Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Yoga with Goats

By C.J. Hirschfield

Yes, it’s a thing.

Children’s Fairyland’s Animal Caretaker Maura McMichael first heard about it about a month and a half ago, when family and friends started sending her clips from the New York Times, USA Today, and ABC News. One of the first yoga-with-goats classes took place in a town about 70 miles south of Portland, Ore.; it now has a waiting list of 600. People, not goats.

At first Maura thought it was funny. Then she realized that yoga-with-goats was a dream come true. “This combines two of the most wonderful thing in my life,” she says. She thinks other people will enjoy it, too, so she’s working on a plan to lead classes at Fairyland, when the park isn’t open to the public.

Maura, Brownie, and Cookie practice their downward-facing dog pose. Or is it downward-facing goat?

Maura was raised on a 30-acre sheep farm in Scott’s County, Ind., where her family also raised horses, pigs, cattle—and goats. A few hundred animals reside on the farm at any time. Beginning when Maura was 7, she and her sister were charged with handling the sheep for her church’s Christmas nativity scene. So it was at an early age that she learned how to diaper a hoofed animal, something to consider for goats and yoga if the class is held inside. “It doesn’t really bother them,” she says.

Health issues first brought Maura to yoga about a decade ago, and she praises the practice and its many virtues. She gave up the farming life to pursue a degree in art at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, where she earned a degree in painting. 

In addition to being an accomplished artist and caring for Fairyland’s menagerie, Maura also teaches art to children in after-school programs. And she has recently begun training to teach yoga to kids as young as 4 years old.

Maura has held a few practice sessions, with a handful of her friend volunteering to do yoga with our goats Cookie and Brownie. They set out mats, and put out an occasional treat. “They [the goats] nibble on you, and follow your body language,” Maura says. When you create a human bridge with your downward-facing dog, the goats like to go under you.

A standing salute.

I had a question for Maura: Why a side of goats along with your yoga?

Maura says that part of yoga is accepting yourself, and she believes that the goats’ humorous energy can improve one’s state of mind. I have come to believe over the years that Fairyland itself represents a therapeutic environment, and Maura thinks goat yoga ties in with that theory. She says that the goats respond well to humans when we’re in a relaxed state. And darn it, they really are cute and fun.  (I’ve written before about how our two adorable mini-goats climb trees.)

Maura is proposing that we use the secondary stage of our Aesop’s Playhouse as the location, where the adjacent meadow can serve as a “safe space” for the goats.

I’ve asked Maura to come up with a budget and more details before we proceed. But just talking about the possibility of goat yoga at Fairyland makes me smile.

Maura’s dad has been a farmer for over 30 years; he also is an agriculture teacher who leads annual kindergarten farm tours to introduce kids to the animals. “That’s what I’m doing at Fairyland,” says Maura, who says she still pinches herself when she realizes she’s able to be a farmer on Lake Merritt, in the heart of a major city.

And what does her Midwestern dad think of the goat/yoga connection? “I haven’t asked him,” she admits. “He’s a country boy, and I don’t know if yoga exists for him.”

But here in the Bay Area, this nonprofit business could be on to something big.

To see Maura’s art, visit her website.

And here’s a brief video of the first goat yoga classes.

C.J. Hirschfield has served for 14 years as executive director of Children's Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation of the nation's first storybook theme park.

1 comment:

  1. sign me up! I haven't done any yoga, but the prospect of doing it with goats might actually get me started.