'Goat yoga' hits Europe: Trying out asanas in an Amsterdam hay barn

Why practise yoga in a studio when you can do it in a hay loft full of baby goats? Mark Smith strikes a pose

Mark G. Smith
Wednesday 22 March 2017 09:30
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Goat Yoga: The new craze where farm animals and spirituality collide

If the point of yoga is to provoke an immediate existential crisis, I’m doing well. Ten minutes after chaining my bike outside the Ridammerhoeve Goat Farm in Amsterdamse Bos – the manmade green space just outside Amsterdam that’s three times the size of New York’s Central Park – and I’m already pondering one of life’s big questions, a dilemma that has preoccupied thinkers from Plato to Cilla Black. How do you choose a soulmate?

It’s Saturday morning and I’ve lined up with my fellow classmates – mostly Dutch thirty-somethings in various states of athleisure – to select my partner for what’s to follow: an hour-long initiation into the weird wonders of Goat Yoga Amsterdam. After a similar class in Oregon became a viral sensation, Dutch yoga teacher Brenda Bood, whose Uncle Willem and Aunt Corine own Ridammerhoeve and its 220 goats, realised the family were sitting on a golden opportunity – in lotus position, of course. She reached out to the Oregon mothership and a breezy, transatlantic friendship was born. Goat yoga hit Amsterdam in January.

So here I am at the front of the queue as Aubrey, a strapping young farmhand in charge of a straw-strewn pen, prepares to deliver one of 20 or so gambolling white goatlets (collective noun: trip) over the picket fence and into my feeble, city-boy arms.

Do I have a preference, he enquires professionally, as if I’m choosing between bread rolls in a restaurant. “Er, I’ll just take the smallest you’ve got, please,” I mutter, before making for the hay loft with my wriggling charge. There, Brenda is waiting cross-legged on her blue mat – a picture of beatific serenity amid a barnyard melée which includes a rooster who’s yodelling like he knows he’s about to be brutally upstaged. Perched directly above Brenda on the barn’s mezzanine is an adult goat who radiates the calm authority of Morgan Freeman. I wonder whether this is Brenda’s spirit animal.

Choosing one's goatmate

Hopefully, at least, I’ve chosen mine. On arrival at the farm this morning, we seven human members of the class had a brief but meaningful preparatory “knuffel” (Dutch for cuddle) session with another enclosure of goat kids, to get us in the mood. Mostly, I learned that this lot are universally good-natured and comfortable around visitors. In fact, the only thing they seem to love more than nuzzling up against the human form is a good lick and nibble on an iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S7 (selfie takers beware).

In any case, by the time I’ve removed my trainers and socks, and rolled out my mat on the freshly scattered hay, my designated goat has trotted merrily off into the ether – as have most of the others. “The first lesson of goat yoga,” says Brenda in faultless English, “is that, if you love something, you must set it free.” The merest hint of a smile flickers across her face. As with her swelling Goat Yoga Amsterdam Instagram account, it’s hard to tell whether Brenda’s pearls of wisdom are earnest Zen, comedy gold, or some genius mixture of the two.

What follows is essentially a conventional hatha yoga class – in other words, a gentle introduction to the basic postures – with one very unconventional twist. From cobra to warrior, all of the asanas are accompanied by the goats, who cavort around like a busload of drunk uncles at a country house wedding.

Goat yoga: always unpredictable

Needless to say, there’s none of the serenity of a normal yoga class. My one-legged tree pose is felled in its prime by pulsating laughter as a goat tries to yank my mat from under me. When my neighbour’s in the middle of downward-facing dog, a plucky kid mounts him, only to topple to the floor. Undeterred, she hops straight back on. The stubbornness thing, it seems, is more than just a lazy stereotype.

Later, over a goat milk cappuccino and homemade nut cake that’s included in the €25 price of a class, Brenda says she’s rarely seen the goats as animated as they were today. “It’s almost spooky, the way they echo the vibe of the humans in the class,” she confides. “For example, I recently led a class of new mothers, and all of a sudden the goats were very quiet and protective. It was quite moving.”

Interacting with goats, she says, is a guaranteed mood-lifter. “They cause your body to produce more oxytocin,” she says – the so-called “hug hormone”.

A kid mounts for Downward Dog

“I notice that, after a goat yoga session, class members want to stick around chatting to each other. They even arrange to meet up with each other. That doesn’t happen so much when I lead a conventional class.”

Brenda may be onto something. I feel every bit as stretched and a hell of a lot perkier than I did after my last yoga class, which was a humourless, 90-minute opus of competitive bending, Sanskrit chanting and Aesop handwash. And, of course, with goat yoga you don’t need to shower beforehand. Although on the other hand, come Sunday night, I’ll still be finding straw in my hair.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol has better links with the UK than anywhere else on the planet, with connections from two dozen airports from Exeter to Inverness. The main carriers are KLM, easyJet and Flybe. Frequent trains (€4.70 each way) from Schiphol airport take 18-24 minutes to reach Centraal Station.

Staying there

Generator Amsterdam is a “poshtel” with swish private rooms located in the former zoological department of a local university. Don’t miss the lecture hall turned into a bar. Doubles from €95, room only.

More information

Goat yoga takes place every Saturday at Ridammerhoeve Goat Farm and costs €25 per session including a mat, coffee and cake

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