Reindeer Yoga in Alaska: The Latest Twist in a Growing Phenomenon
Running Reindeer Ranch in Fairbanks, Alaska, offers a unique opportunity for visitors to connect with nature and with fauna typical of the subarctic. More recently, however, the ranch has hopped onto the animal yoga bandwagon by adding yoga classes to its visitor programs.
Nestled in the scenic, birch-filled forests of Goldstream Valley, the ranch typically serves as a unique setting for weddings, and is known for its reindeer walking and history tours, stating:
Our reindeer take you through a guided nature walk in the boreal forest. There you will learn about the natural history of the forest as well as the reindeer themselves. Enjoy the frolicking and leaping reindeer as they run free through the woods. Each walk is a unique experience depending on season, trail conditions and the mood of the reindeer. After the walk, depending upon the season, we will tour our organically grown perennial and vegetable gardens and enjoy light refreshments and carry on the conversation. (Running Reindeer)
Jane Atkins, one of the ranch owners who also happens to be a yoga practitioner, is of the view that reindeer can fit perfectly with a yoga practice. She told National Public Radio (NPR) that they are tortuous creatures “so you’ll see the reindeer getting into these amazing poses.”
Classes generally begin with a safety talk, reminding participants not to touch the animals’ antlers, which could hurt them due to their sensitivity. The rest of the session resembles a typical yoga class, with an added reindeer touch. Instructor Elsa Janney brings the participants’ attention to the sounds around them and then to the clicking sound that the reindeer make when they walk: “That is a ligament connected to two different ankle bones. That is unique to both caribou and reindeer.” (NPR)
While the reindeer generally start out walking, they often settle down when the class is a few poses deep, sometimes on the participants’ yoga mats. “It was awesome. It was super cool,” said one of the participants. “I could hear [Rocket the reindeer] snoring the whole time that I was doing it. . . . It definitely brought me to like, a peaceful place.” (NPR)
The trend of doing yoga alongside furry creatures has gained momentum over the past couple of years. In urban areas across the world, cat cafes and cat shelters offering yoga classes have become increasingly commonplace. Whether it be in Los Angeles, Tokyo, or London, stretching and twisting alongside a dozen feline friends is all the rage. Oftentimes, these yoga sessions double up as an opportunity to adopt a homeless pet.
In more rural settings, goat yoga is another burgeoning phenomenon. Having gone through cancer and a divorce at the same time, Laney Morse of Goat Yoga Central—a non-profit organization in Oregon that provides goat therapy—explained that her rescued goats played a positive role in her health during what was a very stressful period of her life. This experience led her to incorporate the animals into a yoga practice:
What started as a birthday party on a summer day in 2016 quickly grew into a global sensation with classes springing up worldwide. I would certainly like to take credit for the phenomena, but the truth is it is occurring for one reason...Goat Yoga is Animal-Assisted Therapy in a natural setting with an unexpectedly […] smart, social, and profoundly cuddly animal. It’s not a cancer cure, but it IS an unbelievable distraction from politics, work, stress, sickness or depression. (Goat Yoga)
According to the Goat Yoga Fund, practicing yoga in the proximity of goats and nature can provide huge benefits to mental health, while also contributing to sound economic development. The Goat Yoga Fund is currently doing research into the health benefits and risks of goat therapy in the hope that goat yoga will become accessible nationwide.
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