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Surrounded by farmland as far as the eye could see, nearly 20 yogis spread their mats on the hay-covered dirt at Pink Alpaca Farms in Wellman on a sunny Saturday afternoon last weekend for an outdoor practice. But they weren't alone.
They'd be sharing the mat with the hobby farm's many curious critters, including alpacas, goats, cats, ducks and chickens.
And while some might think farm animals in your Zen zone might be a bit of a distraction, farm owner Kristi Pearson disagrees.
'It's more true to the practice than doing it in a studio surrounded by mirrors,' she said, theorizing that when yoga first started, it was likely not in a controlled studio environment, but outside with nature.
'The way I see it, people have been doing yoga with animals for years,' she added.
Kristi and her husband Ryan started Pink Alpaca Farms about a year and a half ago, when they began renting a farmhouse in Wellman. They started with a few goats and chickens and quickly accumulated other animals. The farm turned into somewhat of a sanctuary, Kristi said, adopting a sick alpaca, a retired carnival pony, a whole flock of donated chickens and several abandoned cats and dogs.
'We've just a got a soft spot,' she said.
While farming is just a hobby for the Pearsons — Kristi owns KCoPear, an art and handmade goods shop in Iowa City, and Ryan coaches at the Iowa Gym Nest and owns CORSE Fitness in Iowa City — they've turned their small hobby farm into a 'fun farm' event space to share with others.
Their first attempt at farm yoga last October — inspired by the popular 'goat yoga' trend — drew just four visitors, but this time they had more than 200 'interested' via Facebook. Only about 20 of the 43 'going' RSVP's showed up, but the Pearsons plan to continue farm yoga on a monthly basis, potentially even weekly if it draws enough attention.
Chelsea Lob, of Cedar Rapids, made the nearly hourlong drive to the farm for her first farm yoga session, which she described as 'awesome.'
'It was super grounding and awesome to be around animals in their natural habitat,' she said. 'I will definitely be here next month.'
Lindsey Morrison, instructor at Hot House Yoga in Iowa City and a friend of Kristi's, leads farm yoga at Pink Alpaca Farms. She'd never led a farm yoga class before October, admitting the first time she was a little bit distracted by all the animals, but said having animal energy around you as you practice can help you 'move more intuitively.'
'We all kind of lose a little bit of our ability to move naturally. We're so controlled in the way we think and move,' she said. 'Animals and yoga are healing in different ways to people. ... Having that energy around I think makes people feel more free and open.'
Kristi Bontrager, owner of Jazzercise in Iowa City, which hosted a 'Cats N Mats' event last August, described the healing energy of exercise and animals in her own life: 'For me, having regular exercise makes me a calmer, happier person. The same is true of being a pet owner,' she said. 'Pets are part of our families and are an important part of your lives. If exercise is part of your lifestyle too, you kind of want those things to come together.'
The Iowa Farm Sanctuary, a nonprofit rescue organization for farm animals in Marengo, also will be hosting yoga on the farm throughout the summer, starting with their first session on Sunday, May 21. Attendees will practice among the farm's rescued goats, sheep and pot belly pig, Stella.
'We believe in whole self wellness and being in tune with yourself as well as other sentient human and non-human animals,' said the Sanctuary's vice chair, Ace Wilde.
'We believed (yoga on the farm) would be a good way to spread our mission of compassion,' he added.
Similarly, Pearson believes practicing yoga alongside animals is a good opportunity for humans and animals to 'learn to share space.'
'That's the biggest problem in the whole world today. As humans we're not very good at sharing space — with other humans or animals,' she said. 'Animals are so good for your soul, and all of our critters are super friendly. They sure bring a tremendous amount of joy to my life, so I hope they can do the same for others.'
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