The nation’s $16 billion yoga industry already features a plethora of sketchy knock-offs – everything from “Ganja Yoga” and “Beer Yoga” to “Circus Yoga and “Naked Yoga.” The appearance of these fanciful “hybrids” seems to follow a well-worn pattern of “niche” advertising: Once the mainstream yoga market became saturated, hucksters of every shade and hue began adapting their product to the “bizarros.”
How else to explain the emergence of “Goat Yoga” — a newfangled blend of feminism, yoga and animal worship that seems destined to enhance yoga’s reputation for pagan hucksterism. Long-time yoga practitioners who have stood by and watched yoga used to sell everything from insurance to cars are beginning to wonder whether the market can survive this latest trend.
It may not, in fact.
On its face, Goat Yoga – or “Goat-ga,” as it’s been dubbed by aficionados — seems fairly harmless. Cooped-up urbanites starved for a “back-to-nature” experience are encouraged to cavort with friendly farm goats while they’re practicing a rudimentary form of yoga. The idea is akin to a petting zoo but the visitors’ communion with the goat-herd is a heckuva lot closer.
Goats not only freely mill about the yoga practitioners but the baby goats are trained to spontaneously hop on their outstretched backs and even cuddle with them. There’s even Goat Yoga just for tots.
It’s turning into a craze. Newspapers in Arizona and Oregon, the two mainsprings of the fledgling mini-industry, have begun covering it favorably, and the public’s interest is soaring. April Gould, who runs Goat Yoga in Gilbert, Arizona, on the outskirts of Phoenix, says she had a waiting list of 600 people three months ago. It has since grown to 900 – and counting.
For goat farm owners like Gould, this is no mere hobby. The “classes” – about 60 minutes of largely unsupervised yoga with a lot of hands-on goat “adjustments” — cost just $30. But with 60 students per class and 3 classes per week, that adds up to more than $250,000 a year.
Lainey Morse, who owns a separate Goat Yoga farm in Albany, Oregon, has taken to her enterprise with a vengeance, even doling out “franchises” to farmers in her native Michigan, as well as in New York, Georgia, Montana and Utah. Farm owners in Canada, Germany and Spain – many of them raising cows, horses and chickens as well as goats – have also expressed an interest.
Recently Morse teamed up with a boutique clothing retailer to produce a host of custom accessories, including Goat Yoga leggings priced at $96 a pair. She’s also created a compelling back-story for her enterprise. She claims that her goats “healed” her while she was suffering through a host of emotional and health problems, including a bitter divorce.
A foreign film crew recently showed up to produce a documentary about her life — and the “miraculous” heading potential of Goat Yoga.
Gould, it seems, is already a celebrity. A trained medical hygienist, she was formerly a contestant on NBC’s “America Ninja Warrior. “ Her resume also lists her as a “professional water skier.” And something else: “Goat whisperer.” That’s right: Gould claims to know the innermost thoughts and feelings of the eight pregnant goats on the farm she co-owns with her friend, Sarah Williams.
There isn’t much evidence that the visitors to these goat farms – many of them from out-of-state — actually practice much yoga – not seriously. Gould admits as much. “We always have at least one professional photographer standing by,” she says. “People want that Instagram photo with the goats. That’s really why they come.”
Gould and Morse seem oblivious to the public health risk, including the threat of exposure to e. coli and other bacteria through close contact with goats. A 2012 public health review conducted by the Centers for Disease Control documented a spate of severe epidemic outbreaks at petting zoos with goats – some that resulted in the death of children.
North Carolina has even passed legislation – known as “Aedin’s Law” — that requires petting zoos to install soap-and-water hand washing stations, signage warning of the potential risk of animal contact, and fences separating humans from animal pens.
And there are risks to goats, too. Humans bring their own unfamiliar germs as well as toxins in cosmetics that can make goats sick. And according to PETA, the national animal rights advocacy group, there’s a natural tendency for goat farms to slaughter their animals when they’re no longer considered “cute” or lucrative.
“We recommend that people do yoga at home with their dogs and cats—and support local farm animal sanctuaries, not [petting zoos],” Catie Cryar, a PETA spokeswoman, told The Daily Caller.
But that advisory, like the CDC’s, will likely fall on deaf ears. Yoga lacks a collective regulatory body to ride herd (you might say) on its 70,000 “registered” yoga teachers — including farm owners like Gould. A spokesperson for the Virginia-based Yoga Alliance, which serves as an informal trade association for the industry, refused to comment on Goat Yoga.
“We’re not in the business of taking a position on what our teachers do,” she said. In the wacky world of
American yoga, it’s hard to tell the kids – from the kids.