Sara Wakefield was surprised when Cookie shit on her yoga mat. But, in all fairness, Cookie is a goat, and Wakefield had been warned that accidents might happen.
It's a cloudy Sunday morning, and Wakefield, with her friends Carolyn Gilbert and Laura Andrews, is taking a "Yoga with Goats and Lambs" class from Bikram Yoga Durham at Hux Family Farm. They're here for a lot of reasons—good photos, good stories, some laughs—and Cookie's little indiscretion isn't going to ruin anybody's fun. Before the class begins, the three are already giggling and snapping photos as ambling Nigerian dwarf goats nibble on their toes and strike endearing poses.
Before we get to the Five Ws of why perfectly sane and sanitary young professionals, yoga novices, and expert yogis would choose to enter a pen, put their mats in the dirt, and spend ninety minutes doing yoga while a dozen chewing, bleating, smelly, pesky animals frolic around and on them, know this simple truth: doing yoga with goats makes one unexpectedly and deliriously happy.
"You get an instant perma-smile around these animals," Gilbert says. "It's relaxing just being around them."
"They're so happy that it puts you in a good mood," Wakefield adds.
It's easy to see why. At its heart, yoga with goats embodies a desire to reconnect with the natural world in a genuine, contemplative way, and finding that bond in such an immediate fashion feels deeply gratifying. There's just something about spending time near friendly animals that releases feel-good hormones.
"We work at Duke, so we're not often on a farm hanging out with animals, and the change is really fun," Andrews says. "It's a novelty but it's de-stressing."
It's a sentiment class teacher Hanna Newman, co-owner of Bikram Yoga Durham, hears often.
"Once people come out here, they are surprised by how calming it is to be with the animals because as we begin practicing, as our energy calms down, the goats start to calm down, too," she says. "They definitely feed off our energy."
The exchange goes both ways. Normally, Bikram is a physically rigorous ninety-minute program of twenty-six challenging postures in rooms heated to 105 degrees, designed to elevate the heart rate and work every muscle. It's a serious, taxing practice that requires concentrated focus, and quiet is encouraged.
But add a few mini-goats and suddenly it's all selfies and laughter. As Newman leads participants through the postures, people will stop in the middle of one because a goat is nibbling on or nuzzling them, demanding to be petted.
Newman had long wanted to host a goat yoga class after seeing YouTube videos of the practice in Oregon, but she set the idea aside because of the logistics of bringing goats into her Golden Belt studio. It was simply an idea before its time. "Some of our students were super excited, but I think more of them were confused," Newman says. "I think people are still confused by the idea."
That changed when Amanda Avery called. With her husband, Matthew Hux, Avery owns a small farm. They are slowly turning it into a self-sustaining homestead with animals, gardening, and an elaborate aquaponics system. They started their herd of Nigerian dwarf goats, a miniature breed that usually weighs less than sixty-five pounds, in 2015 for dairy production. The Nigerian dwarf goat is known for being friendly and cuddly, and the couple intended to start a goat-relaxation therapy practice.
"We didn't know what to do with the goats, but we love them and wanted to offer the public access to them," Avery says.
Soon a new use for the herd appeared in the form of a West Coast innovation. Farmer, marketing executive, and freelance photographer Lainey Morse founded the goat yoga concept in Oregon in 2016, and it is widely popular there—according to CNN, there is a 1,200-person waitlist for her classes. Newman had encountered Morse's videos, and Avery has spoken to Morse about the practice. But the phrase "goat yoga," is trademarked, so the Hux Family Farm version is called Yoga with Goats and Lambs.
The trend is just starting to make its way east, and, for now, this is the only place to do yoga with goats in the Triangle, at the end of a long country road in North Durham, a few hundred feet from the Eno River. Hand-drawn signs staked on the roadside point to the parking lot of Hux Family Farm, which doesn't look so much like the farm of imagination. Instead, it looks like a regular house with a long driveway filled with cars, old farm equipment, and construction projects in various states of completion.
But go behind the house, take a left at the sign-in tent, and behold: miniature goats, lots of them, and two not-so-small lambs, tumbling over one another and eating everything in sight. Like eager puppies, the goats mob visitors entering their pen.
"It's like a cat or a dog in that it gives you the feeling of belonging, but it's even neater because it's a goat," Avery says.
Avery and Hux are capitalizing on the goat's versatility and friendliness in other ways. They offer meditation-with-goats classes, several different styles of yoga classes every weekend, children's reading-with-goats sessions, and, most evocatively, private time with goats. You can "adopt" goats through a sponsorship program. They also sell goat's milk soap.
But for Wakefield, Gilbert, and Andrews, just being around the goats is enough. All three are laughing uncontrollably by the end of class, as they snap pictures of themselves in various yoga poses with goats perched on top of them.
"This so exceeded my expectations," Gilbert says. "I just had so much fun."
"This is going to make a great Snapchat story," Wakefield adds.
This article appeared in print with the headline "N-a-a-a-a-maste."