Yoga class offers a four-legged relaxation assist
CARROLLTON — The downward-facing dog may have yoga seniority, but climbing goats are all the rage.
“It’s not really new,” said Anna Henschen, owner of Alhambra-based Goat Yoga of Southern Illinois. “It’s just different, and it’s just absolutely incredible.”
Henschen, a Carrollton native, is fairly new to goat yoga herself after taking a single class in April 2021 in Missouri before deciding it was what she wanted to do with her life.
“I had no idea about goats,” Henschen said. “I hated yoga. But when I was there, I just let go. I just cuddled goats and it was therapy. I forgot about bills that were due, the pandemic, all the crap going on in the world.”
Her text message to her husband, Nick, telling him she wanted to start a goat yoga business beat her home.
Nick Henschen readily admits he thought he wife might have lost her mind, but he quietly researched what was involved and surprised her a month later with a breakdown of the costs.
“I had been out of work for a year,” Anna Henschen said. “We were living paycheck to paycheck, everything was tight. He thought I’d (let it drop). I said, ‘Let’s do it’.”
By July, they had their first class.
They travel around the region, holding classes in such places as Jerseyville, Loami and Grafton.
As he sat Saturday in the shade of a tent at Tera Smith’s home on Carrollton’s outskirts, watching the couple’s two children as his wife oversaw the four-legged stars of a yoga class, Nick Henschen acknowledged he’s since realized goat yoga is “pretty neat. ”
It’s deeper than it sounds, Anna Henschen said.
“When you see nurses who have been stressed out for three years get in there and let go and are in tears (because the goats gave them that outlet), that makes it all worth it,” Anna Henschen said, noting that they’ve held classes specifically as therapy for military veterans. “My husband was like, ‘I get it; now I know why you want to do it.’ It’s way more rewarding than a standard office job.
The secret is found in a class’s balance between exercise and having fun with the goats, Anna Henschen said, noting that different classes involve different levels of yoga, though all can accommodate just about any participant’s skill level.
“It’s more of a goat-based class,” she said. “But you get a workout, too. You’re moving your body, but you’re sidetracked, too, because of the goats. You almost don’t realize what’s going on” and how much exercise you’re actually getting.
Five yoga instructors rotate through leading the classes and Anna Henschen keeps an eye on the 17 or so goats that participate in a given class — the business has 27 — using feed to encourage them to do what comes naturally — climbing.
While some yoga classes can be meditatively quiet, even intimidating in their seriousness, that was not the case Saturday, as class participants worked their way through various yoga poses while pausing to angle their phones to get a photo of a goat standing on their back or to pet a goat that stopped by their hip to nibble on the grass near their yoga mat — or the mat itself.
Bonnie Vahle of Jacksonville joined in the early portion of the class before spending the latter part of it standing under a shade tree. She took regular yoga classes when she was younger, before bad knees made it harder, she said.
“You do what you can do,” she said easily as goats clustered around her. One goat took advantage of Vahle’s empty yoga mat to take a break, too.
Vahle’s approach is not uncommon, Anna Henschen said, noting that there’s no shame in skipping the yoga altogether in favor of spending the time petting a goat.
“A lot of people do that,” she said. “They might do zero yoga, just sit on the mat and pet the goats.”