While so many of us are in various states of lock-down, quarantine and home isolation, on a daily basis I will try to re-post a story from the Road Warrior “vault”. I get to chew up isolation hours, while you get something new to read each day (or reread, if it’s a post you’ve previously seen). Plus, as a bonus, we’ll get to virtually travel the world together in this awful time when real travel is all but impossible.
This post – of doing goat yoga in Los Angeles – was originally published in May 2018. And the conclusion of that post is what made me think of republishing it today: “We live in a pretty fucked up world at times. So if something can make you smile and laugh, bring out your inner child, and make you forget everything else for a while, I say, why not?” I don’t think I am alone in saying I’d pretty much give anything to attend a packed, socially un-distanced goat yoga class today.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Los Angeles these past few years. It is a city like no other, packed with weird and wonderful people from all over the world. And, as ground zero for the global film and entertainment industry, LA is possessed of a creative energy that is hard to explain, but easy to feel once you get into the rhythm of the place.
Owing perhaps to this abundance of creativity, Los Angeles is also a city that seems to have an unparalleled ability to cough up random experiences that can be nothing short of bizarre. Be it a disco-motivational cycle class (read about it here), a hippie-motivational vegan restaurant (read here), or a full-blown birthday party for a pet Chihuahua (read here).
As a result I have become a bit immune to it all. Simply put, it takes a lot for Los Angeles to surprise me nowadays. And hence it may seem strange that a simple yoga class a few weeks back did just that: not merely surprising me, but totally blowing up my “only in LA” charts.
Although to be fair, it wasn’t just any old yoga class. Rather, it was a goat yoga class.
Yep, you read right. Not so long ago, in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California, I participated in an hour-long yoga class, along with a roomful of other adult (and presumably sane) human beings. And where, if you can believe it, we were joined in our endeavors by a couple of goats.
Here’s how it went down.
***On a sunny Saturday morning I arrived at Love Yoga Space in Venice. It was just before 11 am and I was booked in for a scheduled goat yoga session. It had been recommended to me as something I should try it, and although I had signed up, right until the moment the class started I expected to find out it was an elaborate hoax. I mean, how could goat yoga possibly be a real thing?
Love is a very popular yoga studio and always busy, especially on weekends. But that morning the place was near bursting – the goat yoga class had completely sold out, never mind the $45 price tag. I think there must have been at least sixty people waiting to go in, plus ten or so other folks milling about in the hope of getting a last-minute cancellation spot.
Once inside we squished in so tightly my yoga mat was almost touching those of the ladies around me. And, might I add, it was all ladies. For some inexplicable reason, I was the only male in attendance that day. Apart, that is, from a teenage boy of about 15, who had come with his mum. (How New-Age California is that, btw? Back in my day, if you told your mates “I went to goat yoga class with my mum,” you would probably have got the shit kicked out of you).
At the appointed hour an instructor walked in and informed us that in our practice that day we would be joined by two special guests. Then, without any further fanfare or fuss, a pair of handlers led a pair of goats into the studio. The room erupted into a buzz of giggles, hand claps, and loud oohs and aahs; at the same time at least a thousand photos were snapped on the sixty mobile phones that had been strategically placed to the side of each yoga mat, ready and waiting for just that very moment.
A handler introduced the goats as Pippin and Sparky. She said that they were both one-year-old neutered African goats, “specially trained to help with yoga”. As we practiced our yoga they would walk around, under and on us, in the process “deepening the stretch and imparting their energy”. I couldn’t help but notice that the goats’ horns had been tightly wrapped in strips of multi-colored tie-dyed fabric, perhaps as a way of reinforcing their yogic credentials.
It took a few minutes for the excitement to subside, after which we all arranged ourselves to stand upright at the front of our mats. The instructor turned on some music – a gentle soothing tune – and took her place at the front of the room. It was time to start.
“Oh, one more thing,” Sparky’s handler called out chirpily, breaking into the expectant silence. “The goats sometimes poop and pee. But it’s a sign of good luck, so count your blessings if they do!”
OK – got it. Now it really was time to start…
***A quick intermission: where does goat yoga come from?
Well, when it involves matters of a vaguely spiritual sort, it is always comforting to know that you are doing something that has an authentic source, deeply rooted in theory, culture and history. In this case, it goes something like this: Yoga is originally from India, and goats are common in India, where they enjoy a sacred place in Hindu theology. Using goats in yoga practice is thus a little-known but centuries-old Indian tradition that was recently “rediscovered” and is now getting to enjoy its day in the sun.
Sounds plausible but um, actually, no – it’s complete bullshit. I made that up.
You see, the truth is that goat yoga, like Santa Claus, is an unashamedly American invention, and a pretty recent one at that.
Way back in 2016 (that is, not all that long ago), a lady living in Oregon was suffering from depression. She decided to move to the countryside, where she bought a rural property, took up small-scale farming, and got herself a few goats. There, as a way of lifting her mood, she would often go out into the field to hang out with the goats. Because, as every three-year old kid who has ever visited a petting zoo knows, you can’t help but feel happier about life when cuddling with a cute, warm, furry farm animal.
After a while the lady began inviting friends round to join in her “Happy Goat Hours”, as she had begun to call them. One of these friends was a yoga instructor, and suggested that because the field was so beautiful, it might be a good spot in which to host a yoga class. The lady agreed, provided that the goats could remain in the field.
All of which explains how, not long after that, while humans were enjoying practicing yoga in that field, they made the accidental discovery that goats enjoyed practicing yoga, too. Or, more precisely, they discovered that goats enjoyed walking around, under and onto humans while said humans were enjoying practicing yoga.
Voila! The (not-so-ancient but oh-so-zeitgeist) activity of goat yoga was born.
That should have been the end of it. Goat yoga should have been classified as something that was really fucking odd, and therefore also something that should best remain in the backwaters of rural Oregon from whence it had come. No different, for example, to other really fucking odd things from Oregon, like the skunk, and Portland. (Fun true fact of particular relevance to Aussie readers: unique in the United States, it is illegal to box with a kangaroo in Oregon – seriously, this is true, Oregon has a specific law covering this bizarre subject).
But, thanks to the power of the internet and social media, that didn’t happen. Instead goat yoga exploded, spreading like wildflower through our hyper-connected world.
Roll forward a few years and our original goat yoga lady has opened four outlets (trading under the registered brand name “Original Goat Yoga”, of course). She now has herds of yogic goats on the payroll, a full line of themed merchandising, and a multi-million dollar business. Things are going so well she intends to start a week-long goat yoga retreat, to be held on a specially built goat yoga ranch.
Meanwhile, researchers at Oregon State University have been inspired by the success of their home-grown goat yoga, and have commenced a formal study into goat-human interaction. For which purpose they have apparently added goat yoga classes to the curriculum for some students. If nothing else proving how academics can also sometimes be complete wankers.
And, jumping straight onto the same bandwagon, budding hipster entrepreneurs everywhere have started offering goat yoga classes of their own. Goat yoga has sprouted up in places as far and wide as New York, Atlanta, Austin, London and Montreal (where I read they have gone so far as to recently inaugurate an annual goat yoga festival). And, to my great delight, goat yoga has even made it Down Under, where it is now available in Sydney and Melbourne, too.
All of which kind of begs two obvious questions. One, when will Lululemon be releasing a range of specialist goat yoga gear? And two, how long before the long-forgotten ancient Aboriginal practice of koala yoga is “rediscovered”?
***Getting back to Venice, however, I was by now well into my goat yoga practice. Pippin was nowhere to be seen, busy working the far side of the studio. But his pal Sparky had taken up residence right next to where I was bending and folding, although had been refusing to make contact. Perhaps, owing to my male pheromones, he had decided to ignore me in favor of all the far more attractive ladies in the area.
Sparky wandered around a bit then came to a stop between the legs of the lady to my left. He did this just as she was positioning herself into a classic Down Dog yoga pose. This in turn prompted the instructor to make a wise-crack about it actually being the Down Goat pose, groan.
After that, as we transitioned into a Child’s pose, Sparky moved over to the woman directly in front of me. Without warning, he reared up onto his two hind legs, and placed his front legs firmly on her back. The woman squealed in delight, everyone around her laughed, and for about fifteen seconds she and Sparky stayed that way, like a human-goat statue, not moving.
This in turn meant that, when I looked up from my own Child’s pose immediately behind the woman, I found myself staring straight into her bum (as I mentioned, the class was super-full that day, and we were packed in really, really tight). Meanwhile arced above her butt was a goat, staring down at me with a distinct look of disdain on his face. Which, it occurred to me, is not something you get to see every day.
After Child’s pose came Pigeon pose. For the uninitiated this is a yoga pose where you lay face-down on the ground and slide one leg up under your torso, at the same time extending your hands above your head, thereby stretching out and opening the hips.
Now, I am far from the most flexible fellow, and it took me a few seconds to get into the pose, with a fair amount of effort and grunting. During which time I didn’t pay much attention to what Sparky was up to. So it came as a bit of a shock when, no sooner had I settled into the pose, I felt a sharp tap on my heels. Followed immediately thereafter by a light thud, as something solid landed right on my back.
That something being none other than a goat, and I sucked in my breath, trying to remain as still as I could. Sparky was pretty still too, his weight like that of a small child bearing down on me, two slightly sharp front hoofs pushing lightly into each of my shoulders, and two back hoofs digging into either side of my lower back. All in all, it was an incredibly weird feeling, neither painful nor pleasurable – just the odd sensation of knowing that a real live goat was, in fact, standing on top of me. Meanwhile, the ladies around me had stopped what they were doing, and were staring, laughing, and taking photos.
And so the class continued this way for the remainder of the hour – the yoga goats doing their thing, and the yoga humans doing their thing, too. Every now and again Sparky would pay me some special attention by standing on my back, pushing onto my chest, or snuggling up against my legs. And each time making me shake my head in utter amazement – honestly, what does it say about the society we live in when we choose to do yoga with goats?
Once the class ended, Pippin and Sparky took up position at the front of the room, and we were told they would stay for a while for anyone who wanted a few extra pics. Almost everybody did, a queue formed, and things fast got creative as one lady after the next twisted herself into an elaborate yoga pretzel, to then get mounted by one or both of the goats.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any more entertaining, they did. Specifically, Pippin decided to poop. And he decided to do this while propped up on the back of a woman, who for her part had been struggling to hold a difficult-looking plank pose. Pippin’s poop came out as a series of little dark pellets, and landed neatly on the floor, just underneath the woman’s tummy. When she saw them she let out a shriek of horror. Not just at the poop itself, but because of the intense mental dilemma it presented: find the strength to continue (she had been at it for a while, and her arms were visibly shaking), or collapse the pose, and land belly first in a pile of freshly laid goat turd…
I took Pippin’s poop as a sign to leave – it was, after all, supposedly representative of good luck and fortune. At the exit I approached one of the goat handlers. I mentioned that I write a blog, and asked if it would it be OK to post about the experience. “Of course,” she replied. “But please tag us on Instagram if you do.” Then she handed me a business card with the Instagram handle on it and above that, the heading: “Party Goats LA”. And, as I turned to go, she left me with one final zinger: “The goats are available not just for yoga you know, but also for functions, parties, weddings and bar-mitzvahs!”
At which point the image of Sparky, decked out in not only tie-dyed horns but also a kippah (Jewish skullcap), popped straight into my mind. I truly can’t remember the last time I have laughed so hard.
By way of a quick last word, later that day I was recounting the goat yoga experience to a friend who is herself a yoga instructor. I explained how they had climbed all over us, and how I wasn’t sure if we were practicing yoga or attending a comedy club everyone was laughing so much.
But rather than pooh-poohing the whole experience as a gimmick, her perspective was interesting: she said that yoga, as a practice, need not always be “deep” and “spiritual”. Sometimes it can simply be physical, a form of exercise (indeed, there are various yoga places around L.A. that advertise themselves as being “yoga for sportspeople”). And sometimes, it can also just be plain old fun – a way to come together with other people, to laugh, and to release.
And then I read a newspaper article about the lady who had started goat yoga, in which she described one of her early attendees: “I remember a lady coming. She says, ‘I almost didn’t come. I bought my tickets a while ago and my husband was diagnosed with cancer, and I’ve been his caregiver and it’s been so hard on me.’ The woman had planned to cancel her goat yoga session, but her daughter talked her out of it. ‘It’s been the best decision I could’ve made, because it’s the first time I’ve smiled in months,’ she told me”.
We live in a pretty fucked up world at times. So if something can make you smile and laugh, bring out your inner child, and make you forget everything else for a while, I say, why not? Even if that something is a goat, standing on your back as you contort into Pigeon pose at a Saturday morning yoga class.