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, there’s a new offering: a yoga class with fauna particular to the cold northern climes of the sub-Arctic — reindeer.
In a grassy pen 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.
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.
“I’ve wanted to do goat yoga but this is one step up,” said Tarah Hoxsie, one of the women who came to the class. “While everybody’s doing goat yoga in the Lower 48, we’re doing reindeer yoga, which is way cooler.”
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.
“So you’ll see the reindeer getting into these amazing poses,” she said. “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, so they decided to try it out.
The class starts with a safety talk — things like, don’t touch the reindeer’s sensitive antlers because it could hurt them. These animals don’t kick or bite, and are used to being around humans, but Atkinson and some of her staff stay on the edges to usher the reindeer away from people if they feel uncomfortable.
From there, much of the class follows a typical yoga class script, but there is some extra reindeer stuff mixed in. Like when Janney asks us to bring our attention to the sounds around us.
“Reindeer make a click when they walk,” she said. “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 it 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.
We spend about an hour going through our yoga poses and all the while, the reindeer are just living their peaceful lives around us: chewing on weeds, making funny grunting noises from time to time, and at least once, availing themselves of the grass toilet.
The whole thing is pretty surreal and there’s a lot of giggling.
After it’s over I ask a few people for their reviews.
“It was awesome,” said Beth Ann Chase, who was basically sharing a mat with the lounging Rocket. “I could hear him snoring the whole time that I was doing it … It definitely brought me to, like, a peaceful place,” she said, laughing.
And my friend Diana Saverin joked that the class was sort of a unique workout for the focus.
“As the rain came down, the mosquitoes buzzed, and the reindeer snored it was like, can you stay with your breath? It’s good hard work.”
Plus, I think now we have some kind of animal yoga bragging rights.
Alaska’s Energy Desk is a public media collaboration focused on energy and the environment with partners KTOO in Juneau, Alaska Public Media in Anchorage, KUCB in Unalaska, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Fairbanks, KBRW in Utqiaġvik and KYUK in Bethel.