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Breathe in, bleat out: Goat yoga comes to West Virginia

July 12, 2018

WALTON, W.Va. (AP) — The yoga class started with a cow pose, “because we’re on a farm,” joked instructor Jamie Dickenson.

We laughed. But cows were not the stars of the class — goats were.

Six Nigerian dwarf goats pranced through the class, sometimes nibbling on oats and carrots set out for them on our yoga mats, sometimes nibbling on the mats themselves.

Though the high summer temps put a literal damper on the class — as we sweated like dogs in downward dog — every face had a large smile. There’s just something about goats that lifts the spirit.

What ended up being a hot summer class was booked on a cold winter day. Dickenson, the owner of Yoga Power, located in Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, posted the event in January, where it sold out all 100 spots in 24 hours. She later scheduled a second class offering another 100 spots, which also sold out in a day.

Yoga Power hosts lots of creative events to keep things interesting for clients — and to attract new ones. They’ve offered Aerial Yoga (with and without black lights), Hip Hop Yoga, Yoga Hikes, even Laughing Yoga. For kids, they’ve had events like Storytime Yoga.

“A lot of people in town, around the state, think I have a very nontraditional yoga studio — which I do — but my philosophy is to do whatever it takes to get people through the door to introduce them to yoga,” Dickenson said. “Every time I do some funky workshop, it brings people to the studio. I think there’s lots of people who would like to try yoga who are intimidated, so when you try a fun twist they’ll be more likely to come.”

She even got the studio a beer license so they could serve drinks for Beer Yoga, Sangria Saturday and Yoga & Champagne Brunch.

“I do that because I think people will do yoga to drink a beer, to give them the nerve to try yoga,” Dickenson said.

Playful goats, it seems, also give people the nerve to try yoga. Of the 200 people who booked the two classes, nearly half were new clients.

“I’ve been in business 20 years, I’ve never had anything sell that hot before.” Dickenson said. “I just thought it would be a fun thing to do outside in the summer, but I didn’t realize it would be a sellout crowd.

“People even at the event were coming up and telling me this was on their bucket list. (I said,) ‘I’m glad you marked it off.’”

On June 30, the 10 a.m. class drove out to the Roane County farm, just 30 minutes outside of Charleston. The farm, which is owned by Shanna and Jason Thompson, has been in Jason’s family since 1850. They only moved their family onto the farm, though, in 2016. In addition to the goats, they have chickens and two donkeys, Mr. Henley and Pip.

“The donkeys are here to protect the goats from the coyotes,” Shanna said. “The donkey will stomp a coyote and throw it over the fence. But the coyotes know the donkeys are here so they stay away.”

Though she’s not a regular yogi, Shanna did attend one of Yoga Power’s Acro Yoga classes, where yogis do acrobatic-style poses in tandem. That’s how instructor Angie Edmunds learned about the farm.

“That was a blast, and I was awful,” Shanna said. “When you do Acro Yoga, somebody is your base and somebody else flies. I was flying and in a not-good position, and my foot kept kicking, and I said, ‘I feel like my donkey.’”

When Dickenson told Edmunds she was thinking about teaching a Goat Yoga class, Edmunds thought of Shanna’s farm.

The Thompsons agreed to host the event. Though they’d never hosted an event on the farm, they had no reservations about 100 yogis descending on their place.

“The only thing we had to do is wait for the rain to stop,” Shanna said, referring to the poor weather earlier in the month that forced both classes to be rescheduled to June 30. “I think all of our neighbors are wondering what’s going on here,” she added.

The Thompsons set out buckets of water for the goats and handed out cups of food for the class to put on their mats. For the second class in the afternoon, they set up tents so the goats and the yogis could cool off in the shade. Their children, Zosza and Nila, also helped corral the goats and hand out food.

The class began after a half-hour or so of mingling with the goats. Kids and adults alike were delighted as the animals trotted up from behind the house to the adjacent fenced-in pen where the class was to take place. The donkeys also wandered over for some petting. Children held out branches, and the goats happily munched on the dried leaves.

A couple goats wandered over to the yoga mats and lunch boxes, giving every foreign object a nibble. One wandered from mat to mat, sampling each with a nip as he went. Another stuck its head in tote bags.

The goats, who had been bottle-fed as babies, were particularly drawn to the water bottles, sipping through straws and nipping at nozzles.

“One came up and got Angie’s water bottle and just flipped it up and guzzled it,” Dickenson said. “She was dying.”

When the class started, the goats turned their attention to the food placed on the mats.

As we moved from sun salutations (bowing and touching our toes), into downward dogs (standing in an inverted V with hands and feet on the ground), into warrior poses (spreading legs and arms wide and bending one knee), the goats happily wandered between the yogis — sometimes wandering straight into them, as one mischievously bumped a woman standing on one leg in a tree pose.

Though the mats grew hot under our feet as the sun rose, the goats drew our attention away from any discomfort. The goats’ ability to distract is probably a big part of the reason that goat yoga has become a nationwide craze: They force you to focus on the delightful present. How can you be caught up in your head dwelling on day-to-day stress when a goofy-eyed animal is watching you stretch, and maybe trying to steal your water?

Even Dickenson, who was worried about the class’s comfort in the extreme heat, had to laugh at the animals’ antics. “Angie put food on the front of my mat and the back of my mat. I go into downdog, and I was about to go to the front of my mat. So I look up, and there’s a goat in front of me, and (I look) down my legs and there’s a goat behind me, and I just busted out laughing because I was looking at goats forward and backward.”

After 20 minutes or so of stretching, the class ended in shavasana — or a corpse pose — with everyone stretched out on the mats with their arms and legs limp and relaxed. It felt like we were sunning ourselves on the beach, with the rustle of goats nibbling plastic bags in place of the rustle of waves.

While Dickenson originally intended for each Goat Yoga event to last about two hours with 45 minutes of yoga, she decided to cut the yoga part short for both classes.

“I could tell people were starting to melt,” she said.

No one seemed to mind the abridged class, though. “People didn’t care, they just wanted to play with the goats,” Dickenson said.

The event was a big draw for children, so in the end, “It ended up being, for me, more about the kids,” she said. “They were so fascinated by the animals. They just had a ball.

“There was a little girl, she couldn’t have been more than 3, and afterward she was screaming and crying, she did not want to leave those goats. Her mom was dragging her by the arm, (saying,) ‘Yes, we have to go, the goats have to go to bed.’”

One Yoga Power regular, Jennifer Wooten, brought her daughter, Chloe, 6, and Chloe’s friend, Lillian Hamilton, 7, to the class. “This is our first goat yoga. (The girls) have been very excited,” Wooten said.

Chloe said her favorite part of the class was petting the goats. She has been going to other yoga classes, and is learning how to do a handstand. “It’s fun!” she said.

“Especially with goats!” Lillian added.

Wooten said they’d do goat yoga again if the class is offered.

Dickenson and Shanna are considering offering another event later this year, but it’ll be a couple months before they start talking about making plans.

“I think, if the demand is there, we’d do another in the fall,” Dickenson said. “And the demand is there.”

“I think the fall would be best,” Shanna said, “when the leaves are pretty and it’s not so hot.”

To find out first about events, follow Yoga Power on social media, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You can also find events listed on the Workshops & Events page of their website, at yogapowerwv.com/pages/workshops. The studio is located at 601 Morris St., Suite 302. Contact them through their website at yoga powerwv.com or by calling 681-265-9384.


Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.

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