Megan Roth sits cross-legged on her mat in black shorts, a white tank, and a blue baseball hat with the words “Live Simply” etched into the front.
“We know why you are here and it’s not because of me,” Roth announces, a certified yoga instructor with Simplicity Wellness Yoga + More.
Roth begins with gentle neck circles, side stretches, and cat-cow poses.
One participant, Roca, is ignoring all the commands. Instead of downward dog, he unzips a lady’s jacket, pulls it back up, and zips it down again. Up. Down. Roca loses interest and mischievously jumps on someone planking. His bewhiskered mother, Almond, would not approve of the kid’s behavior.
Welcome to yoga with goats and sheep, where four-leggeds and two-leggeds find inner peace together. Or something like that.
Roca’s sister, Joy, seems more concerned with sucking shoelaces, hair, and fingers than nailing a perfect seated twist. Two lambs, Cottontail and Toast, snuggle next to human yoga participants. Freckles begs for some chin scratches. Another little goat lays across someone’s neck like a soft scarf.
Instead of deep breathing, goats bleat and sheep baa from the al fresco “studio,” scented by pine trees and fresh farm air. It’s not a traditional yoga studio. It’s actually the lush pasture at Doe’s & Diva’s Dairy in Honey Creek, Iowa.
Yoga has been touted for its mental, physical, and emotional health benefits. Throw in some farm animals and it is a shot to the endorphins.
“Like triple the endorphins,” Roth says.
This could be why goat yoga is the hottest trend sweeping the nation. Starting in 2016, the format is the brainchild of Oregon’s Lainey Morse, who believed goats turned her depression around. Goat yoga isn’t about sweating it out and going all hardcore, but rather a cuddly mood lifter.
Roth has seen even the most cynical man melt at the sight of the brown, white, and black baby goats looking for a little attention.
“I love seeing how everyone lights up like 5-year-olds at Disney World,” Roth adds.
On a whim, Janna Feldman posted a photo with two baby goats on the Facebook page for Doe’s & Diva’s Dairy in January: “Thinking of offering baby lamb and baby goat yoga sessions.” The online feedback was encouraging, so she began looking into making it a reality.
When Feldman reached out to discuss a collaboration, Roth felt it was a win-win. Feldman wanted to socialize her kids and ewes, who tended to be leery of humans. Although bottle fed, they still weren’t used to leaping on a stand for milking. Curiosity almost always takes over the little ones in a pasture with colorful mats and yogis. It’s an easy way to get them accustomed to being handled and touched.
The dairy’s sheep and goat yoga classes began in spring 2018. Independent of the classes at Doe’s & Diva’s, a neighboring dairy in Honey Creek (Honey Creek Creamery) also offered goat yoga classes with five different yoga instructors during the initial spring 2018 season.
Rebekah Lowe, 35, joined a class at Doe’s & Diva’s to get centered in the midst of cuddly baby barnyard animals. But her shy lamb kept escaping back to the owner.
“Half the time I tried to get selfies [with the goats], and the other half I did some yoga,” Lowe says.
The 70-year-old dairy owner, Feldman, believes another benefit is just being outside the city limits. Doe’s & Diva’s is located roughly 20 minutes north of Omaha in western Iowa.
Feldman realized this potential on a stressful day when she just sat in the middle of her pasture. The does (another word for a female goat), her divas (the nickname Feldman uses for the ewes), dog, and cats came up to her one by one to offer comfort. Even though it was only 10 minutes, she felt ready to take on the world again.
“It’s restorative. It’s peaceful. It’s beautiful,” Feldman says.
The slow-moving rural life fits with mindful workouts like yoga. Feldman hasn’t joined a session yet due to a hip injury, but she stays plenty busy running around making cheese from “her girls.” People can taste the tangy samples once the class is finished (or they can sign up to take a cheese-making class).
Feldman started the dairy farm in 2005 with her husband when they discovered their daughter was lactose intolerant. Now she milks 30 sheep and 18 goats twice a day.
“The cheese is so good. I was very surprised,” Lowe says. Goat and sheep milk contains lactose but is easier for humans to digest than cows’ milk.
The real stars of the hour show are the goats, with their big personalities, and the sweet lambs. People laugh while doing some gentle yoga, close to the ground. Goats do like to stand on some people, but only weigh about 5-10 pounds, so it feels more like a Swedish massage on the back. And they love to chew on just about anything, but have no top teeth. Sure, some do occasionally urinate on a mat, but it’s all about the experience.
It isn’t for everyone. Classes in April and May coincide with kidding season. Weather could range anywhere from bitterly cold to steamy hot or somewhere in the middle. The cost is $20 for one session at Doe’s & Diva’s.
Chanell Jaramillo, the owner of Transpersonal Health and Simplicity Wellness Yoga + More, grew up around goats on her aunt’s farm. As a child, she saw ornery, older adult goats butting heads. When the idea came up, Jaramillo “wasn’t super-psyched,” but she had no qualms with the proposed collaboration so long as Roth led the classes.
Jaramillo opened her studio in January, only a few months before Doe’s and Diva’s inquired about goat yoga. Then, after the success of the dairy sessions, the Florence Home Healthcare Center reached out to discuss a fundraiser for launching an adaptive yoga program at the senior facility.
Jaramillo, who has a Ph.D. in psychology (her dissertation examined yoga as a healing modality for individuals with autoimmune diseases), noticed no one in town was offering adaptive yoga. She started by partnering with Quality Living Inc. to help rehabilitation patients recover from spinal injuries
Repetitive motions and rhythms allow those with brain injuries or those confined to small spaces to be present in the moment, to expand and breathe. She figured that such an adaptive program would help upgrade services at the Florence Home for seniors who had cardio and pulmonary issues, dementia, or limited mobility.
Incorporating the goats into a fundraiser yoga session at the Florence Home helped provide the financing to get the center’s new yoga program up and running.
Roth, the goat yoga instructor/advocate on Jaramillo’s team, was out of town the day of the fundraiser (May 23). So Jaramillo had to take on herding duties.
With help from Priscilla Russell, another yoga instructor, Jaramillo took two baby goats and a lamb over to the Florence Home in dog crates on a hot and humid day. About 60 people came out with mats or towels for two 30-minute sessions, raising about $500. Since then, adaptive yoga has become part of the Florence Home’s regular schedule for one hour every week, helping participants with anxiety and mood.
Goats were just there for the initial fundraiser to generate public interest; however, Jaramillo says they will be bringing baby goats back to the facility in April 2019 when the kids are still tiny.
She is passionate about teaching anyone yoga, but she sees something special in nuzzle-friendly goat yoga classes.
“The reaction is always the same,” Jaramillo says. “Pure joy.”
Visit doesanddivas.com for more information about the Iowa dairy hosting goat yoga in the spring.
Visit omahaseniorcare.org/florence-home-healthcare-center for more information about the Florence Home.