People practice yoga with goats at Lil Holler Farm in Westminster June 3. 2017.
A cool breeze rippled through the grass as baby pygmy goats roamed inside a fenced-off field in Carroll County one recent Saturday.
The gentle call of birds floated overhead, occasionally mixing with the goats' bleats, as yogis laid out mats among the pygmies.
That back-to-nature feel — and the goats, in particular — is exactly what brought the small group with yoga mats out to Lil Holler Farm's first goat yoga class.
Instructors and participants say goat yoga is gaining popularity throughout the Baltimore region and the nation because not only is it calming and good for beginners, but it's a novelty ... and of course the animals are just so darn cute.
Before the class taught by Erica Chesnik at Lil Holler Farm in Westminster started, goat food was placed on the end of every yoga mat to encourage the furry friends to interact with the 14 participants.
The pygmies were shy at first, though some grew braver, a few even grabbing a couple of minutes of sleep at the end of a yoga mat. Others were curious, coming up to participants to check for food or sniff them before galloping off.
Chesnik of Owings Mills said people are craving that interaction with nature and animals.
"It's just a really great way to connect with animals," she said.
People especially love the baby animal aspect, Chesnik said. The baby pygmy goats are playful and curious, she added.
Chesnik learned about goat yoga through social media. She said multiple people tagged her in videos that started going viral online, telling her she should try to get a class together. She was able to connect with her friend Claudia Konkus, who runs Lil Holler Farm, to offer a class.
And from there, it's been growing. They have held two classes and have two more scheduled, at 7 p.m. June 30 and 9:30 a.m. July 1. They're being contacted regularly with inquiries about classes, she added.
"It's definitely gaining a lot of popularity. It's spreading like wildfire," Chesnik said. "We're really happy with the path that this is taking."
Becky Keys of Fells Point took her first goat yoga class this month with Chesnik, and said she would definitely take another.
The biggest difference — aside from the goats, that is — is the fact that the class is outside and has so much involvement with nature, Keys said.
The nature aspect brings it back to the central part of yoga, she said, which is about being one with oneself and the surroundings.
"When you're trying to balance out your mind and meditate, it's easier, for me in my mind, to be surrounded by nature and hear the sounds of nature," added Keys, who said she recently finished 19 months of cancer treatment.
The goat yoga trend isn't just spreading in Carroll. Other areas in Baltimore are picking up on the latest craze.
One class taught by Katie Bell in Harford County, in which she says the baby goats wear diapers because she teaches inside, sold out in 14 hours.
In Howard, yoga instructor Janice Ingson has been teaching goat yoga classes since early May. She got started in a similar fashion as Chesnik — she saw viral videos of the concept, and a friend who has a farm in Glenelg asked if she'd hold classes there using goats.
Ingson added that because the goats are playful and sweet, the yoga can be calming.
"There's just something very special and calming, yet supremely joyful about these animals," said Ingson, who added that participants have been coming from everywhere to take the classes, which have a waitlist.
"It's so big for me now," she said.
And while goat yoga continues to trend, it's not the only animal-involved yoga with class waiting lists. The Baltimore region also has a slew of cat yoga classes drawing crowds.
Jaya Balaguer has been teaching cat yoga classes for several years in partnership with the Anne Arundel SPCA. They've done several events where proceeds go to the shelter, and many of the cats get rescued, she said.
Balaguer has also been starting to hold the classes at the Kittens in Cups cat cafe in Annapolis.
"I think it's the unity, I think we feed off each other's energy," Balaguer said.
Animals are calming and yoga is calming, she said. They just go hand in hand.
"It's just a bonding, unifying experience," she added.
Animals can sense what people are experiencing, Balaguer said, and holding a yoga class around them allows a person to become more self-aware.
M.Power Yoga Studio in Baltimore has held several cat yoga sessions as well. Jason Herd, founder and director of the studio, said it partners with the Animal Allies Rescue Foundation.
People love being able to adopt an animal or give to a good cause, he said.
"If you have a connection with one, you can take one home with you," he said.
AARF picks the cats they know will do well in a yoga class, Herd said. They do two sessions each time, he said, with 25 to 30 people, and about 10 cats in each room.
The classes involving cats are lighthearted and tend to get people laughing, he said.
"It's really funny," Herd said. "It's definitely not like a serious yoga class."
That relaxed, less-intense form of classes is helping to bring in more first time yogis.
Breaking down barriers
Chesnik said having animal-involved yoga, and in her case, goat yoga, makes the practice accessible to all levels. If people feel intimidated or think the class will be challenging beyond their limits, they may not want to come.
"This is definitely a more casual, relaxed environment to give yoga a try," she said. "It's approachable for beginners."
Just recently, Chesnik said she held a private goat yoga class that had beginner yogis who came out to try something new.
"These goats, I have them to thank for drawing people in to experience yoga," she added.
Jessica Lewis of Westminster took her first goat yoga class with Chesnik recently and said the atmosphere is "definitely more relaxed."
"Being outside gives it a different feel" than a traditional yoga class, Lewis said.
In the studio, the instructor can control the sounds and atmosphere. But in an outdoor goat yoga class, there are animals running around and different noises, she said.
"It gives you a chance to try something new without overexerting," Lewis added.
Keys, who took part in Chesnik's first public class, agreed, saying goat yoga adds a relaxing element, making the class less competitive.
"It adds a little comic relief," she said.
In any sport or exercise, she said, there's a level of competition. But in goat yoga, when goats are jumping on mats and nibbling on toes, participants don't have to worry about trying to execute each pose exactly
"It kind of takes away some of the stress of trying to push and do something exactly right," Keys said.
Ingson echoed those thoughts.
People who have come out to her goat yoga classes look a little nervous and unsure, but as class progresses, people have a great time, she said. Everyone leaves so happy from the experience, she said.
"By the time class was done, every single person was laughing and happy," she said. "I do it because it makes people happy. ... It's bringing people to this place of joy through something so seemingly goofy."