The first thing Cigdem Thanhoffer told the eight yogis gathered inside the pen at her Little Big Beak Farm on Bokeelia was to make sure we put our shoes outside the fence.
“Anything you don’t want nibbled on,” she says, “goes outside.”
Our yoga mats stayed—although, she warned us, those might get nibbled on, too. But Tanhoffer made no apologies for her goats.
“They chew, they burp, they poop,” she said as she walked around the pen, sprinkling animal crackers, a parade of goats following her. “What do you expect? They’re real goats.”
Real goats are the draw of the experience at Little Big Beak’s weekly goat yoga class, what brings yogis of all skill levels to this 3-acre farm in the middle of Pine Island. Thanhoffer, 34, owns Little Big Beak with her husband, Gerard, 62. The two have been married for the last 12 years, and they both hail from Switzerland. They’ve lived on Bokeelia since 2011.
In 2017, when Thanhoffer told her yoga teacher that they were getting goats on the farm, the teacher asked if she was going to host goat yoga classes. Thanhoffer thought, “Why not?”
She began with one class, on a lark, and it was an instant hit. Since then, Little Big Beak has been hosting yoga classes every Saturday morning. Thanhoffer serves as goat wrangler—bringing them into the yoga pen, disbursing animal crackers and taking photos—while a yoga teacher gives the class.
With our mats spread out in three neat rows, we began in a seated pose, eyes closed, breathing deeply. Some yoga studios play New Age music and some prefer contemporary tunes. This yoga session flowed to the sound of clinking bells, occasional bleats and a rough crinkling as one very intent Billy goat tore at the siding of the old dog kennel. As the yoga teacher instructed us to breathe in, I peered beneath my eyelids at the goats who wandered the pen, strolling casually across mats and chomping at clumps of grass. The goats were up to four months old and they ranged in sizes, though most were knee-high.
We transitioned into Mountain Pose, and as I stood with my feet-hips’ width apart and my hands at my sides, I watched the roaming goats as they cruised the corral. One straddled my neighbor’s mat and set to work chewing a hole through the middle. She tried to keep her balance as we moved into tree pose, and I giggled so hard I almost fell over. The mat-eating goat moved off to other corners of the pen, and I managed to find my balance. But before I could get my foot propped up on my leg, the goat was back and again intent on eating my neighbor’s mat.
By now, I was laughing so much that I was useless at yoga. Which is fine, because we were moving into tabletop pose, which involves crouching on all fours with a flat back. Easy enough, I figured. Just as I had settled into the pose, congratulating myself on my good form, I was knocked flat by a heavy thunk. Four hooves danced across my back as a 10-pound baby goat with light brown fur and a small set of horns wobbled and tried to get his footing. He tumbled off, and thunk! A second goat, this one black with pale yellow eyes, about the same size as the first, took his place. He didn’t stay long before jumping across to my neighbor’s back. I sat up, laughing too hard to stay in that position, and watched as goats leapt across the pen, from flat back to flat back, playing king of the mountain and head-butting as the yogis on all fours squealed.
Goat yoga started in 2016 on a farm in Oregon. Its originator, Lainey Morse, was suffering a bout of depression following her divorce, and she found that spending time with her goats lifted her spirits. She started inviting friends over for a goat “happy hour” to share in the delightful riot, and before long a yoga teacher friend asked if she could host yoga classes at the farm. Morse gave her the green light, and the concept exploded in popularity. Soon, Morse had a waiting list 1,000 people long for her yoga-with-goats concept.
At Little Big Beak, and in general, the practice is less about the yoga and more about the goats. A goat yoga class isn’t striving to strengthen your chaturanga or perfect your pigeon pose—though both poses may be part of the day’s class—the idea is that goats are fun and mischievous. They do unexpected things like jump on your back and nibble on your fingers. They try to eat your mat, and then they poop on it. They are unpredictable and hilarious, and a little hilarity is good for our wellbeing.
When we’d been thoroughly stomped-on, the yoga teacher had us transition to another standing pose. The little girl behind me let out a long, “Eeeeeeewwwww,” and I turned to see a fresh pile of goat pellets on her mat.
“It’s OK,” Tanhoffer reassures her, “just shake them off.”
The little girl took it in stride. She shook the pellets into the dirt and moved seamlessly back into Warrior Three. Meanwhile, at my neighbor’s spot, a strolling goat showered the corner of her mat with a stream of urine. I looked at her and she looked at me, and she just grinned and held her pose.
By now, we were nearing the end of class and the goats, for the most part, had settled down. When the class was officially done, I sat up and made to stand, and the little girl from earlier pointed at my leg.
“You’ve got poop on you,” she says. I looked down to see that she was right—a few pellets had mashed against my leg. I brushed them off and started rolling up my mat. My belly ached from laughing, and I was in a spectacularly good mood. Different yoga styles have different benefits, it’s true, but I couldn’t remember the last time I’d left a yoga class with a smile that wide. A little goat poop seemed like a small price to pay.