which is just like regular yoga, but with goats.
If goat yoga sounds like something out of a Portlandia sketch, you’re not far off: the goat yoga craze began in Oregon. Lainey Morse, the owner of No Regrets Farm in Albany, Ore., began offering yoga classes with her eight goats. By January, numerous media outlets from the Washington Times to CNN reported on her classes, which had a waiting list of 1,200. Now, goat yoga is a bona fide wellness trend, with classes being held on farms all over North America.
Tara McKean, owner of 10 Acres Farm, decided to bring the idea to Manitoba. "It seemed like a great idea," she says. "I already had the petting farm, and the animals love people. It’s great therapy for the animals." By April, the farm was offering classes on weeknights and weekends, and the response has been overwhelming. "We’re already booking into June," McKean says.
Tonight’s hour-long class begins at 6 p.m., but it doesn’t start on time. The vibe at 10 Acre Woods is relaxed. About a dozen of us are participating: the members of a synchronized swimming team, my Free Press colleague Erin Lebar and me.
There are a few things you should know about goat yoga heading in. For one, it’s more like farm yoga. Everyone is invited: sheep, ducks, geese, chickens, the occasional pig and Barry. Barry is an extremely chill alpaca, but he’s more of an observer than a participant. He’s new to the farm and is working on his social skills.
Two, there will be poop. Far less poop than I was expecting, mind you, but enough poop. You have to be cool with the possibility that one of your new furry, fluffy or feathered pals will poop near or on your mat. You will come to truly understand the expression "like shit through a goose."
Three, you will end up doing approximately 12 minutes of actual yoga.
We roll out our mats in the middle of the yard and begin the class. I have some trouble getting focused. A little goat wanders up to me and starts nibbling on the hem of my yoga pants. Another is snacking on my shoelaces. A goose almost steps directly onto my face. The goats are friendly and curious; they’ll stand on your back when you’re in Child’s Pose or weave between your legs while you’re in Warrior II. They are so cute I want to scream.
The yoga itself, if you’re here for it, is quite intermediate — but Christine Collett, tonight’s instructor, is more than willing to be flexible with those of us who are not at all flexible. I love the idea of yoga, but I am not what you’d call a yogi. My regular yoga practice consists of bookmarking yoga videos and thinking, "I should really get into yoga!" Here is a complete list of activities I do in yoga pants: drink wine.
Tonight’s class confirms two things: 1. I am bad at yoga. 2. I am some kind of incredible baby-goat whisperer. At one point I have no less than five baby goats on my mat, which is realistically too many goats to be conducive to yoga. Taking breaks to interact with the goats is heartily encouraged by Christine, so eventually, I abandon the yoga part entirely and start taking selfies with Moojo and Carly, two snoozing baby pygmy goats who have passed out in the warm evening sun on the foot of my mat. They smell like freshly-mown grass and happiness. As it turns out, snuggling with those little goats is just as restorative as the yoga.
We stretch out in savasana. "Relax," says Christine, soothingly. "Listen to the sound of the animals." Which, in that exact moment, is a close-range cacophony of honking geese. Goat yoga doesn’t take itself too seriously.
After we say namaste, McKean tells us about some of the animals, many of whom are rescues and orphans. One of the sweetest baby goats is Little Lenora, who was abandoned by her mother because of an underbite that prevents her from suckling. "Which is normal in the animal world," McKean says. "It’s more humane to let them die quicker than to make them suffer by starving each day." McKean tried bottle-feeding, but that was a no go because of the underbite. She set up Lenora in with the chicks, so she could die where it was peaceful and warm — and the chicks taught Lenora how to drink out of a bowl. "I have no doubts she’ll make it now, and she has her own herd of chicks," McKean says.
"We don’t care if you have issues here," McKean says of her animals, but she could just as easily be talking about the people who find refuge and healing at 10 Acre Farms. Many folks dealing with mental-health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety have reaped the therapeutic benefits of hanging out with animals. The animals are also able to build trust with humans.
There are some house rules at 10 Acres Farm: no running, chasing or picking up the animals.
"We’ve seen phenomenal things happen with the animals and certain people," McKean says. "We have one lady who comes and she sits with the pigs. They all come and lie right down beside her, and they’re her pigs. Those connections are huge."
She’s not wrong. I left 10 Acres Farm happier than a yogi in goat poop.
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.