Thing #2 – Find Your Goats

For the first time in yoga, I felt like an actual tree. I was standing in the open air with my arms branching toward the sky, one leg squarely rooted on the rubber meadow of my yoga mat, and surrounded by a herd of goats. This was as literal as Tree Pose was going to get.

I did it. I succumbed to the Goat Yoga fad that has made its way across the country and onto CBS Sunday Morning. Nearly ten years ago, I tried my first yoga class and instantly fell in love with the peace and ritual of it. Since that day, I’ve tried plenty of styles of yoga, but have never practiced alongside livestock.

Yoga checks a couple critical boxes for me. Mentally, it forces me to stay acutely aware and to focus on the simple act of breathing, which keeps away the anxieties that flit around my head like mosquitoes. Physically, it challenges my strength and flexibility, while allowing me the superficial side-benefit of toned triceps. Although I had a hard time believing Goat Yoga would check these two boxes, it was a “must-do” on my yoga list.

I’d been looking forward to this class for weeks, but the hours before, all I wanted was to crawl into bed. The anxiety mosquitoes were swarming around my head and I couldn’t swat them away. I hate when this happens. I can’t focus. I get light-headed and dizzy. It feels like there’s a hollow tube between my throat and stomach gradually being filled with cement.

I slowed my breathing and inhaled the calming oils I keep near my desk. No luck. I’m not sure how or when this round of anxiety began, but it did. It’s frustrating because logically I know it’s a heap of brain garbage, but it’s hard to shut it down, no matter how many tools I have.

Yoga has always been the citronella that keeps my mosquitoes away. I reminded myself of this as I made my way to the farmstead for class. As I approached the field, I heard a choir of bleating, and turned the corner to see 20 pygmy goats bouncing over each other. Instantly, lightness started replacing the cement in my chest. This was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Within minutes of starting the class, I realized I was having more fun taking pictures of goats than actually doing “proper” yoga. I held Pigeon Pose, stretching the tight muscles around my hips. Instead of breathing into those tight spots, I was more focused on the three goats that jumped onto my back – one of whom had a mouthful of my ponytail. There was no deep breathing on my part, only squealing and laughing.

It took me a minute to recognize what I was feeling. Then I found the word – joy. This is what joy feels like! Joy is about being outside of yourself and fully present in the moment. Conversely, anxiety is about being tangled up inside your head. These goats were chubby little joy vehicles and I needed to soak in as much of their playfulness as possible. The mental and physical boxes of yoga weren’t being checked in the ways I was accustomed to, but the “spirit” box was overflowing.

Later, I was thinking about joy and realized it doesn’t enter my vocabulary very often. It’s not that I’m a joyless or sad person, I’m just not so good at noticing when it’s happening.

I define joy as a transcendent type of happiness that pulls you out of your head and flushes your body with a sparkly feeling. It’s goats nibbling your toes. An afternoon walk with loud music in your earphones. The butterflies you feel when staring into the eyes of someone you love. And the feeling of them loving you back. Being at a concert. An uncontrollable laugh attack that makes you cry (and pee a little). Giving to others. Dancing. Practicing gratitude. New friends. It’s so many things.

I’m afraid joy is becoming a lost art. We’ve stopped paying attention to joy so much that we don’t recognize her when she shows up at our doorstep. We’re so bogged down by our mental clutter that it takes a minute to register her face. Listen, anxiety is complicated and I’m not claiming to have the cure. But with a little extra attention, I know it can be managed. The chubby goats of the world want to squish our anxieties – all we need to do is let them! You just gotta find your goats! And when I’m swarmed by mosquitoes and need a reminder of what joy looks like, I’ll just look at this picture of my face.

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