By Kaitlyn Martin and Brittany Bernstein
A little black goat named Elvis gnawed on a stray shoe in the Frank Bush Barn during a goat yoga class at the Smithtown Historical Society on Thursday night.
Twice a month 30 people are willing to try their hands at perfecting their warrior poses while surrounded by goats bleating, sleeping and butting heads.
“We didn’t really get any yoga done,” Veronica Milito, who participated in the Historical Society’s goat yoga, said. “But I had the absolute best time because I got to lay around with goats for an hour, so I really enjoyed it and would do it again.”
Over 36 million Americans practice yoga, according to the Yoga Alliance. When practiced correctly under proper guidance, yoga can reduce muscle pain, increase flexibility and improve mental health, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Adding mischievous goats into the mix, however, is a relatively new trend that is bringing in people by the hundreds at the Smithtown Historical Society. The society’s board president Kathy Tusa said their first session had a waiting list of 560 people.
“Marianne, the executive director, had texted last spring saying, ‘what do you think of goat yoga?’ And we said, ‘are you drunk?’” Tusa said. “But she sent out an e-vite and it was filled up in six minutes.”
The popularity of the Historical Society’s Goat Yoga has not died down since its debut in June. Tusa mentioned one of the participants they had on their Nov. 2 class had come all the way from Queens, driving an hour-and-a-half just to play with the goats. Milito booked her October yoga date back in July.
Goat yoga was started on a farm of therapy animals in Albany, Oregon in July 2016 by Lainey Morse of No Regrets Farm and has since spread across the country from Oregon to Massachusetts, Texas, New York, and plenty of other states. Morse had previously held other events with her seven Nigerian Dwarf goats, like Goat Therapy and Goat Happy Hour, but none were as popular as the Goat Yoga, which drew a 2,400 person waiting list and made national news.
The goats helped Morse during her battle with Lupus and started her goat-centric events as a way to spread the happiness the goats had given her, she told The Statesman Journal. She added that while many places use dogs and horses as therapy animals, she finds goats have a unique sense of calm and a strong desire to be pet that makes them perfect for yoga.
The Smithtown Historical Society is currently the only place on Long Island offering regular goat yoga sessions, though the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Suffolk County held two goat yoga classes in Yaphank in July.
The human participants are not the only ones who benefit from goat yoga. The goats themselves enjoy the extra attention they receive during the hour-long sessions.
“[The goats] love it,” Karen Bayha, owner of Steppin’ Out Ponies and Petting Zoo and provider of the goats, said. “My goats are very interactive, they love people, they actually cry when I leave their pen, they want more interaction with humans, so this is the perfect environment for them.”
The benefits of doing yoga with animals involve mental health. Bayha’s goats also act as therapy animals for children who have anxiety and social issues, a testament to the healing power of the small farm animals.
Yoga with goats is a “totally different ball of wax,” Lois Healien, the instructor of the Historical Society’s goat yoga and a yoga instructor of 15 years, said.
“[But] there’s a lot of laughs,” she said. “So, I think it’s all beneficial. Anytime you feel good about yourself and you get a few good laughs in and you do something good for your body and your spirit that’s good.”