A new summer yoga class on offer in Fairbanks, Alaska, adds an unusual twist to the popular phenomenon of practicing alongside animals such as goats, puppies and kittens. As Ravenna Koenig reports for NPR affiliate station KTOO, local yogis can now participate in weekly hatha or vinyasa flow sessions populated by Running Reindeer Ranch’s resident reindeer.
According to Koenig, classes—held most Mondays and Fridays at 6 p.m. for the duration of the summer—begin with a talk by yoga instructor and ranch employee Elsa Janney, who advises attendees to refrain from touching the reindeer’s sensitive antlers and outlines other basic safety tips. The rest of the one-hour session proceeds much like a normal yoga class, taking participants through a range of breathing techniques and active poses designed to foster strength and flexibility.
While the humans find their flow, adult and baby reindeer wander around, grazing on grass, sniffing attendees’ belongings, and even relieving themselves before finally settling down. During one session, Koenig notes, a three-year-old male named Rocket sprawled out between two rows of yoga mats and spent the rest of class releasing a “soft, breathy, grunting sound” similar to snoring.
At certain points throughout class, Janney diverges from the traditional yoga script to place the focus on the roaming reindeer. She might, for example, ask participants to listen to the sounds around them, including the click heard when the animals walk. (This noise is produced by a ligament connected to two different ankle bones and is unique to both caribou and reindeer.)
Jane Atkinson, one of the ranch’s owners, tells Koenig that reindeer are particularly well-suited to yoga. They're “twisty creatures,” as Koenig’s says, noting that the animals are known to scratch their itchy, growing antlers with their back hooves during the springtime.
“You'll see the reindeer getting into these amazing poses,” Atkinson says, “and it's like wow, ... look at this little yoga move that they do."
As Running Reindeer Ranch’s Facebook page states, sessions are beneficial to both humans and reindeer alike. Staff use the classes to socialize newborn calves, while humans have the chance to “deepen [their] practice” in the company of some unusual classmates.
Speaking with Northern Virginia Magazine’s Holly Rhue, Chelsea Lindsay, communications specialist at Virginia’s Animal Welfare League of Arlington, which hosts yoga classes featuring animals up for adoption, echoes this point, explaining, “[The animals are] able to get used to being around people, which helps them get adopted.”
Beth A. Wolfe, a local yoga instructor who leads classes at the shelter, adds, “Traditional yoga techniques balance the nervous system. We use movement, breath and stillness to shift into the [parasympathetic], which is responsible for rest and digestion. Animals are proven de-stressors and help with this rebalancing.”
For now, reindeer yoga is only available at the Fairbanks ranch. But sessions boasting more common animals are becoming increasingly popular across the United States, with baby goat classes in many states and puppy and cat yoga available in even more locales.