Face masks. Check.
Social distancing. Check.
Yoga mats or towels. Check.
Even during a global pandemic, nothing creates photo opportunities quite like goat yoga, and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students were able to participate in the activity Tuesday morning on Chamberlain Field.
The Center for Student Wellbeing and the Office of Student and Family Engagement hosted goat yoga as part of UTC Welcome Week activities. Five 30-minute sessions were offered starting at 9 a.m., and time slots quickly filled up.
“We’ve been hosting this program since 2018. We usually try to wait until it’s a bit cooler in the fall, but we knew it was one of the only programs that we could bring students together to really share an experience,” said Tricia Henderson, the director of the Center for Student Wellbeing. “So we thought we would do it during Welcome Week this year, and it’s worked out pretty well.
“It’s extremely important to help grow our social media for our virtual events and to give students a chance to come and enjoy something together. It’s something we can do where students can have some fun, wear masks, social distance, and still be safe.”
For the uninitiated, goat yoga is exactly as it sounds: Yoga practiced in tandem with live goats. Each Tuesday morning session was a combination of around 25 human participants stretching, breathing and anticipating one of the seven bandana-wearing baby barnyard goats to jump on their backs.
“At first it kind of hurts when they jump on you, but then you get used to it. It just ties into the fun part of the experience,” said freshman Emily Petty, an exercise science major who hails from rural Collinwood, Tennessee. “I actually have goats at home because I live on a farm. I have some new babies at home, so I loved this experience.
“I had done beginner stuff in yoga before, and that’s basically what we did today. The instructor was really nice and very informative, and it was just a fun experience. I would do it again.”
Madison Everett, a freshman from Bolivar, Tennessee, said her introduction to goat yoga turned into a great learning experience.
“I learned how to breathe, and I learned I had a lot of strength in my back that I didn’t know I had,” said Everett, a nursing major. “Learning how to breathe is very important with all this walking to class I have to do.”
According to Goat Yoga Nashville co-owner Jason Nash, the seven goats who came to UTC are a smaller breed known as Nigerian Dwarfs. He said most of them are younger than one-year-old.
“We’ve trained them since they were teeny-tiny. You have to teach them what they need to do and, as soon as you get that grain out, they’re fine,” Nash said. “We’ve done this for over three years now and it’s just fun all the way around. People are always happy.
“It’s a different experience with goats that is not normal. Usually you’re at a petting zoo with goats, but you’re not interacting with them where they’re jumping on you. People get a kick out of that because they haven’t had that experience.”
Henderson said goat yoga one of the most popular events her department hosts. She was pleased with the results of an on-campus event being held thanks to the face mask and social distancing safety protocols in place.
“It would be nice to see their smiling faces, but I can see the twinkle in their eyes,” Henderson said. “It’s the second day of classes, and they’re getting to relax and do something enjoyable together. Hopefully, they can learn coping skills and stress management skills, some deep breathing, and some things that they can use on a regular basis as we all kind of work ourselves through this difficult time.”