When I first heard of the new exercise trend, yoga with animals, I imagined a typical yoga studio with fluffy golden retrievers or purring kittens–but not sheep. To my surprise, cities from all over North America are advertising sheep yoga events on Facebook. I had been to my fair share of yoga classes, but never with animals, and I felt apprehensive of what I might encounter.
I attended an hour-long class hosted by Biquette à Montréal, an eco-pasture project based in Parc Maisonneuve. The organization aims to introduce ecologically-friendly grazing into urban communities by hosting events around the city. In addition to yoga classes, Biquette à Montreal hosts writing workshops, wool-knitting demonstrations, and family activities. According to Montreal wildlife organization Biopolis, the organization can be summed up in three words: Graze, educate, and enjoy—qualities I observed when I took my first sheep yoga class.
After a 30-minute metro ride, I found myself in a quaint park populated by bicyclists, jogging groups, and free-range sheep. A shepherd chaperoned them from afar, but there were no other fences, leashes, or collars in sight.
Above all, the staff stressed that Biquette is not a zoo; the sheep live peacefully and are not used for wool or any other commercial use. According to the event organizers, the sheep roam freely in the park every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Myriam Benzakour, a yoga teacher of 10 years, has been teaching sheep yoga at Biquette for the past two years. According to Benzakour the communal quality of the event, bringing together people and animals, is what makes it unique.
“I think it’s a good way to learn about animals,” Benzakour said. “[And] it’s a good way to connect and learn about each other.”
During the class, my surroundings felt almost too idyllic: A cool breeze was in the air as the half-set sun rested above a grassy patch filled with over 60 people—friends, couples, families with small children—rolling out their mats and snapping pictures of sheep passing by. The sheep padded around and ate grass, as people treated them like pets, giving them the occasional hug. As the class progressed, laughter would bubble up every so often as the sheep trotted through the rows of brightly-coloured mats.
Instead of packing up and leaving as the class came to a close, people stayed to talk to their neighbours and wait for sheep to mosey over. I saw firsthand how the event strengthened the bonds among all of the participants; people and sheep coexisted in a symbiotic relationship.
Despite having to take my first solo metro ride to get there—which was a small feat of its own—I’m happy that I broke out of the McGill bubble to try something this unique. For anyone tired of the stale fluorescents of the fitness centre, sheep yoga offers a fresh, fun, and even environmentally-conscious alternative for exercise in the city.