GALENA, Ill. — Kathy Willauer sprung a surprise on her sister, Linda Hartlep.
“I told her, ‘I signed you up for goat yoga,’ and she said, ‘Oh, no you didn’t,’” Willauer said.
Oh yes, she did, and Willauer and Hartlep were in attendance during a class at Original Goat Yoga Galena, where six young goat kids mingled with yoga practitioners, bleated encouragement and occasionally prompted a few human kids to clean up some unexpected goat bathroom breaks.
“This is the best ever,” said Willauer, of Dubuque. “I’ve been waiting to do this forever.”
While Willauer had been expectantly waiting for a goat yoga experience, Hartlep, of Galena, completed a pair of firsts.
“It’s my first time for doing yoga — I didn’t really know what to expect — and it’s the first time I ever touched a goat,” Hartlep said. “They’re so sweet and soft.”
Goats also are suitable partners for yoga, according to Jennifer Montgomery, who opened Original Goat Yoga Galena with her husband, Josh, last year.
“Goats and yoga are a good fit because animal therapy has been proven to help people mentally and physically and emotionally,” Jennifer said. “The practice of yoga in and of itself is rewarding for each individual, so the marriage of the two is a happy, joyful experience.”
The six young goats are all about 10 weeks old. They traveled in a little pack of six around the yoga mats spread on the floor for the dozen or so students in the class. The goats wandered among the participants, who were completing various yoga poses.
“Goats naturally like people,” said Jennifer, who served as yoga instructor during the class. “They’re curious little buggers and they’re happy, so it makes people have a good time.”
Setting out to provide good times for people wasn’t uppermost in Jennifer’s mind when she first encountered goat yoga.
Jennifer was on a planned family vacation to Colorado that arrived just as she learned that her position had been eliminated at work.
Her niece in the Denver area convinced Montgomery to try goat yoga.
“We went, and it was the first time in I can’t tell you how long that I didn’t feel that (emotional) weight, I just felt free. I just felt happy,” Jennifer said.
Back home, Montgomery searched online for “goat yoga” and she connected with a goat yoga business headquartered in Monroe, Ore.
“I said to my husband, ‘I know what I want to do now,’” Jennifer said.
Galena is the ninth franchise in the Original Goat Yoga group, which has locations across the country.
The Montgomerys acquired six goats and renovated a former horse barn to serve as the goat yoga studio. Josh, who is in the construction business, worked during his off hours for four months to renovate the barn.
“People always ask me about goat yoga,” Josh said. “I tell them, the goats don’t actually do yoga. They just run around being goats.”
Jennifer hopes the combination of goats and yoga does for others what it did for her.
“My objective all along is I want to do something that makes people feel good,” she said.
Erik Hogstrom writes for the Telegraph Herald.