Stressed Out? Try Goat Yoga

Highland Park’s Pingree Farms offers a quirky fitness class

In late December of last year, 51-year-old Diane Nothaft walked into a barnyard-themed warehouse just south of Pingree Farms in Highland Park. The facility stood out amidst empty lots and transformed industrial buildings. Accompanied by a friend, she’d taken the almost hour-long trip from Ypsilanti for something she’d been wanting to do for a while — Pingree Farms Goat Yoga.

As she took off her shoes and placed her mat on a thick layer of straw, one participant held the “downward goat” yoga pose while another tried the “stretching kid.” An instructor soon began teaching the class. Then, as the participants started relaxing into their practice, at least 20 kid goats were released into the room at once — a free-spirited barrage of hilarious bleats and baas, eager to meet expert yogis and beginners alike.

Despite Seven Mile and I-75 consuming the backdrop of Pingree Farms, a nonprofit dedicated to youth education and neighborhood revitalization through agriculture, maybe seeing barnyard animals in Detroit shouldn’t be so strange after all.

“I’m actually going again,” says Nothaft, who also had the chance to cuddle the goats and take pictures during the Saturday class. “I’ve got lots of friends that want to go.”

The activity known as goat yoga originated in Albany, Ore., in 2016. Since then, it has spread across the nation, including here in southeast Michigan. Pingree Farms started hosting hour-long yoga sessions in 2017, which have a 50-person max and tend to fill quickly.

“I can’t even think of one person that doesn’t come out of the room beaming,” says Holly Glomski, the manager of Pingree Farms, which has a new batch of the baby animals for its classes this spring. She finds that goat yoga helps participants think about their breathing, take a moment out of their fast-paced lives, and connect to their body.

“[They’re] just absolutely happy and excited,” she says. “It’s hard to bottle that feeling.”

Certified yoga instructor Natalee Neely, who started teaching classes at Pingree Farms in 2017, agrees, saying that traditional yoga is an internal examination of self, but goat yoga is more so an external experience. “There’s definitely a connection between the students and the goats, which is observable,” she says.

“[Goat yoga] made me laugh,” says Kaye, who at the time was reminded not to take life too seriously. Glomski and Neely are onto something. Marieka Kaye, from Ann Arbor, attended a Pingree Farms Goat Yoga class last summer. Nearly a year later, she can still remember how one goat spent the entire session napping on her mat and nibbling gently on her toes.

“That’s always therapeutic for me.”

The effects are beneficial for the participants — an increasing amount of research shows that interacting with animals can improve mental, physical, and social well-being — and for Pingree Farms, which started turning mostly dilapidated land near a manufacturing company into rows of tomato, squash, corn, cucumber, and eggplant crops in 2010.

The $27.50 for each session of Goat Yoga allows the nonprofit, which now occupies 15 acres of garden space, to continue their community programming. Glomski, a teacher herself, works with other educators to bring animal care and academic opportunities to middle schoolers. While learning about every species on the farm, she says students also understand what it takes to be a good citizen and human in this world.

“It’s a good resource for the community,” says Glomski, citing how many Detroit students have had the chance to participate in a leadership program where they raise, train, and exhibit animals at local county fairs. “Our hope is to also expand our programs in which we can actually get residents, especially right around the farm, actively involved in the whole gardening process.”

The farm relies heavily on volunteers, and as a smaller nonprofit, an added benefit of goat yoga has been the exposure from people like Nothaft and Kaye coming in, loving the experience, and then spreading word about goat yoga and Pingree Farms itself.

“I think one thing that’s really important is that so often in life we do things that are fun, just for the fun of it,” Glomski says. “This is something that you can feel great doing … knowing that it goes for a good cause, knowing that it goes to help another person, to enrich our future generations.”

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