Kidding Around

The addition of goat yoga is helping the Greater New Orleans Riding Center get through some tough times.

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Screaming Kids Goat Yoga
152 Shadowbrook Lane // Laplace
Gnotrc.org/goat-yoga // @Screamingkids_goatyoga // 985-651-5239


Non-traditional sports and games — from pickleball to ninja courses to specialized yoga classes — have seen a remarkable surge in popularity across the U.S. post-pandemic as people search for new, fun ways to mix social interaction with exercise.

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Enter the “Screaming Kids.”

While the name may conjure ideas of crying toddlers, in fact Screaming Kids refers to the new goats on the block bringing a fun twist to yoga practice in the area. The brainchild of certified yoga instructor Heidi Malnar, Screaming Kids Goat Yoga was launched in April 2023 with Anita Hefler, founder of The Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center (GNOTRC) in LaPlace, where classes are held.

For Malnar and Hefler, the idea was twofold: provide a fun and supportive program for yoga clients while boosting funds for the center.

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“Classes began with a ‘Goat Yoga Benefit’ for the riding center, and I urged the center to continue to offer classes to the public as an ongoing program,” Malnar said. “The inspiration for this particular program was one of communal care, helping others while doing something therapeutic for ourselves.”

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Certified yoga instructor Heidi Malnar is assisted by a herd of friendly goat helpers (plus one special barnyard friend, Clyde) to get participants relaxed in a fun and new way via a range of poses, classes and outdoor interactions.

GNOTRC is a nonprofit organization that provides equine therapy for children and adults living with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities and diagnoses. As the riding center is still recovering in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida and the COVID pandemic, the fact that 70% of goat yoga class registration fees go directly to the center has been a boon.

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The idea of goat-assisted yoga practice has become an especially popular trend for those looking for a totally new experience, with benefits that go way beyond the body, according to Malnar.

“Yoga works and benefits all of our body’s systems to help regulate our mood, decrease levels of depression and anxiety, increase and improve digestion and immune response, lower blood pressure, and balance respiration and heart rate,” she said. “The goats help in several ways. Goats provide happy distractions, challenge expectations, offer unique forms of physical ‘hooves-on’ assists, and help us break linear patterns. These adorable animals will jump onto your back, hips, belly and shoulders, creating a bond as you explore various poses together. Always striving to get to the highest point, they embrace the challenge that yoga postures offer, fostering humility, acceptance of change, and releasing control in their human partners

For students, Malnar said the human-goat interaction “increases oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine levels while reducing cortisol and blood pressure. Participants may notice lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, HAI (human-animal interaction) promotes feelings of safety and social connection, while reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.”

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It’s also just a lot of fun.

“[Goat yoga] also offers opportunities for human bonding and community building as practitioners discover themselves laughing and engaging with strangers, taking pictures of one another, and leaving with new friends,” she said. “Research shows that physical activity and mindful breathing (major components of yoga), positive social interaction and laughter (practicing in community with others and laughing with one another as the goats surprise us with their actions and behavior), and creative expression (‘I’ve got a goat on my back… let’s see where we can take this!’) are all ways to complete our stress response.”

The “Screaming Kids” team is comprised of Malnar, occasional helpful human yoga volunteers, plus a gaggle of 17 goats and their special barnyard friend.

“We cannot forget Clyde, the baby cow who lives with the goats,” said Malnar. “Clyde is normally present during practice.”

Malnar noted that GNOTRC’s goats are very socialized and enjoy the opportunity to connect with humans.

“Many places use feed to attract them to your mat or onto your body, but we have found that they tend to follow the food in those instances rather than maintaining the connection with the yogi. Our kids are curious and friendly. Goats, among the first domesticated animals, share an emotional and evolutionary connection with humans. They recognize emotions and read facial expressions, making them ideal therapy animals. Our socialized goats have a fantastic sense of humor and eagerly seek to bond with you.”

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Classes are $35 for adults ($25 for children 10 and under) for a 90-minute session, which includes a goat yoga orientation, an initial meet and greet, a 60-minute practice, and time for selfies and staged photographs. Group classes, such as for bachelorette parties or school field trips, may also be accommodated with an advance request.

“We also offer a $10 bottle-feeding add-on, which I highly recommend, for a wonderful extra oxytocin, bonding hormone boost,” Malnar said. “We try to keep classes around 20 people.”

For those more interested in goat ‘play time’ but not the physical practice of yoga, GNOTRC also has a program called ‘Kiddin’ Around,’ which can be arranged by appointment only for groups of one to 10, for 30 or 60 minutes.

“I want to stress that this is both for children and the young at heart,” said Malnar.

While Screaming Kids is a great way for regular yoga practitioners to engage in a fun new way, Malnar emphasizes that no experience is required for class participation and encourages those that may be yoga-curious to give it a try.

“This class meets you where you are,” she said. “You do not need any prior yoga experience; we move at a slow and gentle pace in order to connect with the goats and offer opportunities for them to physically join us. If you do have prior yoga experience, look forward to challenging your expectations and defaults as the goats give us a lesson in embracing chaos and letting go of control on the mat. Additionally, chair practices and special accommodations can be made with advanced notice.”


Did you know?

Yoga Trends on the Rise, according to MyYogaTeacher.com

1. Broga (yoga for men)

2. Roga (yoga for runners)

3. SUP Yoga (stand-up paddle board yoga)

4. Slackline Yoga (tightrope yoga)

5. Aerial Yoga (suspended yoga)

6. Yoga for mental fitness (yogic breathing and meditation)

7. Yoga capsules (short, 5-to-10-minute sessions)

 

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