Hop on your yoga mat. How do you feel? Sometimes, I feel anxious, whether because of stress at work or because I’m in a room full of other people doing yoga. I get competitive without thinking about it. Lift your leg higher, my inner Tonya Harding says. Stretch farther than that other girl.
But yoga’s supposed to be a self-connecting venture, not a battle for flexibility. There are no points, no high scores, no one to impress.
There’s a Sanskrit term for that: sukha. The direct translation is “good place,” which also means “happy,” “joyful,” or “easy.” In everyday life, it can mean that we go with our natural inclinations and energy, rather than against them. In yoga, it’s about being gentle to the self, not beating yourself up, even when you fall during tree pose or can’t get low into down dog today.
Animal yoga helps us cultivate that sense of ease and joy. During cat yoga at Crooked Tail Cat Café in Greensboro, the staff threw kibbles at our mats, and a dozen cats — all available for adoption — weaved in and out of people’s legs and arms.
It’s hard to feel bad for failing cobra pose when you’re nose to nose with a tabby.
Goat yoga at The Farm at Henley Hill in Pfafftown was even better. Outside, almost 40 practitioners gathered in a pen big enough to hold a hundred of us. There was plenty of room to spread out — and to lay out hay for the goats to munch on.
And eat they did. Grass, hay, kibbles placed on backs. In an atmosphere like that, it can be hard to focus on the instruction, but that’s what yoga’s all about: doing what your body wants. And if you want to sit up and pet a goat, by all means, pet the freakin’ goat.
It helps to have a solid foundation for how to do the moves and what the vocabulary means so you can hop right back into the lesson. But expertise does not the experience make; it’s the spontaneous laughter, from yourself and others, that makes it so much fun.
Good news: Crooked Tail Cat Café has opened a second location in downtown Winston-Salem, and yoga instructor Lana Skrypnyk of Healing Vibes by Lana has plans to lead classes there. The Farm at Henley Hill offers goat yoga once a month from spring to fall. Fontaine Gervasi’s been teaching the class since the farm started offering it last September. I went in the morning, but I want to try twilight yoga: think string lights around the goat pen and a bonfire in the middle.
Gervasi, who teaches yoga sans goats at the Robinhood YMCA, captured my thoughts perfectly: “I love being outside [at goat yoga]. Everybody smiles. It’s not so serious.”
Vriksasana (vriks-SHAHS-anna). That’s Sanskrit for tree pose, which just so happens to be my favorite yoga move. I stand in this pose daily, often while meal prepping in my kitchen, blow drying my hair in the morning, or absentmindedly (outfit permitting) while deep in conversation with my boyfriend.
It’s also a move I regularly practice during my after-work routine at home with cats under foot, during a yoga class held at one of the city’s breweries — or at a nearby farm in Pfafftown.
Yes, you read that right. I’ve practiced yoga on a farm, with goats. And, I’ve also practiced yoga at a cat café. Both were awesome.
For most who practice yoga, it’s a grounding and humbling exercise with an emphasis on balance, centering your body and mind, and a serious practice in mindfulness. In order to do it successfully, and to walk away feeling better than when you started, you’ve got to teach yourself to be present in the moment, while also letting your mind relax; aligning your breathing with your body’s rhythms in a coordinated way.
It’s harder than it sounds, as I’m sure many can relate, but the animals have a funny way of helping with that. While at Crooked Tail Cat Café in Greensboro — the location in Winston-Salem hadn’t opened yet — during a Wednesday night class with Healing Vibes by Lana, cats and kittens of all colors and sizes toiled about the room, playing with toys, resting on — or under — people, enjoying the catnip sprinkled onto mats. And at the goat yoga on a beautiful Saturday morning back in June, goats would graze and visit your mat for some grain or hay. Many folks would leave their mats to visit with a goat on the other side of the pen, and that was OK.
It was more than OK, actually, it was the point of it. These classes were a great reminder of the unsuspecting beauty in the world — and a lesson in being present. How can you take that moment in, and truly cherish it, if you’re on the phone, or sidetracked by work-related anxieties and/or the daily pressures of life? As Kat said, it’s hard to be me mad for failing a downward dog if you’re nose to nose with a tabby.
Both of the instructors of these courses were quick to remind guests of the day’s objective: Take the time during your practice to play and mingle with the animals. Better yourself, and strengthen your vriksasana pose. Just watch out for the little creatures under foot, and maybe, just maybe, work on your balance as you lean over to get in a few snuggles.