CORVALLIS, Ore. – Jessie Ryan was ready to leave her Warrior II pose when she felt a nudge on her back leg.
Turning around, she laughed when she saw Quincy, a 1 year old mini goat staring at her again.
It was the moment Ryan traveled from Portland to the Central Oregon Valley to experience: the birthplace of a nationwide madness known as goat yoga.
“How can you not connect to that face?” Ryan asked when Quincy grumbled back to her. “You are doing a pose and thinking about how horrible everything is when a goat shows 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 took one of the first goat yoga classes of the New Year at the Hanson Country Inn of Corvallis with 15 other people.
But they’re not the only ones who have signed up for founder Lainey Morse’s sessions – the class waiting list grew to 2,400 over the winter.
Goat yoga combines a one hour yoga session with animal therapy of social mini goats wandering around and interacting with the class. When Albanys Morse first combined the words “goat” and “yoga” for a simple event last July, it inadvertently created a media whirlwind. Since then, her life has been anything but easy.
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, New York Times, CNN, NPR, ESPN, National Geographic, Vogue, BBC, and hundreds of blogs.
In September last year, Karin Brulliard from the Post wrote: “Well, it’s about time: someone finally started a yoga class with goats.” When Morse created the class, “magic was made”.
Two months later under the heading “Bring a yoga mat and an open mind. Goats are looked after, “wrote Kirk Johnson, New York Times reporter.” When you smell the grass on a yoga mat, you realize that you have entered the world of goats, not the other way around. ”
There is now also a “Goat Yoga” page on Wikipedia.
Even Jimmy Fallon, host of the “Tonight Show”, reported on the story in an opening monologue in September 2016.
“Apparently there is a farm in Oregon that has a yoga class that goats can take,” he said. “They even have a special position called pointing downwards (sound of goats beating).”
Morse, who lives on Albany’s No Regrets Farm with her 11 Nigerian pygmy goats, had previously hosted several goat-centered events, including goat therapy (spending relaxing time with goats) and goat happy hour (spending relaxing time with goats and wine). They were well attended, popular locally and helped to supplement their income. But Morse had no idea that goat yoga would beat the way it was.
“Nothing prepares you for this; It’s just amazing, ”said Morse as he prepared 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 that you can’t get out of. It’s the craziest thing you could ever do. ”
The media blitz began last summer after Heather Davis, a yoga instructor at Corvallis’ Live Well Studio, suggested the farm to Morse as a fun place to host a yoga class. To promote the public, Morse posted photos and videos on social media of Davis doing a yoga pose with one of Morse’s mini goats on his back.
“I like yoga a lot and I like goats a lot. I think other people do that too, ”said Davis. “I told Lainey that this was the most Oregonian thing there has ever been. But none of us expected that. ”
In less than a day, the photos and videos garnered hundreds of social media likes and shares and caught the attention of local and national media. And the more media coverage the story got, the more calls Morse got for interviews and from people asking to register for a meeting.
“It got to the point where I didn’t do anything but answer calls,” she said. “I lost 20 pounds when it all started. I would be so busy during the day that I would forget to eat. I just didn’t think about myself. ”
Morse was also diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, an immune system disorder similar to lupus.
“I think that played a role too. It just has to be a lot. Everything was going 1,000 miles an hour, ”she said. “I mean, who do you turn to if something goes viral? You almost feel lonely because there is no one to go to when something like this happens. ”
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 received 30 to 40 calls every day, she realized she had a choice to make: quit a job she loved to focus on what is a flash-in-the- Pan, Blink-and-You could be -miss-it fad; or keep your job and ignore a potentially life changing new business idea. Morse, who invented the name “No Regrets” for her Albany farm, said the potential was too tempting to ignore.
“I loved my job, but I also love goats. And as much as I loved what I did, if you take part in the media lottery, don’t walk away from it, ”she said. “And I already owed medical bills and 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 get into the idea and borrowed “a lot of the money” to start the business. In addition to previous goat therapy and goat happy hour projects and events, she set up a website (www.goatyoga.net), did business with local businesses and farms to host goat yoga events, and bought a van (complete with Goat yoga stickers). Pictures and a sign with the words “Attention: mini goats on board”) to transport your animals.
“I have a vehicle that people keep stopping to take pictures and tell people about it,” Morse said. “What other vehicles besides the Batmobile or the Oscar Mayer Weinermobil get so much attention? That’s pretty great. ”
Since her decision to start the company, she has noticed many strange side effects. She has registered the name “Goat Yoga” as a trademark and sold licensing agreements, but numerous imitators have also appeared across the country.
“I’ve heard of a place that is now trying to do yoga with bunnies,” she said. “It’s exciting that so many people are loving this idea, but it’s still weird to see companies all over the country start because something happened here.”
The right time, the right place
Morse said her goat therapy and goat happy hour events showed her that she was not alone in her love for the therapeutic and calming effects of pastimes with goats. And she hoped that “goat yoga would resonate like these previous events.
“When I was first diagnosed, I came out every day and sat here with my goats and I felt better. It doesn’t cure diseases, but it’s really hard to be sad when a goat shows up to cuddle you, ”she said. “It’s so simple, but it makes so many people so happy.”
Morse also hears the same questions every day from others trying to find out why people answered these sessions: Why goats? Why not dogs or cats or rabbits?
“People use horses and dogs as therapy animals, but goats seemed like perfect therapy animals to me,” she said. “They’re not as intimidating and big as horses. And dogs, what if you’re allergic, or if they don’t bond with you, or if they’re too shy? Goats don’t care; They just want you to stroke them. You have this feeling of calm and you go into a meditative state. Maybe that’s why they work so well with yoga. ”
Portland’s Fermin Perez said during a Corvallis session this week that the idea of combining goats and yoga makes sense.
“The goats are peaceful and it will only help you to undress,” he said. “They hang around you or do their own thing and that calms you down, that’s the whole point of yoga.”
Everyone who has attended a session has positive feelings, Morse said. But like many others, she is still trying to figure out exactly why goat yoga has become such a phenomenon. One way she suggested: An overload of negativity around the world had to be balanced with a certain positivity.
“I think people are so sick of this negativity,” she said. “I think the political climate is particularly crazy, that people reach for anything that is positive and happy. And that’s hard to find these days. ”
However, as with anything new and popular, goat yoga caused some negative reactions. Morse has received business-critical emails and messages. Animal rights activists in other parts of the country have attacked her for handling her goats.
“For the most part, people support it,” she said. “But everyone has the right to believe what they want, and if they want to be unhappy, they will be. I think unhappy people will move in the direction of being negative and they will continue to be negative no matter what you do. You can’t fight that. ”
Lightning in a bottle
With all due attention, Morse said it was difficult and stressful at times. Fortunately, she has a business that is all about addressing that stress.
“I know everyone will have a different reaction, and it may sound silly to a lot of people when they see the words goat yoga,” she said. “But when you see and experience it, you quickly realize that it is anything but silly.”
One of the participants in Morse’s latest class was a woman fighting breast cancer. Morse said when he saw the look on the woman’s face as a goat approached her, tears welled up in her eyes.
“One of our babies walked up to her and snuggled up against her face and it made her so happy,” Morse said. “It was very powerful. Little did I know it would get this big and help someone fight cancer and feel better. It doesn’t cure her illness, but it really made her happy. And she’s still tweeting about it. I don’t think that’s silly at all. ”
Morse continues to receive more than 30 calls a day. Lately many have come from other parts of the world, which means she gets calls from India or England sometimes at 3am. While she could sleep through the night and ignore the media hype or handle it to someone else, Morse said she almost never dies of an opportunity to tell anyone about her business.
“Everyone wants to do something they love and makes them happy. It’s a double bonus when you see firsthand how happy it makes so many people, ”she said. “I think if you catch a lightning bolt like this in a bottle, you don’t ignore it or walk away from it.”
But she knows that at some point the international media spotlight will be gone.
“It has to subside at some point, right? Maybe it worked out a bit in November, but then another story went big and weeks later I had 1,000 people on the waiting list, ”she said.