It was 80° and over 70 percent humidity, and there was a group of about 20 people and 10 alpacas in a pasture in Tisbury. The people were being led by Isabella Gillies and Liz Kass through downward dogs and chaturangas, while the alpacas were enjoying some hay and taking dust baths. It is the latest evolution of the barnyard animal exercise trend to reach the Island: alpaca yoga.
Island Alpaca holds these yoga classes on Mondays and Thursdays on its farm in Tisbury. They’re more than an exercise class in the presence of some fuzzy, four-legged llama relatives, however. It was an opportunity to learn more about the animals. Kass is the barn manager at Island Alpaca, and she and the rest of the staff were answering questions and sharing interesting facts about the alpacas throughout the class. Alpacas are relatively new to the States, being first imported from South America in 1983, according to Kass. Because they’re so new to the country, general knowledge is rather limited around these animals.
“Island Alpaca’s main purpose is a breeding farm; however, we also love to educate the public,” said Kass. There are opportunities throughout the class to ask questions about the alpacas. “We provide anything people want to know,” said Kass, “If you have an in-depth question that gets into a scientific aspect, we can answer that. We also get people who ask basically, What is an alpaca?”
Before the class started, we were introduced to the female alpacas, and one baby, and given a rundown as to how to treat the alpacas. It’s best to pet them on their backs, necks, and heads. Don’t go for the face. Their coats are distinctively soft and fluffy, so it was tempting to break a pose to pat one who wandered by within arm’s reach.
They weigh an average of 140 to 160 pounds, so unlike in goat yoga, you don’t want these guys to step on you. On the whole, however, alpacas are gentle, calm animals perfectly happy to munch on hay while you do yoga next to them. They also seem pretty respectful of personal space, so they’re probably not going to be hanging around too close while you’re trying to move into warrior two. Although goat yoga may be more mainstream than alpaca yoga, Gillies said, “Alpacas are natural yogis.” Surprisingly, they’re very flexible animals, and their calm demeanor promotes a zen practice.
From cat yoga and dog yoga to horse yoga and beyond, practitioners claim there are mental health benefits to doing yoga with animals. It’s hard to take yourself too seriously when a goat is wandering between your legs and you’re outside on a picturesque farm. Same goes for when an alpaca is giving itself a dust bath a few feet from your mat. Dust baths cool and clean the alpacas, and they seem to luxuriate in them like someone would in a bubble bath.
That being said, the nature of alpaca yoga necessitates being outside. While this does lend itself to feeling closer to the natural world than if you were in a studio, in midsummer on Martha’s Vineyard, it also means it’s going to be hot. Gillies and Kass took the class at a slower pace because of the heat, and paused in the middle for an ice water and fruit break. This was also a good opportunity to hang out with the alpacas. You’re only going to be outside for a little over an hour, but sunblock is probably a good idea.
Yogis of all ages were in attendance. Gillies cited a class where she taught a 2-year-old. It’s an all-levels class, however: Someone looking for a hard workout or advanced poses would have to make modifications to the given practice. Gillies welcomes and promotes a more individualized practice. “It’s their practice, it’s their class,” she said of her students.
Although you’re just off Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, it’s easy to forget for an hour that the summer is hammering away. You’re finding your zen while the alpacas find the pellet treats under the hay. Life is good.
Classes run weekly on Mondays at 3:30 pm and Thursdays at 9:30 at Island Alpaca at 1 Head of the Pond Rd., Vineyard Haven. Classes are $30 each, and preregistration is strongly suggested; however, walk-ins are welcome. Children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult. For more information and to preregister, visit islandalpaca.com.