Goat & Animal Assisted Therapy

Why Goat Yoga is more than just a fad

The happy distractions and joy provided by goats helped Original Goat Yoga’s founder cope with difficult times  Unexpectedly, goats were also the reason for goat yoga’s surprising longevity.

The naysayers that predicted goat yoga would be a fad on par with pet rocks and mood rings have been more quiet after several years of goat yoga’s explosive growth, increasing popularity, and its use as a foundation of agritourism.

While the draw for family farmers and rural households to hold goat yoga events has been easy to understand, the continued expansion of the goat yoga market and increasing attendance numbers seems more difficult to explain.

Until, that is, one realizes three things.  First, over the last 50 years, the U.S., and much of the world, have become predominantly urban.  Second, the rates of depression and anxiety disorders can be up to 280% greater in urban households compared to rural. And finally, animal assisted therapy has been shown repeatedly to improve feelings of health and wellbeing.

These three things taken together make the success of goat yoga feel pre-ordained; Coming to the country to re-connect with stories great grandparents told about growing up on the farm, and leaving the hectic city life behind for a while is immensely satisfying; But why goats?  Isn’t one animal equivalent to another in the world of animal assisted therapy?  Why not dogs, or cats, or horses instead?

The best way to answer that is with one word: “Annie.”  Annie is a Pigmy goat, and she was the only goat kid born on No Regrets Farm.  As the only kid present in the months leading up to goat yoga’s formation, she provided the founder with a source of smiles and a sense of calm.

This wasn’t by happenstance.  Animals have long been shown to increase oxytocin levels (the “bonding hormone”), increase dopamine levels (a neurotransmitter associated with rewards), decrease cortisol levels (the “stress hormone”), decrease blood pressure, and improve PTSD/depression/anxiety treatment regimens.

Still, why goats?  Goats were likely the first domesticated animals, and as such, there is a rich emotional and evolutionary overlap between goats and people.  Thus, it is no surprise to learn that Goats recognize human emotion, and the faces representing those emotions; Their survival depended on it.

Couple that with the fact that socialized goats rewarded with affection instead of food are nowhere near the insatiable mischief makers and eating machines depicted in cartoons or petting zoos.  Now package all that in an animal that can’t hurt you like a horse might accidentally do, a personality with a mix between cat and dog, and a hilarious sense of humor, and you can’t help but to bond with a goat.

And that leads us back to Annie; The bond Annie formed with goat yoga’s founder, arguably, put Lainey Morse in the right mindset, and brought her back to what was important in life.  No calm from Annie, and goat yoga never would have been.

Animal Assisted Therapy

Mental Health:

  • Just petting animals release a relaxation response.
    • Humans interacting with animals have found that petting the animal promoted the release of serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin- all hormones that can play a part in elevating moods.
  • Lowers anxiety and helps people relax.
  • Provides comfort.
  • Reduces loneliness.
  • Increases mental stimulation.
    • Can provide an escape or happy distraction.
  • Can act as catalysts in the therapy process.
    • May help break the ice.
    • May reduce anxiety.

Physical Health:

  • Helps lower blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health.
  • Reduces the number of medications some people need.
  • Breathing slows in those who are anxious.
  • Diminishes overall physical pain.
  • Helps you relax more during exercise.
    • Participants were motivated, enjoyed the therapy sessions more, and felt the atmosphere of the session was less stressful during Animal-Assisted therapy.
  • For Children with Autism
    • Many children with autism feel a deep bond with animals and feel that they are able to relate better than humans.
    • Children with autism were engaged in significantly greater use of language as well as social interaction with their therapy sessions that incorporated animals compared to standard therapy sessions without them.

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