Striking a downward dog pose in the newest yoga class at Smithtown Historical Society comes with a caveat: A bleating baby goat might climb on your back.
Goat yoga is a bit of a national fitness phenomenon. Classes debuted last month in Smithtown, combining the best aspects of a petting zoo with the stress-reducing components of yoga.
The stars of the show are the 20 or so goats that saunter through the historical society’s outdoor expanse, cuddling up to, climbing on — and in rare cases even urinating on — yogis or their mats during each hourlong session. Don't be sheepish: Classes are offered at beginner and advanced levels at $15 a session. They are open to ages 18 and older.
“I like doing yoga and I like animals, so why not bring the worlds together?” says Mallory Feeney, 25, of Selden, who took a recent class. “I think for a spring or summer activity, it’s a lot of fun.”
HOW IT STARTED
Goat yoga originated at No Regrets Farm in Albany, Oregon. Yoga instructor Heather Davis had the idea for the class last year after she attended a child’s birthday party at the farm with her son. Davis and the farm’s owner, Lainey Morse, hosted a yoga class there with six goats and it was a huge success.
It also appears to be resonating at the Smithtown Historical Society, where there is a waitlist of a few hundred people. All 11 sessions being offered through August are sold out.
“People want to have the opportunity to have this type of one-on-one interaction with the animals,” says Marianne Howard, the society’s executive director. It’s made for a calmer and different experience, she says.
Dana Bubolo, 25, of Smithtown, practices yoga two or three times a week and recently tried goat yoga at the historical society. “You come here more for the goats than the yoga,” Bubolo says. “Goats are my favorite animal, as weird as that sounds. It’s fun to watch them.”
MINGLING WITH GOATS
The comfort curve has been short — for people and animals. Since the program launched in June, the critters have been quick to approach and interact playfully with the class members.
“The goats are so loving and affectionate that people just fall in love with them and you just can’t help yourself,” says Karen Bayha, owner of the North Great River-based Steppin’ Out Ponies and Petting Zoo, which supplies the goats.
The animals, which range in age from 1 week to 14 years, are accustomed to being around people because they also appear at children’s parties and at other private events. The baby goats weigh about 2 pounds and the larger ones no more than 40.
Maryellen Viola, 56, of Massapequa Park, took a goat yoga class with her daughter Emily, who was one of a handful of women to have the 1-week-old goats, Blossom and Mayhem, rest on her back during the session.
“It was more fun with the goats,” says Emily Viola, who does yoga once or twice a week. “I could hold the baby goat all day long.”
A WELCOME DISTRACTION
Instructor Lois Healion has taught yoga for 13 years. At first, the goats seemed an odd component to the class, she says.
“Typically, when you start on your mat and you’re centering, you’re breathing to help quiet disturbances in your mind, which usually are negative, or thoughts on your day or what you have to get done,” Healion says. “So with the goats running around, it’s hard to focus because of this other distraction.”
But it’s actually proven a welcome respite: With the goats come the giggles.
“This happens to be a cute, fun, nice distraction, and right away, people are smiling and laughing and happy,” Healion says. “That’s where part of the therapeutic aspect comes in.”
WHEN | WHERE 45-minute private sessions available by appointment at Smithtown Historical Society, 239 E. Main St. (Sold-out public sessions July 26, Aug. 7 and Aug. 22)
COST $22.50 ($15 public sessions)