When we approached our yoga pen, 10 bleating voices echoed from the barn as 40 hooves eagerly clip-clopped their way out of the barn and into the paddock adjoining our fenced-off yoga area. As the herd jumped at the plastic fencing, my classmates and I spread out our mats in two rows, dropped anything we didn’t want munched on outside of the fence and readied ourselves for a 75-minute class of vinyasa yoga and playtime. As soon as we were settled, in tumbled Violet, Hank, Don Draper, Archie, Frankie, Sammy, Abe, George, Roger and Otis. Wubbena asked us to sit calmly and focus on our breathing—not an easy task with these cuties gallivanting around the pen, walking (and pooping) across our mats and nibbling everything in their sight.
Wubbena led us through a vinyasa flow series, and as we hit certain poses, we’d find goats perched upon our backs, butts and shoulders. “For them, they’re just doing what they naturally do,” Wubbena says. “Every class that we have, they do something new. Like, they’ll jump on somebody in a different pose. It’s a learning curve for them to trust people and be happy around them. Every class that we have, they are more adventurous and more friendly.”
Often, the goats needed no persuading to climb over you as if you were a rock formation, but if they needed coaxing, Wubbena guided them by trailing leafy tree branches around like a bovid pied piper. They eagerly scrambled over one another—and us—to munch the hickory and oak leaves.
As for the workout, you know how I said the goats treat you like a rock formation? You really have to act like a boulder, meaning your abs have to be rock solid. When you’re holding a plank pose and three goats jump on you, you want to be as sturdy as possible. But, other than the many ab challenges, the rest of the workout was very, very gentle. So gentle I’d hesitate to call it a workout. And that’s on purpose. “You don’t want a really intense yoga class around the animals because you don’t want to be moving quickly,” Wubbena says. “You don’t want to be in a position where, maybe you’re a little precarious, and a goat jumps on you, and you tweak your knee or something like that. You have to think about the mechanics and the anatomy and making sure that your clients are safe and that the goats are safe.”
Going into the class, I was concerned about following the usual yoga directive of keeping my mind to my mat, but Wubbena encouraged us to interact with the goats to unwind. “We say at the beginning of class you can be silly, you can take pictures, you can stop and play with the goats,” she says. “That’s what yoga is: it’s a connection. So much of yoga sometimes becomes the physicality. The pose is not yoga.”
Wubbena, who has more than 20 years of experience in fitness and is working on her master’s degree in occupational therapy, cites the many advantages of spending time with animals, including lowering your blood pressure, reducing anxiety and stress and lessening the physiological effects of stress—that is, if you’re not afraid of animals. If you’re stressed about goats or allergic, animal-assisted therapies might have the opposite effect. Those benefits are not just lip service. As I watched the sun dip behind the trees, I listened to the cicadas singing and felt the goats nibbling at the grass beneath me, and my stress melted away. I might not have broken a sweat, but this is definitely one workout class worth trying.