Goat Yoga for a Great Cause

June 29, 2017
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Stephen Constantino, of Belford, makes friends with one of Oasis TLC’s baby goats during the first goat yoga class at the center’s farm in Middletown. Photo by Emma Wulfhorst.

Emma Wulfhorst |

MIDDLETOWN — Under the cover of clouds last Saturday, nearly 75 people came to the Oasis TLC Trail Center, nestled just off Sleepy Hollow Road. Those eager yoga enthusiasts and animal lovers were there for what seems to be a novel event: goat yoga.

Yoga and goats may seem like an unusual pairing, but if you look in the headlines lately, it’s the newest fitness trend sweeping the nation. The name is self-explanatory; goat yoga is exactly what you think it would be—a yoga class with the participants surrounded by romping baby and adult goats.

“Goats are naturally social and very curious and silly,” said Jen Portman, owner of Synergy Hot Yoga who partnered with Mai Cleary, founder of Oasis TLC, to present the monthly yoga classes. “They don’t care that you are trying to do yoga. They just want to be near you. You can’t help but feel happy and peaceful in their presence.”

Goat yoga combines the health benefits of a yoga class with all the happiness of a petting zoo. According to the website goatyoga.net, “The simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response.” So even though being climbed on and sniffed at may seem to provoke the opposite of calm, our brains respond positively to the animal interaction by releasing the “feel good” hormones serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin, boosting your mood.

One of Oasis TLC’s baby goats found treats in the middle of Saturday’s yoga class.

Portman was intrigued by the concept of goat yoga and set out to make it a reality in Monmouth County. The only person she knew with goats was Mai Cleary, founder of Oasis TLC, the nonprofit therapeutic life center for young adults with autism.

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Cleary, a student at Portman’s yoga studio since it opened about 10 years ago, began Oasis (Ongoing Autistic Success in Society) in September 2007 to help autistic young adults, aged 18-27, learn independent living skills, formal social skills, continued language comprehension and usage, and vocational skills for future employment. “They need to move out (on their own), too, just like other people,” Cleary explained.

As Cleary’s son, who has autism, grew up, she recognized the lack of a post-high school educational program for people with autism, so she decided to start her own.

In 2011 Oasis, along with the help of the Middletown Township Committee, the mayor, Monmouth Conservation Foundation, NJDEP Green Acres, and NY/NJ Baykeeper, secured its first farm. The nonprofit currently leases 7 acres of land, on which the main buildings and residences of their Oasis TLC Trail (Transitional Residential/Adult Independent Learning) Center are located and where Saturday’s fun took place.

Studies show that people with autism benefit from exposure to animals and nature. Cultivating a deep bond with animals allows them to better relate to humans, improving their social skills. This made a quiet farm in Middletown the perfect place for Oasis’ Trail Center.

Saturday’s goat yoga class was not just fun, but also a great way to raise awareness and money for Oasis, with 100 percent of the class’ profits donated to the program.

Once Portman began leading the yoga class, participants could barely concentrate as they tried to pet the goats. A few exclaimed: “I want to take one home!”

Portman was stunned by the number of people who registered for the event, “We had so many we had to start turning people away.” she said.

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Oasis employees strategically placed buckets of food for the goats throughout the large group of yogis, leading to some adorable encounters as the goats lumbered over yoga mats – and people – to get to their treats.

Oasis is hosting two more goat yoga classes – 6 p.m. July 25 and 9 a.m. Aug. 19 – and may add an additional class in the fall and continue the series next summer. “It’s just a happy thing,” said Portman. “It makes people happy.”

Classes are $30 per person and pre-registration is required at oasistlc.org or syngergyhotyoga.com. Sessions are held at the Oasis TLC Trail Center, 89 Sleepy Hollow Road, Red Bank. Please bring your own yoga mat. Goats provided.

This article was first published in the June 22-29, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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