Copyright 2022 by Valerie Forde-Galvin
Photo courtesy of the author.
I am a yoga teacher and, no, I am not promoting some weird new style
of yoga. It just happens that, while I was teaching at a community
college in Illinois, something called “goat yoga” had
become the latest fad and was a source of amusement to my students.
We were approaching the Christmas season and in the spirit of fun one
of the students, lacking an actual goat, brought in a stuffed
reindeer. After class we clowned around a bit, posing her toy
reindeer for photographs to imitate those cute posts on social media
-- baby goats frolicking about in yoga classes where teachers
encouraged goats to interact with students. In theory, a goat walking
on your back would be therapeutic. I guess the assumption here is
that the goat is a licensed chiropractor.
a yoga teacher and practitioner, I found the idea a bit strange.
First of all, I know what it feels like to be adjusted in a posture.
It can only be helpful if the teacher is extremely perceptive and has
a solid chiropractic background. Otherwise, when a clueless and
overconfident teacher puts hands on and applies pressure, the effect
is not only painful but potentially harmful.
although a goat might be cuter than a yoga teacher, it probably has
even less qualifications in bodywork. I would not set a goat upon one
of my students nor would I feel confident letting a goat amble along
my own back. I am a yogi; I weigh one hundred pounds. If a goat were
to tread on my spine, only one of us would survive that experience.
only did I see a potential for injury in goat-yoga classes, I was
also concerned about hygiene. Were these goats house trained? I
assume the floor would be layered in sawdust or hay to absorb goat
residue. Did the students wear barn shoes? Gloves? Just how much
liability insurance were goat-yoga teachers required to carry?
to the current fascination with goats, yoga has its own interesting
history. The discipline of yoga has come a long way from its origins
five thousand years ago. It began with folks who were pretty much
like us in their desire to live well. People of any time period and
of any culture have that one thing in common: they basically want a
good life, to be healthy and live in harmony with their surroundings
and with others. The meditative practices developed by Indo-Aryans
were the forerunners of today's yoga. These practices were designed
to increase physical and emotional awareness. In order to suit all
different personalities, yoga offered many paths: bhakti yoga, karma
yoga, jnana yoga, raja yoga, mantra yoga, tantra yoga. What we know
as hatha yoga arose from the latter. Its emphasis was on
strengthening the body to prepare for the enlightenment gained
through meditation. Although the birthplace of yoga was an agrarian
country, I don't think goats were involved. . . or camels or
practice of yoga had been limited to India until the mid nineteenth
century when an interest in physical culture blossomed throughout
western civilization and a yogi was invited to the Chicago World's
Fair. At the time, there was little understanding about yoga. It was
looked upon either as a system of weird contortions performed by
semi-nude ascetics or as the obscure mystical practices of holy men.
yoga originated in a Hindu culture, it incorporated eastern
philosophies. These humanistic schools of thought had previously been
considered strange and exotic to the western mind. However the
nineteen-sixties ushered in a time of change when eastern
philosophies were eagerly embraced. At California's Esalen Institute,
Buddhist and Hindu concepts fostered vibrant new ideas in psychology
focused on exploring human potential. The stage was set for the
Beatles and their Maharishi to come on the scene; yoga became the
“in” thing. Even then, the emphasis was on its spiritual
or mindfulness aspect.
that time, I was attending retreats at various ashrams. Some were
pleasant little oases of Indian culture while others were austere
communities with a pseudo religious flavor. Such ashrams were staffed
by disciples dressed in white who had given away all their worldly
possessions and now lived only to serve the guru. It occurred to me
that these places pointed out the difficulties in trying to impose
one culture upon another. I'm not sure that yoga will ever be fully
understood by westerners. Perhaps the closest thing to authentic yoga
could be found in earlier hippie communes where idealistic folks
lived off the land and, from their yoga and meditation practices,
experienced the kind of high that was safe, healthy, and legal.
forward to the present time. Yoga has become Americanized, practiced
in health clubs and gyms instead of outside in natural settings.
Plastic and spandex has replaced bamboo mats and loose cotton
clothing. A certain competitiveness has entered the arena. How long
can you hold the pose? How far can you twist? Are you wearing the
acceptable designer yoga clothing? Is your water bottle recyclable?
These seem to be the primary concerns of the yuppie yogi of today.
rise in popularity worked very well for me. I found plenty of classes
to teach and began to make a modest living by following my bliss.
During the nineteen-nineties, while yoga was enjoying its heyday, I
attended international yoga conferences, taught yoga on cruises, and
even led annual retreats on a tropical island. I feel fortunate to
have been able to ride out the fads and stay as close as possible to
the essential nature of yoga which is simply to live your life with
constantly remind myself that this philosophy of mindfulness allows
for having fun. Yet I wouldn't consider bringing livestock into an
ashram where, failing to display proper reverence for the guru, a
goat might mistake his mala beads for a snack of pinto beans. Goats
might however be welcomed in any school. . . but as playmates and not
as yoga students. Animals, like children, tend to live their
yoga; they don't need to be instructed in it. Live free, baby goats.
conclusion, later my
student with the stuffed animal obsession positioned her toy reindeer
in what she called “relaxed reindeer pose” where it was lying on its side on the mat. Remember, it
was winter in Illinois; it was cold and dark. Maybe we all needed to
get in touch with our inner reindeer.
note that no animals have been harmed in the crafting of this
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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