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  • Writer's pictureRobert Burns

Is Goat Yoga Spiritual?

I get asked this all the time. People participate in a Goat Yoga session (laugh and have a good time, pet some baby goats, connect with others, have their soul light brighten in their eyes, etc.) then tell me they feel guilty or conflicted because they aren’t sure that this is “really yoga” or “spiritual”. I’m sure there are yoga teachers who make fun of goat yoga in their yoga class and help perpetuate this mental conflict in their students. Sigh.

Where does all this come from? Is Yoga meant to make you feel conflicted and guilty? Are you meant to have loyalty to the person or method teaching you how to do a triangle pose?

If anything; yoga is meant to free you from your neuroticism. Yoga is meant to help you be who YOU really are. To evolve the best part of yourself, express it fully, and see the best part of others.

If you really want to walk the path of Yoga, the “spiritual” one, your dualistic, black & white, I’m right/You’re wrong, categorical thinking will not help you.

In 2006 I offered to teach a Yoga Nidra session at a local Spiritual/Healing/New Age fair. Since then it seems Yoga Nidra techniques are more common and practiced in the United States. In this technique, you lie down in shavasana (the corpse pose), close your eyes, and listen to a guided awareness exploration of the body and mind. It is not meditation, it is not physical yoga, it is not guided relaxation…it is its own thing. An awareness technique. In this practice, you kind of dance in the area between being awake and being asleep.

Enter American Yogis. One says, “I like to have my eyes open when I do shavasana”. Someone says, “I too always meditate with my eyes open”. A third says, “I only practice meditation sitting up”. I informed them that this is a new experience for them, a new technique. It is not meditation, it is not relaxation, it is done lying down with the eyes closed. If you do not practice the technique you will not get to experience it. They wouldn’t budge. Half the people, of the small group of about 10, that showed up to experience Yoga Nidra did not get to experience it because they were caught up in their own head trips. Their own mental blocks let them miss out that day. They missed an experience.

There are many approaches to Yoga. Many techniques and styles. One of the beauties is there are so many options on the buffet that surely you can find something that works for you. Start with the mind, the body, the emotions, whatever. There is a practice for you that will get you started and will get you there.

Sadly, I have heard people who do one practice say that theirs is the best or the true Yoga. This is not how it works. New yogis become fanatics. They like it. They get benefits. They want others to have the same. They are so sure their method is the best they want others to see it the same way. Perhaps they need external validation? I see them making fun of religious groups who do the same. Their enthusiasm is good though.

Goat Yoga is just an experience. It is fun. Getting all wrapped up in if it is Yoga or not is a waste of time.

If you learn something from it great. If not, that’s okay. If you laugh, have fun, and it reduces your stress; great. If it causes you mental conflicts about your spiritual path, that’s okay…that is where you are. I challenge you to look more closely at this.

So; is Goat Yoga spiritual? What a complex question really. There are so many ways to approach this. I should start by saying there really is not an answer to a question like this. Often finding a better question is more productive.

So, how about: “Are you a Yogi?”

If you asked me about Goat Yoga 20 years ago, I would have flat out laughed and told you it is garbage (to say it politely). A lot has happened to me in the last 20 years to change my thinking. My definition of yoga has changed. I went to India (Is that spiritual? Can be.). I worked at a Goat Farm (Is this spiritual? Can be.). I got married and have kids (Is this spiritual? Can be.). I worked as a counselor in an Emergency Department and saw the best and darkest in our society (Is this spiritual? Can be.). I worked as a consultant travelling to Mexico, Taiwan, and China (Is this spiritual? Sometimes it was.).

“Rob, can’t you just give us an answer already?”

Okay. My current definition of yoga (which is always changing and evolving) is that Yoga is the cultivation of awareness. Awareness of what? Our body, thoughts, memories, emotions, energy (Prana or Chi), and ultimately our consciousness that is independent yet connected to all of these. Beyond this it is cultivating an awareness and experience of the consciousness that connects and pervades all things. It is experiencing what “God” is and living your life from this new found experience. A yogi is someone who is on this path. Yoga is an experiential path. Your path. It is not a belief structure or dogma.

Did you learn about this while standing on your head in a yoga class? Probably not. Sadly, there is a good chance your yoga teacher is not a yogi. Sadly, there is a good chance your yoga teacher has not had the good fortune to be exposed to the path. If they keep at it…they will when the time is right.

So what is spiritual?

Probably the most spiritual experience of my life was meeting an old lady who lived in a cave on the side of a mountain in India. She didn’t speak a single word to me. She showed me the possibilities. She shared a glimpse into her world. This was probably the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. It has taken me almost 20 years to figure out what this experience means and how to adjust my life based on it. It is that big of a deal.

You can’t meet a person like this, and experience what they want to show you, and go on with business as normal. When I met her, at this point in my life, I was seriously thinking of becoming a Swami and staying in India. She cut that up quickly by showing me my hypocrisy. She sent me home to work out my karmas in the United States.

(Less than a month later after leaving her and going back to an Ashram I had been staying at in Kerela, I became very sick, died, luckily revived, was driven by jeep over dirt roads to a hospital in India, luckily lived, and then hopped on a plane to come back home when I was well enough. Was all this spiritual? Yep. Did it have anything to do with the physical exercise postures of Yoga Asana? Nope. Where there goats around? Probably…it is India after all.)

When I look at other experiences of the divine that have occurred in my life; none of them have taken place due to standing on my head (Despite my jabs at Yoga here, I do believe firmly in keeping your physical body healthy and stress free. Yoga exercise is great for this. Also, I would not have known about nor had the opportunities to experience what I have if it was not for an awesome yoga teacher who guided and encouraged me to do so. The best yoga teachers know of, have experienced, and inspire their students to seek out an experience of the consciousness that is everywhere.).

If you are a Yogi practicing the path of Yoga (or Sadhana) you are learning to connect to the consciousness of God and see it everywhere and in all things. You are seeking to have and deepen the experience of the consciousness that pervades all things. The light shining in the darkness. Once you experience all this you still have to make a choice about how you wish to live in this world. Many great Yogis have faltered here. It is not simple. It cannot be very easily defined let alone followed. There is not map or method really. Sorry. There is faith, trust, and a little bit of pixie dust…so keep your chin up and press on! “You will be protected. Do not grieve.”

This lady I met did does not have a teaching. She does not have a practice. She doesn’t have an anything. She’s just there. She is fully connected to the experience of the consciousness of the Divine. I doubt she has ever practiced physical yoga postures. I wonder what would happen if she showed up to a goat yoga session? I wonder what the goats would do? She’s just there; she would probably just laugh.

What we in the United States see as Yoga is not what you will see and find in India. Chances are your definition of yoga is not your own based on your experience. Chances are you are spending too much time on right and wrong in Yoga vs. seeing and experiencing God. There is not some unified version of Yoga in India. I hear yoga teachers say they teach the “Yoga of India.” I get excited and ask where they studied only to find out they have not been. This doesn’t matter; I’m not trying to be a snob here.

Americans need to make yoga our own and integrate it within our own culture for the benefit of our society. This does not need to be a big production either.

Anyway, I’ve seen people argue and get really mad over how they hold their arm or foot in some yoga pose. Really. I’ve seen it. “They are not doing triangle or shoulder stand correctly.” They get so mad about it.

“They aren’t breathing loud enough.” “They probably aren’t really doing Moola Bhanda right” (a high up teacher from the Bihar School of Yoga, the folks who wrote the book on Moola Bhanda, told me Americans need to ease up and un-clench the Moola Bhanda as a flat out Freudian joke.).

All this is really just spiritual immaturity in my opinion. Ouch. I’m right/You’re wrong mentality and thinking. “I’m right so that I can feel secure” thinking. You have the clothes, the mala (worn incorrectly with the guru bead as a talisman), you’ve read the books, watched videos, been to the workshop, and know all there is about yoga and how to do it all correctly… and apparently Goat Yoga is not correctly. Sigh.

You all need to let this go. Free yourselves from your judgmental mind.

The basic tenant of yoga spirituality is “There is nothing that is not the consciousness of God.” In other words, it is experiencing that you are part of this consciousness created by this consciousness to experience the love, joy, and pure delight of this consciousness. Wow.

If you are a Yogi, and trying your best to experience and live the expression of yoga in your life, you can do Goat Yoga and be spiritual. If you are not a Yogi, stand on your head, sit in meditation, and read all the books about the Buddha you want but you are just kidding yourself. You are not spiritual, at least from the Yogic view. You are not cooked long enough. Hop back in the fire! Burn up your limited thinking. It’s holding you back and wasting precious time. Make the choice to become spiritual.

Maybe you do not agree with what I’m saying; and that is okay. I’m not here to debate. I’m not “right” about any of this. I have my experience and my path. I’m sharing my thoughts. If you have no idea what I’m talking about though, yet claim to be a student of yoga or a yoga teacher, then you might want to at least examine what I’m saying here a little more closely.

Whatever your method, just do your practice and leave my baby goats out of this! They are sweet little goat people who have nothing to offer the world but love. They help people shine out with love. They improve the soul light in peoples’ eyes. They help people see and be the best that they are for a brief period of time before they return to the craziness of this world; the beautiful craziness.

Is Goat Yoga spiritual? Maybe it is for you. Maybe it is not; but you do not get to tell me if it is for me. Your opinion, like this whole rant is my opinion, is just “your opinion man” (to quote the Dude).

Goat Yoga can be spiritual. So can pulling weeds, chopping vegetables, or cleaning garbage cans. This is the Yoga of India at its finest.

God can come to you any time and anywhere wearing whatever clothes God wants to. God can give you love or problems; but it is all the grace of God giving you what you need to evolve yourself in this very birth on planet Earth. Forge your spiritual armor in the fire of God’s grace! Singing and laughing; or kicking and screaming at your terrible fate: It is all the same. Death is not to be feared. The experience yoga speaks of is real. You can see it for yourself in this very life. Go after it! Find it! See if it is true for yourself!

You probably won’t find it in a hot power yoga class any more than you will in my Goat Yoga class.

I want you to know it is possible and it exists though. If I help you become open to the possibility of this experience; then I am teaching the highest yoga…with goats…pooping on the floor…you laughing…having a good time…expressing care and compassion to these little goat people. Very spiritual right? You better believe it!

If you simply have fun and get to pet some baby goats; I’m fine with that too!

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