By Kelly Mitchell
I became a vegan because of goats. Yes, goats. I was a vegetarian for years, mainly for overall health and well-being, but I wasn’t paying attention. I was a pet lover, not an animal lover.
Three years ago, I had a puppy fundraiser at my yoga studio. Jokingly, I asked the shelter coordinator if she had any goats. Her answer was no, but she knew someone. A week later, Karen (a local farm owner), asked me if I’d like to teach goat yoga. I said yes before she finished her sentence. I was excited, yet hesitant because I know goat yoga can be an issue in the yoga community. It borders on cultural appropriation. But the idea of hanging out with goats was too enticing to pass up. The first day, a goat climbed on my back and peed on me. It was amazing.
I immediately observed that goats are curious and affectionate. They know their names. Most of the animals on Karen’s farm are rescued. The babies recognize her as their mother. Karen started referring to me as Aunt Kelly and during the break I was on bottle duty. When students are distracted, goats head-butt each other and chew on bright mats and long hair. Animals respond to the energy around them. When Karen took a bathroom break, they would cry and wait by the door. Each one has a unique personality, just like a dog or a cat. As students settle down, goats find comfort in the curve of a back. I felt dizzy. Bacon is a pig. Meat is a cow or a goat. Buffalo wings are chickens. I made the connection. That is yoga.
For years I immersed myself in trainings, certifications and courses to become the best teacher possible. Yoga saved my life and I wanted to pay it forward, but I learned more about being a teacher on that field than from any book or training. I teach large groups of people of all ages and levels of ability. Some have physical limitations. Some are flat out rude. I hold the space while people squeal, take goat yoga selfies and barely pay attention. One night I scanned the pasture with my eyes. A sea of green, sprinkled with colored mats and funky tank tops. The roster was full, with hundreds on the waitlist. I have a voice.
From that day on, I started every class explaining ahimsa: non harm toward all beings. I spoke about the climate crisis, reducing meat and dairy intake and making better choices. I would stop the class every time a goat walked up to Karen and looked up at her lovingly. It was so clear. They needed to be picked up for a hug, just like a tired toddler. Students began to pay attention. That is yoga.
Within two weeks of going vegan, I felt lighter, but I didn’t lose weight. I knew it was spiritual. The aura of fear and slaughter was no longer in my body. I spent most of my life inadvertently killing animals. I will devote the rest of my life to saving them. It’s not our fault. Most of us were raised to eat meat and drink milk. The horrors of animal agriculture are so well hidden. It’s easy to disconnect from the truth. I’m so glad people, including myself, are beginning to wake up. How can there be peace on this beautiful planet when billions of animals are slaughtered each year for human consumption? This is not a death planet. It’s a green and blue spinning sphere of life.
The general population doesn’t know anything about the philosophy and lineage of yoga. Maybe (as yoga teachers) we need to stop being so snobby. This trendy fad gets people outside in the fresh air. They laugh, breathe and stretch with family and friends. If one person decides to take a traditional yoga class or make a life change to save animals, I leave knowing I’m a good yoga teacher. Most attend because goat yoga was featured on reality TV or to snap the perfect pic for their social media page. But when a goat snuggles up next to them in savasana, they get it. They feel the connection to nature, animals and love. That is yoga.
By Leah Chiappino
“Smile!” A goat named Dash steals the show as he is placed on each attendee’s back for a photo-op as they are in a table top position. When my turn comes around, Dash has a hard time staying put on my back due to my inappropriate attire of work clothes, causing him to continually adorably slip off until he is able to steady himself for the shot.
It’s early June and I’m attending a Goat Yoga class at the Smithtown Historical Society. The session, which features 10 to 15 goats of all ages, is taught by yoga instructor Kelly Mitchell of the Buddha Barn in Bellmore, who after being inspired to begin animal activism by a dog fundraiser at her yoga studio, partnered with Karen Bayha from Steppin’ Out Ponies and Petting Zoo to begin teaching these outdoor sessions.
The classes may be more sought out by those looking for an Instagramable shot that is sure to get a surge of likes than die-hard “yogis” but manage to encompass the main benefits of yoga, which are, according to Mitchell, “love, connection, and union.”
The trend is growing. According to CNBC, Lainey Morse, founder of Original Goat Yoga classes in Corvallis, Oregon, made $160,000 in just her first year of business.
Since she started last summer, Mitchell said that her classes “usually always fill and sell out fast.”
Its rise in popularity reaps benefits for the Smithtown Historical Society, which has hosted Goat Yoga since 2017 after former director Marianne Howard started it with a friend, according to its executive director, Priya Kapoor. “I’ve seen people come from as far as Queens just to do this, people who normally wouldn’t know about the Smithtown Historical Society. [Goat Yoga] has been great for community exposure,” she said.
While its popularity may be due to its appearance on shows like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” Mitchell feels Goat Yoga is a unique opportunity to raise awareness for the goats themselves, most of whom are rescued by Bayha from slaughterhouses and neglectful pet owners.
Mitchell also hopes to bring to light the importance of animal welfare and abuse prevention. “I hope this makes people think differently about the choices they make,” she said.
On her website, www.buddhabarnyoga.com, the yoga instructor further discusses the impact Goat Yoga is having on her mission and newfound passion for animal welfare. “[Goat Yoga] has changed me as a human being. I wasn’t a big meat eater, but I am now a proud vegan. I wish my eyes were open sooner. But I will spend the rest of my life as an animal rights activist, not just a pet lover. With that being said, many practitioners left with a heightened awareness regarding animals in need. If just one person decides to reduce their meat consumption, then I’ve done my job,” she states.
Mitchell admitted that the yoga community sometimes “turns their nose up” to Goat Yoga, but she herself sees the beauty in it because “yoga itself is about connection; it’s about love. Just looking at the goats, you can see they’re so kind, friendly and silly. It’s just a beautiful way to not take life so seriously, get outside, and have fun with family and friends.”
This was evident throughout the session. From the goat that stayed put on one woman’s yoga mat to the beams across faces as a goat walked by, to the laughter when one goat relieved himself on an innocent yoga mat, the field where the class took place was filled with nothing but joy.
Perhaps the most touching aspect was the bond between Bayha and Dash, a goat whom she bottle fed and raised him “as his mother,” according to Mitchell. Now, when Bayha calls his name, he comes running with the same elation a human child would upon greeting his mother after being away from them for a weekend. The difference in this case was that Bayha was not away from Dash for even five minutes. People were in awe.
“It’s moments like this, when I see the excitement on people’s faces, that make me feel like I’m making a difference,” Mitchell said. She also feels this is a great way to introduce people to yoga. “It’s not scary. A lot of people that come into my studio are very intimidated. They don’t know what to expect, they think everybody will be twisting up in pretzels. This is a great way to get people to say ‘Wow, I might want to take a yoga class.’
By Hunter Ellis
Trends come and go but hopefully the true meanings behind them stay. Kelly Mitchell, the owner of Buddha Barn Yoga & Wellness in North Bellmore, New York, was ahead of the curve when it came to the goat yoga craze. “Obviously it’s very popular and trendy right now, but the reason I was attracted to it is because yoga is basically connection,” said Mitchell. “That’s what yoga is all about, and if you’re connecting to an animal or connecting in nature, that’s the perfect fusion of what yoga is.”
Mitchell does goat yoga as a separate entity from her studio, and uses the opportunity to raise awareness for goats rescued from slaughter houses and negligent owners. She works with a farm owner in Long Island who supplies the goats and they host the classes at a Historical Society nearby.
“It ropes them in with the trend but all for a reason,” said Mitchell. Her goal is to raise awareness for rescue, adoption and possibly people’s relationships with food, advocating for the possibility of not eating meat and viewing animals as pets.
As for other pets, Mitchell has experience doing yoga with puppies and kittens at her studio as well. She explained if you’re going to do yoga with animals, goats are wonderful for the interaction and connection. While puppies and kittens scurry and hide during practice, goats are friendly and curious.
Mitchell said goats will lay on your mat, and even climb on your back during downward dog or table top positions. Goats are naturally attracted to humans, especially the babies that have been rescued and bottle fed. Because they look at that person as their mom, they want to be nurtured through cuddling, petting and holding from humans.
Mitchell also explained by incorporating being outside in the fresh air, students are able to broaden their horizons. During these classes she reminds students yoga is not just about physical postures, but instead being present in the moment and moving your body while connecting your breath. When your hands and feet are in the grass, there’s a unique connection to Earth and everything around you.
The most challenging aspect during goat yoga is keeping everybody engaged in the yoga practice. Mitchell’s method is to be light and easy, and let people enjoy themselves without too much rigidity. One example of how she changes it up in comparison to traditional yoga is the eyes are usually closed during Savasana, but during goat yoga she always encourage students to keep their eyes open and just take it all in — the weather, the sky, the grass and the goats coming up to you.
“You kind of have to go with the flow,” said Mitchell. “The first thing I say when I start the practice is I won’t take it personally if you’re not listening to me. It’s like I’m giving them the OK to have fun, because we should never take yoga too seriously.”
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By Hunter Ellis
Kids and energy, two inseparable forces. Kids can bring a special kind of smile to your face, or sometimes a special kind of meltdown to your already-stressful day — they’re overflowing with energy.
Studios across the nation have recognized this energy and created classes to help channel it. One of these studios is Buddha Barn Yoga in Bellmore, New York, where they incorporate exercise, develop confidence and increase concentration in kids during yoga.
“I think the reason I’m so passionate about bringing that into my studio is the gift you can give children, they don’t realize it. You’re teaching them how to move and relate to their movement and be peaceful in their body in a time when it’s really stressful for children to live,” said Kelly Mitchell, the owner of Buddha Barn. “And it’s an honor really to be able to teach them. The fact that you get up in the morning and your job is to affect change in the world affecting a child — it creates a ripple effect.”
Mitchell started her kid’s yoga classes with a workshop specifically for 12-year-old girls. Girl Power was formulated to help young girls at a pivotal point in their lives, as they cross over from childhood to womanhood. The workshop is filled with exercises, dialogue and yoga to help them during the change.
“Girl Power was absolutely beautiful and so rewarding, and that's when i said “OK, I want to do this,” said Mitchell. That’s when she made the decision to open her classes up to a variety of ages for both boys and girls.
All the programs are different, so they require unique props, dialogue and teaching styles depending on the age of the kid’s class. For Mitchell, the best thing to do is gather her thoughts before creating a lesson plan for each class. She decides her mission for the kids, takes notes, then structures it without too much rigidity.
For example in a 5-and-up class, Mitchell incorporates introductions, setting ground rules and then sequences in the physical asana. For props, they use things like breathing balls and bells. They’ve found themes are a good way to get the kid’s energy going, whether it’s animal or nature themed — anything fun they can understand and relate to helps channel their energy.
She also said to be mindful of schedules when deciding when to host classes and workshops. Usually at Buddha Barn Yoga they don’t have any kids classes right after school, in order to give the kids a chance to decompress. She suggests studios just starting to implement kid’s classes try a one-time workshop during seasonal breaks. Parents are always looking for something creative to do with their kids over spring, summer and winter breaks, so if you can get them in the door with one creative workshop it can then transition to getting them signed up for three or six week classes.
In my barn,
animals are cared for and nurtured.
It's a safe haven.
There's plenty of food and it's warm.
There's a big green pasture for grazing
...and playing...and frolicking.
My barn is a sanctuary,
where no animals are harmed