Must Love Animals & Exercise: Comforting Goat Yoga

Story and photos by Rebecca West

Into physical fitness and new experiences? Ready to try something completely different that involves hanging with the furry bleating set, complete with scraggly beards and cloven hooves? (Sound of brakes screeching) Err, wait. Say what? We’re talking about goat yoga — and before you question its existence, the answer is, yes, it’s a real thing. What’s more, it’s fun and going on in Tucson right now. Well, maybe not right at the exact moment that you’re reading this, but goat yoga classes are regularly conducted around town if you’re interested.

Since May of 2019, G.O.T. (Goats of Tucson) Yoga has been inviting members of the public to stretch, cuddle and relax while having fun and getting a bit of exercise through goat yoga. If you’re completely unfamiliar with the concept, it’s yoga that includes small, playful goats interacting with individuals practicing this ancient discipline.

Yoga is a physical, mental and (for many) spiritual endeavor that improves balance, strength and mobility while promoting inner-awareness and emotional wellbeing. This is accomplished through stretching, controlled breathing and holding poses. The deep breathing exercises calm your mind and put you more in tune with your body. Add a pack of cheery little goats with their ability to hit pressure points, and you’ve got a fun-filled activity whose residual effects can last throughout the day.

So, how do you get in on it? All of this comes courtesy of Emily Haddon, founder of G.O.T. Yoga. Emily, a life-long animal lover, had the idea for sharing that love when she inadvertently met Clara Reynolds, a yoga instructor. The two instantly hit it off, and the business blossomed from there.

Emily is quick to point out that her classes provide a joyous and stress-free environment that is beneficial to people dealing with issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Working with animals has long proven to put humans at ease. It’s the reason emotional support animals are frequently recommended for persons suffering from high levels of anxiety.

And her approach is on point: it’s almost impossible to be stressed around a group of petite “kids” wearing pink tutus and unicorn horns, unless you’re terrified at the thought of tulle and gold lamé. The goats come scrambling — or, perhaps, flouncing — out of Emily’s trailer donned in colorful frilly skirts and giant bows, following behind her as if she were the Pied Piper. She immediately leads them into the mobile pen she’s set up on a small hillside within Morris K. Udall Park on a beautiful Sunday morning.

That’s where the magic happens. And it is magic when you see the faces of those assembled transform into broad, glowing smiles followed by peals of bubbling laughter. Everything else melts away, and the feeling of happiness and childlike delight is contagious. The goats are lively and agile, hopping about from one person to another as they take advantage of the various poses that accommodate their diminutive stature. Cow or cat poses are especially well-suited for these maneuvers.

If you’re wondering whether or not goats are naturally inclined to partake in these fitness sessions, the answer is: not without some incentive. In this case, it’s animal crackers. Yes, the tasty treats are doled out by Emily as she slowly makes her way around the inner circle of yoga mats, pausing in front of participants to encourage the animal-human interaction. She and others claim that being pummeled by the tiny hooves feels like a massage.

While Emily has many regulars, like Fatemah Dili and Laura Kruszewski, who come for the therapeutic benefits of stress relief, she also encounters a lot of curiosity seekers who show up for the flat-out oddity factor. For Cynthia Washington, who has practiced some yoga in the past but admitted to being a first-timer with goat yoga, it was all about the novelty. “A friend of mine invited me about a week ago to go to goat yoga this weekend, and I wanted to try something new, so I said, ‘Why not?’ There’s six in our group, and I don’t think any of them have done it before. I’m looking forward to it,” she added sunnily.

Classes for beginners to advanced levels can be scheduled privately or in groups. To learn more about them, the cost, and where they take place, you can visit the G.O.T. Yoga website or follow them on Facebook @goatsoftucsonyoga.

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