The Kids are All Right
Bending the Rules with Goat Yoga
By Maria Johnson
Occasionally, I entertain myself by imagining what my maternal grandmother — who was born in 1904 and died in 1996 — would say about modern life.
Take, for instance, goat yoga, the trend of doing yoga with baby goats in the room. On purpose.
“So you pay money to go into a room and stretch?” my grandmother would say.
“Yes,” I’d say.
“And they bring goats into the room?” she’d probe.
“Well, not full-grown ones,” I’d say. “Baby ones. Because they like to climb on you while you’re stretching. And they’re less likely to pee and poop on you.”
At this point, my grandmother, a well-educated woman who nonetheless retained her country-born common sense, would suck on her ever-present toothpick, pointing it this way and that with her lips, like a little conductor’s baton.
“Seems to me . . .” she’d say in my reverie,“If you had goats, you’d get in plenty of stretching by pulling weeds in the pasture.’”
And because it’s my daydream, and we liked to joust this way, I’d say, “Seems to me if you had goats, you wouldn’t have any weeds in your pasture.”
And she’d say, “Well, I’m sure you could find some weeds somewhere.”
And I’d say, “Listen, this is 2018. You have no idea.’”
And then we’d dissolve into laughter. And that’s why I think if she were a young woman today — even an autumnal woman — she’d enjoy goat yoga with Greensboro’s Cathy Yonaitis.
Cathy’s an occupational therapist by training, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for her to take up yoga about 15 years ago.
When she and her husband Matt built a home in northern Guilford County, she started teaching classes in the basement studio there. Her business’s name, Unite Us Yoga & Therapeutics, was a play on her last name, which is pronounced “unite us.” Also, it was a way of saying that yoga — with its emphasis on tapping into peace and happiness – can “unite us.”
OK, enough crunchy talk.
A couple of years ago, when goat yoga started grazing around the edges of fitness, Cathy’s Facebook friends prodded her to go goat.
She thought it was silly. She was a serious teacher of Iyengar-based hatha yoga, which stresses precise postures. Her friends persisted.
“Once about 10 people tagged me, I thought, ‘Well, maybe I should,’ ” she says.
In May 2017, she borrowed a few goats from a friend and booked five classes. A month later, she bought three Nigerian Dwarf goats and continued having classes through the summer. Every session was full. People were giving her thumbs-up feedback.
But Cathy was puzzled and a bit hurt.
During the classes, no one paid much attention to her, let alone precise poses. The scene was barely controlled chaos. The students were eaten up, sometimes literally, by the goats, which exhibited a fondness for hair and earlobes. Gales of laughter blew through the studio.
Then the husband of a woman with stage four cancer told Cathy how much his wife had enjoyed the class.
Another woman, who was physically disabled, told Cathy she’d never dreamed she could do yoga, until she tried goat yoga.
Thus enlightened, Cathy lightened up. The goats connected her students to the joy she professed to teach.
“This is easy,” she told herself. “If you let it be easy.”
Earlier this summer, two of the goats that Cathy bought last year had kids: Stella, Rebel, Rocky and Einstein.
They were two weeks old, not much bigger than cats and not yet weaned, when I walked into the studio on a recent Saturday morning. The kids were skipping around in loose-fitting baby clothes, the snap-at-the-crotch onesies that Cathy bought at a Goodwill store.
Her husband, Matt and two of their three sons, Sammy and Jonah, were riding herd, scooping up the kids and distributing them evenly for adoration.
I settled onto a mat next to Cheryl Patton, who was visiting from Montevallo, Alabama. She cradled Stella in her lap.
I asked if I could hold Stella, and Cheryl, a bubbly soul with a well-oiled laugh, handed over the soft, sedate kid with a long triangular face and orange-slice ears.
I gave up the goat as Cathy called the class to order and invited us to relax and not take ourselves so seriously. We brought our hands together at our hearts and chanted, “Ommmmmm,” as in “Ommmmygod, I’m being nibbled by a small ruminant.”
Game on. For the next hour, the goats clicked, bucked, butted, spun and skittered across the wooden floor, front legs stick-straight, back legs springing. Cathy kept us in floor poses that made it easier for the kids, weighing no more than a whisper, to climb aboard backs and stomachs.
“Watch your parts,” Cathy cautioned.
Indeed, during the cat-cow poses that found us on hands and knees, one baby started jabbing at the underside of a young woman with its snout, as kids sometimes do when they want to nurse.
The woman had nothing to offer. Soon, however, she was flooded with the peace of goat yoga.
Make that the pee of a yoga goat: small pond of payback.
Matt and the boys rushed in with towels. The woman howled with laughter. She was a zookeeper. Fact is stranger than fiction. Here’s another fact: I can’t remember the last time I heard such sustained, genuine laughter.
Cathy will offer more classes this fall, and she plans to breed this year’s youngsters for fresh batch of kids next spring. Which means, in the bastardized parlance of goat yoga, there will be plenty of “na-ah-ah-ah-maste,” to go around. OH
Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. Cathy’s next goat yoga classes will be September 8th, 9th, 15th and 16th. She does private parties,too. Get more info at uniteusyoga.com.