Yoga with goats draws people out to the farm
SUGAR GROVE – Ellen Beaulieu is a firm believer in the healing properties of animals and being “in” nature. She said she sees her home – a 168-year-old farmhouse in rural Sugar Grove – as “a place to connect with animals, the earth and each other.”
A transplant from a subdivision just 10 minutes away, Beaulieu and her family have settled into their new home, dubbed “Blue Sky Farm,” and have begun to acquire animal companions. A miniature horse they took in turned out to be pregnant, and baby Jester was born on April 1. A donkey named Jack and a pony named Sophie soon were joined by a number of goats, including several mothers and their kids. Beaulieu’s next question was, “How are we going to share this wonderful space with others?”
Enter Goat Yoga, a new trend in niche fitness, popping up across the rural landscape.
The hourlong yoga sessions aren’t unique in and of themselves, but they are typically held outdoors or in a barn on a local farm, and the goats are given free rein to wander among the participants.
Several students in the first night of Blue Sky Farm Goat Yoga classes talked about their experience after class. Dana Albers of Arlington Heights said her daughter, Aurora resident Amy Albers, had invited her and other members of the family to the class.
“At first, we thought it was a joke,” Dana Albers said. “We love animals. We’re a total animal family.”
Amy Albers said the class followed the flow of a typical yoga class, and her mom said that the does (mother goats) and their babies wandering around them during class added a very nurturing feeling. She said she liked that the class was laid-back, and they could stop and play with the goats.
“You didn’t have to imagine the sounds of nature,” said Dana Albers’ other daughter, Holly Marciniak. “You notice the sounds of the farm. It’s therapeutic.”
A few of the goats were nibbling on people, some hopped over them, and some licked their feet. And, yes, a few of them “peed and pooped.”
“People expected it,” Beaulieu said. “There were people to clean up after them, and those in the class were not upset by it. It’s part of the experience, we’ve decided.”
After the class, the women took a walk around the farm.
“It’s a welcome, nurturing environment,” Dana Albers said.
That’s exactly what Beaulieu hoped for after taking over the farm.
“I always had the idea, wouldn’t it be cool to renovate an old farmhouse?” Beaulieu said.
She and her husband, Ed, were on vacation in the fall of 2012 when she attended a presentation in which the speaker was describing her life in a rural setting raising animals. Later, during a walk on the beach, she told her husband she wanted a life like that.
“It was a romantic idea,” she said. “I didn’t really think we would do it. It was risky, and our families thought it was crazy.”
Later that month, she was driving down Mighell Road in Sugar Grove Township when she spotted a For Sale sign. The house had been built in 1850 by Ezekiel Mighell, one of the first settlers of the area. The owners were only the second family to own the property, and they had just put the house on the market.
When Beaulieu walked through the house, she said, “It felt like home.”
Throughout the journey to acquire the house and its property, Beaulieu and her family had many supporters who helped with zoning and many other issues that a more than a century old house and property present. They closed on the house in July 2013.
“There is a certain vibe to an old place,” she said. “When you sit in the kitchen having coffee, you feel the presence of people having done the same for more than 150 years.”
A chance discovery of a number of old Mighell family pictures from the early 1900s brought the Beaulieus in touch with the ancestors of the original owners, including Patty Mighell Paxton, who is known for her book on the history of Sugar Grove Township, “Sin Qua Sip.” A stroll through the old homestead has become a cherished part of the annual Mighell family reunions.
Beaulieu is a former special education teacher and volunteer at Farm Friends NFP in Big Rock, a program that provides farm experiences for groups through the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association.
Beaulieu said the yoga classes have worked out even better than expected. There are two certified yoga instructors who teach the classes, which take place Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.
“I love being here,” yoga teacher Eva Chinetti said. “You have to be more present.”
Beaulieu said that what sets Blue Sky Farm Goat Yoga apart is that the goats are raised right at the farm and it is their home. She hopes their five-acre “piece of heaven” will become a destination where people can step out of their busy lives and enjoy the atmosphere of the country.
She laughed as she described herself as the one adult in line with all the children at the County Fair FFA booth to pet the cow.
“I think there are a lot of people like me,” she said. “I believe people are looking for opportunities to sit in a field with an animal – to groom them, pet them, to breathe on them and have them breathe on you.”
She said that in addition to the goat yoga classes, the farm will host private parties for birthdays and other celebrations, as well as provide an opportunity for one-on-one animal time with Beaulieu, who is certified in animal assisted activities and therapy.
To register for classes online, search Facebook for Blue Sky Farm Goat Yoga and call or email Beaulieu for appointments, parties or questions at 630-774-9211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.