If you’re an animal lover or a yoga practitioner — both, perhaps — you’ve probably noticed the meteoric rise of animal yoga classes in Philadelphia.
These days, you can do bridge pose while goats crawl underneath you, downward dog next to actual dogs, mountain pose while pigs sniff at your toes, and even sun salutations while bunnies hop around your feet.
But which of these classes — sometimes twice or three times the price of a regular yoga session — are actually worth paying for, whether for their actual yoga instruction or their Instagrammability? I tried goat, dog, alpaca, cat, and one mystery animal yoga session to find out.
Goat yoga took off about two years ago and it’s still trending. Multiple Philly studios offer it regularly, but if it’s furry creatures you’re after, Philly Goat Project’s is your best bet. The nonprofit, launched last summer, trains its 14 goats not only for yoga classes, but for grazing and animal-assisted therapy, too. (They also train the goats to use a litter box, a welcome benefit to animal yoga.)
Classes are typically taught by Dawn Vance, who teaches animal yoga classes with Water and Rock Studio in Germantown.
“Yoga already creates endorphins in people’s bodies,” Vance said. “If you add a goat, it’s like an explosion of happiness.”
Vance likes to give people plenty of breaks during a class to enjoy their time with the goats. It’s more informal than regular yoga, she said, and laughing with your friends is one of the best parts.
“It’s definitely an experience,” said Vance.
At my goat yoga session, volunteers led Nigerian Dwarf goats through the rows of participants. They hopped on my back during tabletop pose, surprising me with their weight. (If you have back problems, let the instructor know.) They bleated as we transitioned to triangle pose and munched on treats during leg stretches. And afterward, the goats were more than happy to pose for photos — Philly Goat Project founder Karen Krivit even brought out the troupe’s newest addition, a tiny baby goat with white- and cinnamon-colored fur, to everyone’s delight.
Verdict: Impressively athletic and willing to engage, goats make excellent yoga companions.
Goat yoga: Philly Goat Project, 6336 Ardleigh St., $35, $25 for students, $15 for children, 215-460-7725, phillygoatproject.org
There are plenty of yoga classes around the city where you can perfect your downward dog alongside adorable adoptable puppies. It’s harder to find a class your pooch can participate in as well. As the owner of a 2-year-old pug, I was determined to find one.
Luckily, Country Haven Kennels in Mount Holly, Burlington County, holds a Bring Your Own Dog (BYOD) yoga class in the spring and summer. The yogis set up their mats in the middle of a dog park behind the kennel. The pups roam freely.
It’s wise to go a little early so your dog can get acquainted with everyone. At my session, there were definitely a few scuffles that needed to be sorted out before class. And you don’t want to bring your $80 yoga mat, because dogs will track dirt all over them.
Doing yoga in a dog park can get rowdy but it’s nice to be outside. It was also nice that my dog was having fun, too, instead of sitting at home sad and lonely. Like children clinging to their parents, some dogs stuck by their owner’s sides the whole class. Others wandered off to the agility courses around the park.
We did a lot more yoga at this class than many others I tried, cycling through plenty of warrior poses, transitions, and seated twists. (Expect to get dirt on your face during child’s pose.) Classes are currently on hold as the kennel prepares for cooler temperatures, but they’re slated to come back in the spring.
Verdict: If your pooch enjoys socializing with other dogs, go. If they’re on the socially anxious end of the spectrum, opt out.
BYO dog yoga: Country Haven Kennels, 27 W. Railroad Ave., Mount Holly, $10 suggested donation, 609-702-5610, countryhavennj.com. Morris Animal Refuge puppy yoga: Amrita Yoga and Wellness (1204 Frankford Ave., 215-600-7544) and Yoga Brain East Falls (3426 Conrad St., 267-331-6202)
Yoga Hive Philly has put on many ambitious animal yoga events since they opened last July, so it wasn’t surprising when they offered alpaca yoga earlier in June. Dozens of excited alpaca aficionados showed to East Passyunk Community Center Park in hopes of meeting the fluffy, long-necked animals.
“Alpacas are very calm creatures, and they’re just in awe of people doing yoga and the poses,” said Gina Durante, co-owner of Yoga Hive Philly.
The studio, which was founded around the owners’ love of animals, donates a portion of the proceeds to the farm that brings the alpacas.
The issue with alpaca yoga is that, frankly, alpacas are not very interactive. For most of the class, they were preoccupied with ripping up grass for a midmorning snack, or giving us sidelong looks, cast from under their impressively long eyelashes.
It’s fun to snap a selfie with an alpaca (and you certainly have the chance to do that), but it’s hard not to feel guilty swarming an overwhelmed alpaca with five other people. I derived most of my enjoyment from being outside on a beautiful Saturday morning.
Verdict: If you’re the biggest alpaca fan in the world, you’ll probably enjoy this class. Otherwise, you may be better off visiting a local alpaca farm (yep, they exist).
Alpaca yoga: Yoga Hive Philly, 1914 E. Passyunk Ave., $50, 267-606-0558, yogahivephilly.com
“Think about your spine like a divining rod,” said Katharine Livingston as she swayed back and forth on her yoga mat, stretching out her spine. “You’re divining the cats to you.”
Livingston teaches cat yoga at Le Cat Cafe every Monday evening in the main room. Tables and chairs are pushed aside to make room for mats. (Attendees usually bring their own, but Livingston provides mats for anyone who doesn’t have one or doesn’t want their mat to be scratched by a curious kitty.)
“Cats are sort of natural yogis,” said Livingston, who has been teaching cat yoga classes since 2016. “They epitomize what a yogi aspires to, which is being long and lithe and flexible and strong without being muscle-bound. It’s the essence of the feline physical prowess.”
The class itself is heavy on restorative poses and breathing exercises. Yogis used to working out with blocks or blankets may want to bring their own, although Livingston is very mindful of adjusting poses to accommodate attendees.
As for the cats? Some are content watching at a distance from their favorite pillow, while the more curious ones park themselves on mats and plead for head scratches between poses. I was befriended by a green-eyed orange tabby that liked batting my ponytail around during the floor poses, to everyone’s amusement.
At the end, Livingston likes to find a cat to place on the stomach of each attendee during savasana. Once the kitties settle, they’re very warm, comforting weights. Afterward, stick around and have a cup of tea.
Verdict: For cat parents, this is probably not too different from what happens when you practice yoga at home.
MYSTERY ANIMAL YOGA
Yoga Hive Philly promised an animal yoga extravaganza earlier this summer featuring the likes of monkeys, lizards, and ducks in honor of their first anniversary, but the event was canceled because of the heat, much to my disappointment.
Instead, ticket holders were invited to the studio’s Unconventional Wellness Festival at the Roxborough YMCA, which promised farm animal yoga, CBD product vendors, and Indian dance performances.
So of course, I had to go see exactly which farm animals would make an appearance, despite my extreme skepticism after the alpaca yoga event. Chickens? Roosters? Cows? Maybe even a pig or two?
“I heard there will be monkeys,” said one girl who placed her mat next to mine. Her boyfriend had purchased tickets to the original event as a present — she had seen “Yoga with Monkeys” on his credit card statement.
We were both crestfallen when the guests of honor — three stoic sheep — were led around us yogis. It also became difficult to do the yoga poses halfway through the class because the blazing sun had made my mat blisteringly hot. I was extra disappointed by the fact that the sheep never came within 10 feet of my mat, despite me placing it next to their pen strategically.
Durante told attendees that she could not offer refunds — the original event cost a hefty $45 — because donations to rescue organizations had already been made, which caused one man to threaten to sue. The sheep were nice, he said, but they were not what was promised.
He’s right: It’s probably best not to overpromise and underdeliver when it comes to animal yoga.
Verdict: Don’t go in for monkey — or mystery animal — yoga.