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I was at a farm in St. Moritz, in Switzerland’s beautiful Engadin Valley, standing on one foot and trying desperately not to lose my balance or be distracted by the goat below me, nibbling on my shoelaces. Focusing intently on my breath and concentrating on the stillness of the clouds as they threatened to rain overhead, I listened to the sound of the cowbells jingling in the near distance. I could have been in a scene from Heidi, a fairytale invented near to where I stood. Though, like New Jersey or Rhode Island (but much more glamorous)—nothing is very far in Switzerland.
Heidi’s technical homeland could be found in Bad Ragaz, another quaint Alpine town full of sheep and cows and wondrous natural beauty. (These charming villages are a regional specialty that Switzerland seems to do best, though I blame the unfair advantage of the landscape.) How is everything in one country so pretty? It was obscene.
But, anyway, back to the goats. They’re the real reason I’d embarked upon a transatlantic flight to visited this wintertime capital in the off-season (in my opinion: the best season): early fall. When I learned that a goat yoga enterprise was being spearheaded by the sheer will and determination of one local woman (whose conviction surprised even herself in its sheer tenacity), I knew I had to experience it for myself.
It’s here perhaps that I should disclose what you’ve probably already assumed: I, myself, am also a lover of goats. Unapologetically. While I’ve watched my contemporaries begin to covet and worship other people’s babies, the more newly born the better, I have found my maternal energies directed almost exclusively at farm animals. All the majestic East African wildlife in all of Kenya couldn’t distract me from my one true love—what my safari guide referred to as “the common zebra,” otherwise known as a donkey in war paint.
In short, my love isn’t reserved for the majestic or the exotic, but for the dreadfully mundane. Goats—omnipresent and under-appreciated throughout Europe, India, North Africa, and the Middle East—are entirely within my wheelhouse. Plus, I’m a Capricorn, so, of course, I identify with the species—who are, not coincidentally, also the symbol of the Engadin Valley: the Ibex.
Gangly beasts, with beseechingly expressive eyes, and a near-constant smirk upon their face, doing yoga with these animals was a thrill in prospect alone. But I’m happy to report that it was even more spectacular to witness live.
Which brings me, finally, to the crux of my tale, the meaning of my journey, the moment of revelation—the goat yoga itself. If you, like me, tend to suffer from a short attention span and a seemingly boundless desire to jump when you’re told to rest, then goat yoga is the wellness craze catered just for you. Does the idea of being alone with your thoughts for 10 minutes at the end of class give you a mild panic attack? Then you can play with the goats, instead.
Are you really not up for the second vinyasa, but don’t want to draw attention to your own physical (and emotional) weakness by assuming Child’s Pose in the middle of everyone else’s downward dogs and planks? Take a selfie with a goat, and then indulge in a staring contest once they divert their attention from your screen to your eyes.
Goats, like millennials, love selfies. And they have (surprisingly) human-like eyes—rendering their awkward horns (jutting out, quite literally, in the middle of their foreheads) even more bizarre. Goats are emotive and expressive, like humans. Don’t believe me? Do yoga with goats.
Goat yoga is the perfect millennial workout. Aside from being endlessly Instagram-worthy, (obviously), it’s also designed for people with a mildly undiagnosed (or entirely over-medicated, based on personal preference) case of ADD—as in, our entire generation. For reluctant wellness enthusiasts like myself, the distraction was more than welcome.
But even ardent yogis will benefit, however. If you think you’re in shape and have a strong core, wait until a baby goat questions all that with some casual ear nuzzling while you are mid-plank. It will be even more challenging to resist laughing as you collapse in a heap on the ground.
Goats are curious, awkward: They’ll fall on their feet, beat you in any staring contest, bleat sad wails when they watch you leave. Goats embody the original concept mindfulness—I challenge you to find any human or animal more present or attuned to their surroundings. They’re so present that the realization that you’re wearing a hair elastic is enough to utterly and swiftly distract them from any and all preoccupations—including eating, napping, or socializing with their own kind.
While the yoga practice was infinitely more difficult by the presence of a goat climbing atop your back in downward dog, it was also infinitely more enjoyable. Forget the manufactured zen you get in fancy studios in New York City, with all that dim lighting and mood music. It was more relaxing to be outside, in the open mountain air, listening to the bells ringing around the necks of the goats as they curiously wandered from one mat to the next.
The experience was unique to the Engadin Valley. You can’t recreate the magical environment of the Swiss countryside anywhere else on this planet. While I hadn’t come to the class seeking out inner peace, I found it by mistake.
I was out of my own head, instead of within it, totally enthralled by the wonder of the world around me: The beautiful Engadin mountains, the inspiring people (and animals) I was spending time with on all fours. The entire situation was too goofy and relaxing, to ponder much else. Which is what the wellness trend is all about, isn’t it? Letting go of expectations, living truly in the moment? I’d argue getting back to that childlike self is more than worth the cost of a transatlantic flight.
For those looking for a taste of Swiss bliss this coming year, Nicole (firstname.lastname@example.org) is available for classes and treks, and—as of late—even Goat Weddings, too. We’re not even kidding. (Pun intended.)
Add this activity to your bucket list to experience at least once. Then you can live off the story forever.
Nothing is quite the conversation starter like “I flew to Switzerland to do yoga with goats, and now I’m ruined for any and all other exercise classes for the rest of my life.”