Is yoga a disguised form of Satan worship? Die-hard Christian adherents have leveled that charge for years. Albert Mohler, a Christian theologian, launched a full-fledged theological attack on yoga back in 2010.
Even Catholic Pope Francis, known for his tolerance of dissenting religious currents, has warned of yoga’s potentially pernicious influence.
Of course, to the secular world, such views seem extreme, almost laughable and miss the point. Some 35 million people – about one in 10 adults — in the United States practice yoga, according to consumer surveys.
Look around, and you’ll see a yoga studio on practically every street corner. Many women swear by the practice, crediting it with reducing their stress and anxiety levels.
In fact, a growing number of health studies suggest that yoga might ease depression and, arthritis and may even have a significant anti-aging effect.
There are yoga niches for every group imaginable. Ganja Yoga for recreational marijuana users is especially popular in California. Hip-Hop Yoga targets urban Black males and bridges yoga to demographics beyond the upscale white market. There’s even a movement to bring yoga into the US prison system, and special yoga meditation programs for veterans with PTSD.
But Goat Yoga?
Amazingly, what started as an obscure pagan-inspired practice on a few animal farms in Oregon and California has mushroomed into something like a nationwide craze.
The animal rights group PETA which opposes petting zoos generally sees Goat Yoga as just another example of humans exploiting innocent animals for their own amusement – and has asked groups to cease the practice. “We recommend that people do yoga at home with their dogs and cats—and support local farm animal sanctuaries, not Goat Yoga,” Catie Cryar, a PETA spokeswoman, told The Daily Caller last year.
Of course, Goat Yoga is not just about amusement. Lainey Morse, the widely recognized “founder” and chief promoter of Goat Yoga, raked in nearly $200,000 last year by letting groups of 30-35 people cavort with goats and perform rudimentary yoga on her farm in Eugene Oregon. Morse is a veteran marketer and PR specialist and says she stumbled upon the idea one day when her yoga friends found themselves surrounded by her goats while striking their favorite poses. Once she floated the idea on her web site and elsewhere she was amazed at the overwhelmingly positive response she received.
Goat Yoga seems to tap into a number pop culture currents, and also illustrates just how much of a marketing prop yoga has become. Not only do yoga accessories including mats and yoga pants bring in billions in sales revenues, but there are also pricey yoga retreats in Costa Rica and even yoga wine-tasting tours in Tuscany.
Yoga is also being used to sell everything from electronics to beer to automobiles. In 2016, Buick, the American car company, hired a world-renowned supermodel, Bar Refaeli, to strike at the yoga poses alongside its newest offering, while a self-styled guru extolled the vehicle’s “meditative” qualities.
Yoga promoters like to extol the practice’s health benefits, but there are significant downsides to yoga. The number of people injured doing yoga continues to climb, in part because the industry continues to crank out young unlicensed and poorly trained yoga teachers seeking a second income. Their understanding of the body’s anatomy and the contraindications of yoga for a whole host of medical conditions is notably weak, and many newbies are encouraged to perform poses that place them at risk.
Because of the public’s uncritical reception of yoga, the space for sheer medical quackery has grown. Several of the industry’s leading pop celebrities, including Tara Stiles and Kathryn Budig, have published books that contain extravagant and unsupported claims for yoga’s “healing” powers.
Stiles’ book suggests that yoga may be the answer to everything from wrinkles to a hangover to the common cold. Budig promotes yoga as a path to weight-loss despite persistent evidence to the contrary. Sadly, a number of self-styled medical professionals, as well as New Age philosophers like Deepak Chopra, have endorsed these fanciful claims.
Not surprisingly, Morse and others say that Goat Yoga is also a healing practice. April Gould, her counterpart in Arizona, even claims to be a goat “whisperer.” But the idea that goats are spontaneously communing with visitors at her farm is a myth.
Her assistants spend long hours training the baby to hop on the backs of humans performing outstretched plank or cow pose. In reality, there isn’t much yoga in Goat Yoga. Groups do about 20 minutes of yoga poses at their own pace and then spend the rest of the session taking “selfies” with their newfound furry friends to post on their Facebook pages.
Morse is clearly a hard-core paganist. Her original logo for Goat Yoga displays a goat prominently as a spiritual icon. This is knock-off of the infamous image of Baphomet, the Goat God associated with Satanism. However, Morse and other Goat Yoga business owners bristle at the criticism they’ve received from nay-sayers who suggest that she’s managed to turn a circus-like gimmick into a lucrative business enterprise.
She freely admits that the practice doesn’t really have much to do with yoga as a serious spiritual practice. But she’s not breaking any laws and under pressure from health authorities, she’s agreed to have her goats tested for bacteria and has installed hand-washing stations to reduce the likelihood of an e.coli outbreak from the close interaction of humans with herd animals.
What happens to those baby goats after they’ve grown too large to serve as zoo props? No one seems to know. But all that interaction with humans in their early years may not render them fit for ”normal” goat herding, which is what has groups like PETA concerned. Typically, zoo animals are just slaughtered when they outlive their usefulness, a PETA representative told me. Here’s hoping no one drinks their blood and offers them up for ritual sacrifice.