by Kelly Mitchell
I became a vegan because of goats. Yes, goats. I was a vegetarian for years, mainly for overall health and well-being, but I wasn’t paying attention. I was a pet lover, not an animal lover.
Three years ago, I had a puppy fundraiser at my yoga studio. Jokingly, I asked the shelter coordinator if she had any goats. Her answer was no, but she knew someone. A week later, Karen (a local farm owner), asked me if I’d like to teach goat yoga. I said yes before she finished her sentence. I was excited, yet hesitant because I know goat yoga can be an issue in the yoga community. It borders on cultural appropriation. But the idea of hanging out with goats was too enticing to pass up. The first day, a goat climbed on my back and peed on me. It was amazing.
I immediately observed that goats are curious and affectionate. They know their names. Most of the animals on Karen’s farm are rescued. The babies recognize her as their mother. Karen started referring to me as Aunt Kelly and during the break I was on bottle duty. When students are distracted, goats head-butt each other and chew on bright mats and long hair. Animals respond to the energy around them. When Karen took a bathroom break, they would cry and wait by the door. Each one has a unique personality, just like a dog or a cat. As students settle down, goats find comfort in the curve of a back. I felt dizzy. Bacon is a pig. Meat is a cow or a goat. Buffalo wings are chickens. I made the connection. That is yoga.
For years I immersed myself in trainings, certifications and courses to become the best teacher possible. Yoga saved my life and I wanted to pay it forward, but I learned more about being a teacher on that field than from any book or training. I teach large groups of people of all ages and levels of ability. Some have physical limitations. Some are flat out rude. I hold the space while people squeal, take goat yoga selfies and barely pay attention. One night I scanned the pasture with my eyes. A sea of green, sprinkled with colored mats and funky tank tops. The roster was full, with hundreds on the waitlist. I have a voice.
From that day on, I started every class explaining ahimsa: non harm toward all beings. I spoke about the climate crisis, reducing meat and dairy intake and making better choices. I would stop the class every time a goat walked up to Karen and looked up at her lovingly. It was so clear. They needed to be picked up for a hug, just like a tired toddler. Students began to pay attention. That is yoga.
Within two weeks of going vegan, I felt lighter, but I didn’t lose weight. I knew it was spiritual. The aura of fear and slaughter was no longer in my body. I spent most of my life inadvertently killing animals. I will devote the rest of my life to saving them. It’s not our fault. Most of us were raised to eat meat and drink milk. The horrors of animal agriculture are so well hidden. It’s easy to disconnect from the truth. I’m so glad people, including myself, are beginning to wake up. How can there be peace on this beautiful planet when billions of animals are slaughtered each year for human consumption? This is not a death planet. It’s a green and blue spinning sphere of life.
The general population doesn’t know anything about the philosophy and lineage of yoga. Maybe (as yoga teachers) we need to stop being so snobby. This trendy fad gets people outside in the fresh air. They laugh, breathe and stretch with family and friends. If one person decides to take a traditional yoga class or make a life change to save animals, I leave knowing I’m a good yoga teacher. Most attend because goat yoga was featured on reality TV or to snap the perfect pic for their social media page. But when a goat snuggles up next to them in savasana, they get it. They feel the connection to nature, animals and love. That is yoga.