Move Over, Goat Yoga. Alaskans Now Have Reindeer Yoga

Jun 22, 2019
Originally published on June 22, 2019 1:16 pm

If you want to incorporate quality time with animals into your yoga practice, you have a lot of options these days. There's puppy yoga, cat yoga, and perhaps the most famous — goat yoga.

Now, in Fairbanks, Alaska, there's a new offering: a yoga class with fauna particular to the cold northern climes of the subarctic. Reindeer.

In a grassy pen at the Running Reindeer Ranch, adult and baby reindeer are milling around — grazing, nosing curiously at water bottles, and pawing yoga mats as people shake them out for class.

The air is buzzing with mosquitoes, and the sky is threatening rain, but a good two dozen or so people have shown up for this petting zoo and exercise experience.

"I've wanted to do goat yoga, but this is like one step up," says Tarah Hoxsie, one of the attendees. "This is like the ultimate, OK. So while everybody's doing goat yoga in the lower 48, we're doing reindeer yoga, which is way cooler."

The reindeer yoga class is a brand new offering for the ranch — it's only the third class. They usually give natural history walking tours with the animals.

A reindeer stands in front of participants at the start of the yoga class.
Ravenna Koenig / KTOO

Jane Atkinson, one of the owners, does yoga herself. She thinks that reindeer are particularly well-suited to it. They're twisty creatures — especially in the springtime when their antlers are growing and itchy, and they scratch them with their back hooves.

"So you'll see the reindeer getting into these amazing poses," she says, "and it's like wow ... look at this little yoga move that they do!"

One of Atkinson's employees at the ranch, Elsa Janney, happens to also be a yoga instructor.

She starts the class with a safety talk — things like, don't touch the reindeer's sensitive antlers because it could hurt them.

From there, much of the class follows a typical yoga class script. But there is some extra stuff mixed in, like what Janney says after she asks the class to pay attention to the sounds around them.

"Reindeer make a click when they walk," she says. "That is a ligament connected to two different ankle bones. That is unique to both caribou and reindeer."

At the start of class, most of the reindeer are standing up or slowly wandering around the mats.

But as the class goes on, one by one they all lie down. Rocket, an elegant male reindeer, spreads out between the first and second rows and spends most of the class making a soft, breathy, grunting sound — like snoring.

Rocket the reindeer takes a rest during a yoga class at Running Reindeer Ranch in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Ravenna Koenig / KTOO

The whole thing is pretty surreal. There's a lot of giggling. Especially when one of the reindeer relieves itself on the grass.

After class, Beth Ann Chase says she didn't really mind sharing her mat with Rocket the lounging reindeer.

"It was awesome. It was super cool," she says. "I could hear him snoring the whole time that I was doing it. ... It definitely brought me to like, a peaceful place."

And Diana Saverin says that trying to maintain focus was part of the workout.

"As the rain came down, the mosquitoes buzzed, and the reindeer snored, it was like, can you stay with your breath?" she says, laughing. "It's good hard work."

Plus, all the participants now have some kind of animal yoga bragging rights.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

If you want to commune with animals while doing yoga, there are many options these days - puppy yoga, cat yoga, goat yoga, yoga with B.J. Leiderman who writes our theme music. In Fairbanks, Alaska, there's a yoga class with a fauna - with fauna? With fauna. With fauna - particular to the cold northern climes of the sub-arctic reindeer. From member station KTOO and only on NPR, Ravenna Koenig has the story.

(REINDEER SNORTING )

RAVENNA KOENIG, BYLINE: In a grassy pan at the running reindeer ranch, a mix of adult and baby reindeer are milling around, grazing, nosing curiously at water bottles and pawing yoga mats as people shake them out for class.

(REINDEER SCRATCHING)

KOENIG: The air is buzzing with mosquitoes, and the sky is threatening rain. But a good two dozen or so people have shown up for this petting zoo/exercise experience. One of them is Tarah Hoxsie.

TARAH HOXSIE: I've wanted to do, like, goat yoga, but this is like one step up. This is, like, the ultimate, OK? So while everybody's doing goat yoga in the lower 48, we're doing reindeer yoga, which is way cooler.

KOENIG: This is a brand new thing for the ranch. It's only the third class they've done. They usually give natural history walking tours with the animals. Jane Atkinson is one of the owners. She does yoga herself, and she thinks that reindeer are particularly well suited to it. They're twisty creatures, especially in the springtime when their antlers are growing and itchy and they scratch them with their back hooves.

JANE ATKINSON: So you'll see the reindeer get into these amazing poses. And it's like, wow, look at this little yoga move that they do.

KOENIG: One of Atkinson's employees at the ranch, Elsa Janney, happens to also be a yoga instructor.

ELSA JANNEY: All right, so everybody go ahead and find your mat.

KOENIG: The class starts with a safety talk - things like don't touch the reindeer sensitive antlers because it could hurt them. From there, much of the class follows a typical yoga class script.

JANNEY: We’re going to ground through our sit bones, find some length in our spine.

KOENIG: But there is some extra stuff mixed in. Like, when Janney asks the class to pay attention to the sounds around them.

JANNEY: Reindeer make a click when they walk. That is the ligament connected to two different ankle bones that is unique to both caribou and reindeer.

KOENIG: At the start of class, most of the reindeer are standing up or slowly wandering around the mats. But as the class goes on, one by one they all lie down. Rocket, an elegant male reindeer, spreads out between the first and second rows and spends most of the class making a noise that sounds like snoring.

(SOUNDBITE OF REINDEER SNORING)

KOENIG: He's sleeping (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF REINDEER SNORING)

KOENIG: The whole thing's pretty surreal. There's a lot of giggling, especially when one of the reindeer relieves itself on the grass.

(SOUNDBITE OF REINDEER URINATING)

JANNEY: Doing that gentle opening of your right side of your neck.

KOENIG: After class, Beth Ann Chase says she didn't really mind sharing her mat with the lounging reindeer rocket.

BETH ANN CHASE: It was awesome. It was super cool. I could hear him snoring the whole time that I was during it. It definitely brought me to like a (laughter), like a peaceful place.

KOENIG: And Diana Saverin says that trying to maintain focus was part of the workout.

DIANA SAVERIN: As the rain came down and the mosquitoes buzz and the reindeer snored, it was like, can you stay with your breath? (Laughter) It's good hard work.

KOENIG: Plus, all the participants now have some kind of animal yoga bragging rights.

For NPR News, I'm Ravenna Koenig in Fairbanks, Alaska. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.