SOUTH AMHERST — Carnegie is happy.
He roams the room for a while before he finds the spot he really wants: a perch on Tanna Torkelson’s back.
Torkelson is in a high plank, balancing on her palms and toes. Carnegie looks serenely over her shoulder while another goat nibbles her fingertip. Torkelson breathes in, centers herself and giggles.
“They’re like delightful little fuzzy distractions,” Torkelson said. “The best kind.”
Carnegie is a 5-week-old Nigerian dwarf goat, a tiny brown-and-white ambassador of peace, love and good feelings. He has no idea he is the perfect accompaniment for goat yoga, a new trend of destressing embraced across the country, spread by social media videos and just starting in Lorain County.
Torkelson, a yoga instructor with a studio in Lorain, teamed up with Downs On The Farm in South Amherst to offer goat yoga. Yogis move through their poses just like any yoga class, but with the added twist of baby goats roaming around.
The idea took off in California and looks like it is here to “baa-maste.”
While goat yoga is an emerging trend, the idea behind it is not — and comes with years of research to prove that connection with animals is good for the human soul.
“You extend a warm gesture of petting an animal, they extend a warm gesture by nuzzling your hand. There’s something beneficial in that,” Torkelson said. “They’re some mental reprogramming that happens when somebody pets an animals and bond with it.”
The partnership came about after Torkelson — a nutritional counselor and instructor who owns Threads of Wellness — and Shawna and David Hodges were introduced via social media by a mutual friend.
Torkelson, who opened her studio after leaving her job as a nutritionist with a corporate grocery chain, received a deluge of “goat yoga” videos on her Facebook page. She had studios in Vermilion and Avon Lake before opening one in Lorain a year ago.
The Hodges were in the midst of trying to open their 55-acre farm when they started seeing goat yoga videos.
While living in Colorado in 2009, the Hodges started Downs On The Farm, an animal sanctuary to provide animal-assisted activities for children and adults with special needs. The farm is in honor of their son, 9, who has Down syndrome. They moved the business to Oberlin in 2013, before buying their property on Telegraph Road in South Amherst in December.
“It is very therapeutic, so this is very exciting. We can’t wait,” Shawna Hodges said. “Honestly, there is this unconditional love you receive from an animal. There is an automatic connection.”
The kickoff class is Friday, and then classes will resume again June 12. As of now, there will be four monthly classes for adults and four for family yoga. Adult yoga sessions are an hour and family yoga is 45 minutes. They are building “social times” into classes, opening the doors
10 minutes early and keeping them open after classes to allow yogis to mingle with the goats “and take selfies,” Torkelson said.
Although it was only announced in the past few weeks, most of the adult sessions are already full. All sessions are designed to accommodate about 15 people, Torkelson said.
They plan to continue goat yoga throughout summer, but classes beyond June will not be scheduled until they gauge the demand. Torkelson said she already expects more adult classes may be needed in July, based on how quickly they fill, along with a “happy hour” just to hang out with the goats.
“We’re going to see if it’s a hit,” Torkelson said. “We might open it up and put it outside, clean up some pasture and fence it off if it’s popular.”
For now, classes are in a newly built building at the Telegraph Road farm with clean floors, big windows and a red leather couch in the corner. The Hodges are installing a large parking lot, commercial sewage lines and building a new home on the property.
The Hodges have two 5-week-old goats and a handful of
8-week-old goats, all Nigerian dwarf breeds that even when full-grown do not stand more than a few feet tall. As she moves through poses on her mat, Torkelson calls out occasional instructions like “and reach high, then to the front, now pet a goat if you have one.”
The goats mingle through the mats, stopping to taste a toe here and nibble a ponytail there. Downward dogs might result in a goat on your back or cuddled into your neck. Occasionally two or more will wander off, tilt their heads at each other and start butting heads before prancing back to the mats.
“They’re just playful and happy and snuggly and silly, kind of awkward and quite affectionate,” Torkelson said. “When I met the goats I scooped one up and it instantly nuzzled my shoulder. I gasped and it looked up at me and kind of suckled my nose and went back to nuzzling me. So ridiculously cute.”
“The goats might kind of take over your mat. Some people just stop practicing, they just hold them and snuggle them,” Torkelson said. “It’s kind of a novelty. Everybody wants to do it because they’ve seen the videos.”
For information on goat yoga, visit www.threadsofwellness.com or call (440) 623-6246. For information about Downs on the Farm, visit www.downsonthefarm.org or call (970) 397-2010. Both organizations also have Facebook pages.
Contact Rini Jeffers at 329-7155.