Suzanne Chiasson stands by her mat at the front of the outdoor yoga studio. She is laughing as she welcomes her guests while simultaneously trying to corral the group of goats, all in time for her next class.
“It’s way more than people expect, being outside and getting in touch with nature. And then the goats come into play,” says Chiasson.
A phenomenon that started accidentally at a farm in Oregon in 2016, Goat Yoga has exploded on social media and rapidly infiltrated cities throughout North America and into Europe. Lucky for us, one entrepreneur has introduced the unique sport to Collingwood and The Blue Mountains.
“It was spontaneous, really,” says Chiasson. “My daughter and I were going for a country drive, as we love to do, when I spotted the baby goats.”
To her daughter’s sheer embarrassment, Chiasson pulled the car into the private driveway, got out, and started playing with the goats.
“The farmer came out as I was playing and was very approachable,” continues Chiasson. “Before I knew it, I was leasing the whole herd.”
Chiasson says she always has ideas buzzing around in the back of her head, so when an opportunity presents itself, she jumps on it.
“Some things work out so easily and naturally,” she says. “It all just fell into place.”
After a few weeks and a few trips to the city for supplies, Chiasson had constructed her dream studio. With the goats in place, she opened her doors to the public on Canada Day weekend.
“I just love the feel of this space. People lie in the grass and can see the hill from here. Connecting barefoot to the earth and using the grass to help you get that delicious stretch or extra massage on your back. It’s intimate this way.”
And the business skyrocketed. Chiasson says she’s been busy every single weekend, and she is already looking for an indoor location to continue her passion project throughout the fall.
“It’s the most hilarious way to experience yoga,” says Emily Mikel, who noticed the Goat Yoga sign while she was driving through to Collingwood to visit a friend. “I wish I had known about it for my sister’s bachelorette party.”
The concept is simple. As you move your body through the various yoga poses, the sun shines above you, a faint breeze catches your hair, and a goat just might nibble on your ear.
While it is no secret that yoga has numerous health benefits, scientific research has proven that combining the activity with animals increases its effects exponentially. Animal therapy is said to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, foster connections for children with autism, and even diminish overall pain. The mental health advantages are plentiful as well, with evidence of animals lowering anxiety, increasing mental stimulation and reducing feelings of loneliness.
Goats are said to be the ideal therapy animal because they don’t need to develop a special bond with humans before they start interacting with them, meaning baby and adult goats will confidently walk up to a stranger and ask to be pet.
Chiasson typically has five baby goats and three mothers at her classes.
“Well, I guess they are teens now,” she says. Chiasson whispers to the goats as she feeds them, laughing when one of them does something out of character.
Chiasson begins her class with 45 minutes of relaxed yoga and stretching, leaving the last 15 minutes for photo opportunities and a more intimate and playful interaction with the goats.
The animals wait eagerly for the new clients to enter, but once the class begins they play amongst themselves, for the most part. Chiasson says the goats are more intuitive than you may think, and they seem to sense when someone is a little less enthusiastic or if a specific client needs a bit of extra love that day.
Hesitant at first, Mikel took her place at the back of the room. But it didn’t take long before she was holding a tabletop pose while one of the goats perched daintily on her back, eating kibble off of her shoulders.
“It was the weirdest and greatest massage I have ever received,” Mikel says.
“Every week is different, I never know what to expect,” says Chiasson. “They are sweet and gentle and playful; I’ve seen them really come alive throughout the summer.”
A yoga teacher by training, Chiasson says she has gotten way more out of this experience than she ever expected.
“I’m meeting so many interesting people,” she says. “Usually the people who want to do something like this are a bit outside of the box, they are in touch with nature or with animals. I really enjoy meeting these like-minded clients.”
And she especially loves how accessible it is. No matter what age group or athletic ability, Chiasson thinks everybody will get something out of this experience.
“It may be with your grandma, your partner or a bachelorette party,” she says, “but you will share giggles, nature, calmness, and unique bonding experience with whoever you come with.”
Chiasson runs her Goat Yoga classes at 774 Mountain Road, The Blue Mountains. You can find her Facebook page here.