Goats and cats add a dose of extra therapy to yoga classes
It’s a slightly gray morning as the sun fights to break through the ring of clouds that form around Haleakala, wrapping her summit in a blanket of white. On a small farm in Keokea, high on the mountain’s slopes, a group has gathered in the yard of Hawaiian homesteaders Kai and Wendy Hatchie for a yoga class with some unique participants.
Instructor Megan White gathers the students together in a small fenced lawn area with an expansive view of the island’s central valley and its shoreline, stretching from Kihei all the way to Kahakuloa. The students begin to warm up for class as they wait for the main attraction. Suddenly, a group of adorable Nigerian dwarf goats come trotting down the gravel driveway and into the outdoor “studio,” frolicking playfully and sniffing at their human classmates.
This is Maui Goat Yoga, a special type of exercise class that adds the healing power of cute, loving animals to the flexibility and strength-building practice. The classes are part of a nationwide trend that spread like wildfire across the nation about six years ago. After a brief introduction to “goat etiquette,” the instructor assumes a beginners pose and class begins. The goats ignore the instructor and do whatever they want.
The Hatchies never imagined opening an outdoor yoga studio—much less one that involved furry hooved creatures—when they purchased their farm in 2014. The couple met in Las Vegas and bonded over their passion for Hawaiʻi. Kai had grown up in Honolulu and hoped to return one day to be closer to his family. Wendy had dreamed of moving to Hawaiʻi since she was young. Eight years ago, they decided to pull the trigger.
They packed their belongings and sold their house. Kai, a Native Hawaiian specialist in tax law and an Air Force veteran, was able to purchase a parcel in the Hawaiian homelands near Grandma’s Coffee Shop in Keokea and built their home himself.
“It was the best thing we ever did, especially for the kids,” Kai said of the move. The couple have a 12-year-old girl and twin 11-year-old daughters. Wendy, a bookkeeping advisor with Intuit who had grown up in Los Angeles, loved the sweeping vistas upcountry and quickly became enamored of the rural lifestyle.
“I grew up in L.A.. I did not grow up with goats or chickens or any sort of farm animals,” Wendy explained. “When we moved to Maui I started falling in love with all the farm animals and my family in L.A. thought it was really funny.” Her father’s girlfriend jokingly sent the couple a video of a goat yoga class in Oregon. “I looked at it and I turned to [Kai] and I said, ‘This is what I want to do!’” Soon, they had five goats, a coop full of chickens, and a level, grassy spot on their hillside farm to hold the classes.
The nationwide trend has its roots in the Central Oregon town of Albany where Lainey Morse owns a small goat farm. Finding herself in a depression following a divorce and diagnosis with a chronic autoimmune condition, she found solace spending time with her six goats, nuzzling them and enjoying their silly antics.
One day in 2016, Morse’s friend, yoga instructor Heather Davis, said she thought it might be fun to hold a yoga class among the tiny herd. “I said, ‘Okay, but the goats are going to be all over the humans—you know that, right?’ and (Morse) was, like, ‘Cool!’” And so it was that Goat Yoga became a thing.
Morse sent photos of the yoga class to Modern Farmer magazine. She had no idea the reaction that was to come. The notion of goat yoga went viral instantly, drawing interview requests from national publications and news sources. Soon she had a waiting list of thousands that wanted to try Goat Yoga, so she began to franchise the idea in other states. Today, Morse helps manage Goat Yoga business all over the U.S.
The goats at Maui Goat Yoga don’t stop with just lying on your mat. They are snuggly and well-socialized to humans, having been participants in the yoga classes since they were two weeks old, and their playfulness is contagious.
Giggles abound as the goats nuzzle and climb on students’ laps, backs, and bellies. Since they’re impossible to potty train, there is the occasional goat poop or puddle to avoid, but the students navigate these minor landmines easily, and they usually happen on the ground, not while climbing on a person’s back.
The Hatchies get their goats from neighboring breeder Valerie Kulesa of Kula Maui Nigerian Dwarf Goats, who also serves as their mentor and advisor. Each animal is given a cute name, usually borrowed from Disney characters or celebrities, and treated as a pet, not livestock.
There was a bit of trial and error at first. They erected a large tent to provide shade, but high winds one day almost sent it tumbling down the mountain, so it’s been replaced with a permanent shade structure. The thick, fluffy mats Wendy originally chose were too much of a temptation for the goats, who immediately began chewing holes in them. Now they rent out thinner mats with a towel to lay on top for those who don’t bring their own. Woven straw or lauhala mats aren’t allowed because the goats will eat them.
Wendy intended to lead the classes herself, but the goats had other plans. “Quickly we learned from the very beginning that I was Mama Goat and any time I’d try and sit in on a class they’d all gather around me and not pay attention to anyone else,” she said. So, she hired local instructors to teach the classes and now does yoga at Om Fitness, nearby.
Kai has only taken one yoga class in his life and said that his family thinks the whole thing is hilarious. But the success of the business has quieted their laughter.
The couple said that they’re grateful for the skilled and loyal instructors they’ve been fortunate to find and try to treat them like family. At first, they didn’t mention the goats in their “help wanted” ads, for fear that they wouldn’t be taken seriously, but they’ve now settled on a couple of professionals who were intrigued by the idea of working with animals. Megan White and Maluhia Karas are both Yoga Alliance RYT-certified Hatha yoga instructors. “I love working there. It’s like we’re like a big family,” White told MauiTimes. “It’s
really sweet to be a part of what they’ve created.”
“The goats they raise are so sweet and just love people so much they’re almost like little dogs,” she said. “They just want to snuggle and hang out and get love from people. And you can see that the people are so happy and relaxed.”
Classes are held Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday mornings from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. year-round, and sunset classes with live music by veteran slack key guitarist Richard Dancil are offered April through September.
The majority of their customers are visitors to Hawaiʻi, but they have developed a small local following. Classes attracted as many as 60 participants pre-COVID, but tend to be much smaller now. Fees range from $46 to $56 and they offer a 25 percent kamaʻāina discount. To sign up for a class, visit mauigoatyoga.com.
Goat Yoga isn’t the only trend incorporating critters and yoga. Across the island at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Shopping Center, another form of animal-assisted therapeutic yoga is taking shape. The Cat Café Maui was the brainstorm of professional photographer and animal lover Moriah Diamond, who had a vision of a comfortable place where folks could sip a cup of coffee or tea and get to know some foster kitties from the Maui Humane Society. The cats are all spayed or neutered, microchipped, house-trained and socialized. Fall in love with a kitty or two, you can take them home with you.
Like Goat Yoga, cat cafés have become a global trend. The first, named “Cat Flower Garden,” opened in Taipei, Taiwan in 1998 and quickly became a tourist attraction, spawning copycats all across Asia and, eventually, the world.
In the evenings, Cat Café Maui holds an array of special events, including art classes, cat-themed movies, singles nights and, of course, cat yoga classes. On Monday evenings, Regina Padilla teaches a restorative yoga class at the café. Introduced to yoga by her mother, she has been practicing since she was a teenager and was certified as an instructor in 2014. She spotted a post on social media seeking yoga teachers for the café and agreed to lead a free class for its volunteer staff in August. She’s been teaching weekly ever since.
“I had never really heard of cat yoga,” she said. “But I love it.” The café has been successful at finding homes for the cats; they average about an adoption a day.
The cat yoga classes are designed to be a low-impact, restorative experience. “Some [of the cats] are really playful, some are cuddly, some are little trouble-makers,” said Padilla. “It’s just a really fun and relaxing experience, laughing at the cats, seeing them be themselves, and being able to let go of the outside world and just ground with some animal energy.”
Restorative Cat Yoga classes begin at 6:00 p.m. on Mondays and last about 90 minutes. The cost is $20, the same as a 50-minute daytime visit, and you must wear clean socks, or purchase a pair from the café. They offer a 10 percent kama’aina discount. To register, visit catcafemaui.org.