Column: I did yoga with a goat standing on my back and discovered an L.A. fountain of youth

Vintage Times columnist Steve Lopez, who tries to keep an open mind, strikes a pose while Burlap, a Nigerian dwarf goat, balances on his back during a yoga class at Golden Road Brewing in Los Angeles.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

When I arrived at goat yoga class Wednesday night, I had two things on my mind.

First, I don’t do yoga.

Second, I don’t generally hang out with goats.

So what was I doing there?


I asked myself that as I saw one of the goats, Burlap, eating a hedge while the other, Billy, rammed a bench with his horns.

So, yes, this was new for me, a little weird, and maybe even a little scary. My understanding was that in goat yoga, the goats jump on your back while you do poses, and these were not rabbit-sized animals. They looked to weigh a good 25-30 pounds.

Would I herniate a disk when the whole point was to get healthier and slow the aging process?

Would they chew away what’s left of my hair?


Let me back up and explain how I ended up in a yoga barnyard.

I have a big birthday coming up. It’s the one where you get to save a buck or two on a movie ticket. (What’s the thinking there, by the way? They don’t think we can see the screen, so we get a discount?)

Most friends don’t know my birthday, but complete strangers do. I know this because I keep getting unsolicited mail from insurance companies whose idea of a birthday card is a pitch for me to buy supplemental Medicare plans.

I asked for advice from people who had already registered for Medicare on the Social Security website. That part’s not so bad, they said, but trying to make sense of the supplemental options is roughly as pleasant as hip surgery. A colleague who’s an investigative reporter told me he lost a weekend trying to figure it out.


Excuse me, but this is elder abuse, and they hit you with all of it when you’re getting grumpy and forgetful and your eyes are shot. And people warn that if you screw any of this up, you’ll pay penalties all the way to your grave.

“It’s all about managing decline,” my retired friend Jim Ricci says when we get together and talk about what’s hurting.

Because I’m still working and have group health insurance, all I had to do for now was sign up for Part A Medicare, and forget Parts B, F, G., etc. I also had to make some hard choices on a small pension that soon comes due. The multiple options include getting the full monthly payment until I die, or taking a smaller payment now so my wife gets a few bucks when I’m in the ground, or taking just a few crumbs now and kicking a tiny stipend over to the kids when I’m history.

I felt like I was in “Sophie’s Choice.” You have to predict the date of your own death, sacrifice someone, and hope that if you keep it all for yourself today, you don’t get taken out by a meteorite tomorrow and be hated forever by your survivors.


Bent over by the weight of all these gloomy considerations, I thought about following the lead of many who have confronted senior citizenship here in Los Angeles by embracing denial. But having work done is not my style, even if we do have more cosmetic surgeons than teachers.

Full disclosure, 12 years ago I went to Giuseppe Franco Salon in Beverly Hills to see if Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hairdresser could give me a touch of the same treatment he gave the governor. It was the first and only time I dyed my hair and it did not go well, which made for a decent column.

I looked like a balding ocelot who’d just shampooed with Orange Julius. Loved ones guffawed or looked away.

I also went to a hot nightclub in Hollywood where you had to be cool to get past the velvet rope and hang with the kids. I told a guard with a headset that I was S. Lo, which sounded hip to me, but he was not impressed. He may have seen me arrive in a Toyota Avalon, which was designed for trips to the golf course.


No raves for me, no dye jobs, ponytails, yogurt masks or $200 jeans. When I lived for a few years in Silver Lake, all the women wore Buddha pants and all the aging hipster men wore Chuck Taylor high-tops and short-sleeve T-shirts over long-sleeve thermal underwear.

So I moved out of the neighborhood.

The best way to defy time, it seems to me, is to forget your age, try new adventures and find rebirth in surrendering to the spirit of Los Angeles. Living here is like always being at the start of a long alternative universe buffet line, right? I once took my pooch to a dog masseuse. I once hired an animal communicator to tell a family of raccoons to stop tearing up my yard.

I try to keep an open mind.


So when a friend recommended bee sting therapy for my bum foot and creaky shoulder, I thought why not? I’ll try that one day if there’s a column in it. I’ll try anything.

Which is why, on Wednesday night, I ended up in a down dog yoga pose with a Nigerian dwarf goat or two on my back.

I had seen a story in the La Cañada Valley Sun by Sara Cardine with the headline: “Dwarf goats become gurus … yoga instructor promises animal-guided mindfulness.”

I knew that’s exactly what I needed, especially when I saw that the $30 class was held at Golden Road Brewing on San Fernando Road near Glendale, and a free brew was part of the deal.


Billy, a Nigerian dwarf goat, makes his way through yoga class.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“The goats are not potty trained,” yoga instructor Rae Scharfman warned at the start of class, and I can confirm the accuracy of that statement.

It was not clear whether Burlap or Billy was responsible for the deposits left on and around my yoga mat, but trainer Michelle Tritten of Hello Critter Goat Yoga was quick with a broom and mop.

My first challenge was to do the yoga itself. I’m about as limber as a crutch, and I worried I would snap the bolts in my artificial knees, which might scare the goats. But the new me is willing to take risks.


The goats, it turns out, are not trained masseuses. But they wear soft booties and are happy to climb up on your back when Tritten holds a treat over your head.

So there you are with barn animals on your back, feeling like you’re on the “Ed Sullivan Show” or something, expecting acrobats to bounce onto the stage and begin twirling plates. If you’ve never been mounted by a goat, so to speak, it’s a little unnerving at first. I felt like a Santa Anita race horse being ridden by a four-footed jockey. The goats are entirely at ease digging hooves into your posterior region, and if you get lucky, Burlap or Billy might work on a knot between your shoulder blades.

I don’t know how therapeutic any of this is, but you end up laughing so much it helps you forget that you’re rapidly approaching the days of Medicare Part B followed by certain death.

And goat yoga can be a gateway to more adventures, said the instructor, like goat yoga sound bath.


I looked over at my wife, who was next to me, to ask what a goat yoga sound bath is.

“Do not ask,” she said while posing.

“Why not?” I asked. “Do you know what it is?”

“No,” she said. “But if you ask her, you’ll look stupid and unhip.”


Elder abuse.

I later looked it up and found this description of sound baths:

“Part meditation, part listening exercise, sound baths are healing musical performances played with Himalayan singing bowls, crystal bowls, gongs, biosonic tuning forks, shamanic drumming, and chanting.”

Maybe the goats bray into the Himalayan singing bowls or poop onto a kettle drum, I don’t know. But if I sign up for that, I’m going to need more than one free beer. And it’s not yet clear to me whether any of this is covered by Medicare.


Burlap hops from the back of Karen Wasoba, left, onto the back of her daughter Kari Wasoba during a goat yoga class at Golden Road Brewing in Los Angeles. The goats are not potty trained.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

One of my yoga classmates, retiree Karen Wasoba, had a youthful smile on her face when we were done being trampled by goats.

“I think I’m going to keep trying new things,” she said.

That’s the recipe, for sure.


For those of you who don’t know, yoga sessions apparently conclude with the instructor saying, “Namaste.” But Scharfman put a twist on that.

“Ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-maste,” she said.

I believe it means pass the ibuprofen, and let me live another day.

Get more of Steve Lopez’s work and follow him on Twitter @LATstevelopez