By Nathan Bruttell
CORVALLIS, Ore. — Jessie Ryan was ready to move out of her Warrior II pose when she felt a nudge on the back of her leg.
When she turned around, she couldn’t help but laugh when she saw Quincy, a 1-year-old mini-goat, staring up at her.
It was the moment Ryan had traveled from Portland to Oregon’s mid-valley to experience: the birthplace of a nation-sweeping craze known as goat yoga.
“How can you not connect with this face?” Ryan asked as Quincy bleated at her. “You’re in the middle of doing a pose, thinking about how terrible everything is, when a goat comes up and kisses you or steps on your fingers and all that stress goes away. It sounds like something a modern-day Lewis Carroll would write.”
Ryan joined 15 other people for one of the first goat yoga classes of the new year at Corvallis’ Hanson Country Inn.
But they aren’t the only ones who have signed up for founder Lainey Morse’s sessions — the waitlist for the class grew to 2,400 people over the winter.
Goat yoga combines a one-hour yoga session with the animal-therapy of social mini-goats that wander around and interact with the class. When Albany’s Morse first combined the words “goat” and “yoga” for a simple event in July, she inadvertently created a media whirlwind. Since then, her life has been anything but simple.
Goat Yoga fever
In the past eight months, stories have appeared in hundreds of media outlets around the world, including the Washington Post, Time magazine, The New York Times, CNN, NPR, ESPN, National Geographic, Vogue, BBC and hundreds of blogs.
Last September, the Post’s Karin Brulliard wrote, “Well, it’s about time: Someone has finally launched a yoga class with goats” and noting that when Morse created the class “magic was made.”
Two months later, under the headline “Bring a Yoga Mat and an Open Mind. Goats Are Provided,” New York Times reporter Kirk Johnson wrote, “As you smell that grass on a yoga mat, you realize that you have entered the goats’ world, not the other way around.”
There is now a “Goat Yoga” page on Wikipedia.
Even “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon covered the story in a September 2016 opening monologue.
“Apparently, there’s a farm in Oregon that offers a yoga class that you can take with goats roaming around you,” he said. “They even have a special position called the downward facing (soundbite of goat bleating).”
Morse, who lives at Albany’s No Regrets Farm with her 11 Nigerian dwarf goats, had hosted several goat-centered events previously, including Goat Therapy (spending relaxing time with goats) and Goat Happy Hour (spending relaxing time with goats and wine). They were well-attended and helped supplement her income. But Morse had no idea goat yoga would hit like it did.
“Nothing prepares you for that; it’s just absolutely mind-blowing” Morse said while preparing for a class at the Hanson Country Inn. “You always hear about something going viral but you don’t know what it means until you experience it. It’s intense. It’s like a roller coaster you can’t get off. It’s the most crazy thing you could ever do.”
The media blitz started last summer after Heather Davis, a yoga instructor at Corvallis’ Live Well Studio, suggested to Morse the farm as a fun place to host a yoga class. To drum up publicity, Morse posted photos and videos on social media featuring Davis doing a yoga pose with one of Morse’s mini-goats on her back.
“I really like yoga and I really like goats. I guess other people do, too,” Davis said. “I told Lainey this felt like the most Oregonian thing ever. But neither of us expected this.”
In less than a day, the photos and videos gathered hundreds of social media “likes” and shares. And the more media attention the story got, the more calls Morse received for interviews and from people asking to sign up for a session.
“It got to the point where I was doing nothing but answering phone calls,” she said. “I lost 20 pounds when it all started happening. I would be so busy during the day I’d forget to eat. I just wasn’t thinking about myself.”
Morse had also been diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, an immune system disorder similar to lupus. “I think that played a part too. It just got to be a lot. Everything was going 1,000 mph,” she said. “I mean, who do you go to for advice when something goes viral? You almost feel lonely because there’s no one to go to when something hits like that.”
Morse is no stranger to marketing — it was her full-time job at Corvallis’ Henderer Design + Build in Corvallis for more than 10 years. Last November, when she was getting 30 to 40 calls each day, she realized she had to make a choice: Quit a job she loved to focus on what could be a flash-in-the-pan, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fad; or keep her job and ignore a potentially life-changing new business idea. Morse, who came up with the name “No Regrets” for her Albany farm, said the potential was too enticing to ignore.
“I loved my job, but I love goats, too. And as much as I loved what I did, when you hit the media lottery, you don’t walk away from that,” she said. “And I already had debt from medical bills and from my divorce. At that point I thought, ‘I’m going to be in debt for the rest of my life anyway.’ Now I have a glimmer of hope.”
Morse said she decided to go all in on the idea and borrowed “a big chunk of money” to start the business. In addition to previous projects and Goat Therapy and Goat Happy Hour events, she established a website (www.goatyoga.net), made deals with local businesses and farms to host goat yoga events, and bought a van (complete with goat yoga decals, pictures and a “Caution: Mini goats on board” sign) to transport her animals.
“I have a vehicle that people are constantly stopping to take pictures of and tell people about,” Morse said. “What other vehicles get attention like that other than the Batmobile or the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile? That’s pretty cool.”
Since making her decision to start the business, she’s noticed many strange side effects. She trademarked the name “Goat Yoga” and has started selling licensing agreements, but numerous copycats have also sprung up around the country.
“I heard of one place that’s trying to do yoga with bunnies now,” she said. “It’s exciting that so many people are loving this idea, but it is still weird to see businesses across the country starting because of what’s happened here.”
Right time, place
Morse said her Goat Therapy and Goat Happy Hour events showed her that she wasn’t alone in her love of the therapeutic and calming effects of spending time with goats. And she hoped “goat yoga would resonate like those previous events did.
“When I was first diagnosed, I would come out every day and sit here with my goats and I would feel better. It’s not healing diseases but it’s really hard to be sad when a goat comes up to snuggle you,” she said. “It’s such a simple thing, but it makes so many people so happy.”