Yoga Journal recently published an article called “Chicken Yoga is Here To Stay” and the author admitted she didn’t like, and even was afraid of chickens. And while I do not practice chicken yoga, and for me, chickens (being an autistic special interest of mine) is also a way to connect with nature and with myself. Chickens teach me to honor nature’s cycles, to honor my own body’s cycles, to rest, to look out for one another, and so much more. And if you see a chicken in my yoga video it’s either because I’m practing next to the coop or Lugh, the house rooster is visiting the room where I’m recording. But really, the article’s entire tone came across as someone who isn’t familiar with chickens and smacks of classism. Which is ironic, because the venues holding the benefit to help injured chickens appear to be pretty upscale.
Let’s start with the facts. Specifically offering chicken (or goat) yoga is cultural appropriation. And as someone with a degree in agriculture it’s a little dangerous. The chickens were wearing diapers (more on that later), but farm animals are as microbially diverse as your average toddler. In fact, there’s a reason why the CDC tells you not to kiss baby chickens each spring. They’re little samonella factories. (Also why US eggs have to be refrigerated, but European ones don’t.) So even though the waste is contained (and my philosophy is that it’s all organic anyway.) there still is the chance that they can spread samonella. (One of the reasons why European colonizers did so much damage to the indigenous societies they encountered was that they had immunity to the diseases livestock bring with them due to living in close proximity and the indigienous people, who didn’t practice western-style agriculture didn’t.)
Which brings me to the next point. It may not have been mentioned in the sutras, but I have no doubt there were chickens wandering around where people were doing yoga. There were also probably goats, children, and other roaming creatures. Did this mean they were doing yoga “with chickens”? Of course not, but the author’s belief that chickens didn’t exist in these spaces again presents a western worldview. The idea that yoga is done indoors, in studios or specially appointed places is a very western one.
The author expresses disbelief about the chickens wearing diapers. These chickens are in sanctuary care. Often chickens that live indoors wear chicken diapers. Look on Etsy if you don’t believe me. Chicken diapers are something you train a chicken to wear. The average farm chicken will not tolerate them. They are beneficial for containing chicken poop (You use either small sanitary napkins or paper towels to catch the waste and change them every few hours.). Looking at the website for the venue, it appears pretty posh, so yeah, diapers on the chickens.
The first yama is ahimsa, or do no harm. I would never offer chicken yoga (see above re: samonella, plus chicken claws are sharp, and if you’ve been hit by a rooster, it stings) to promote my homestead. But they may show up in my videos (just as my horses might). And some would say that because I have a special relationship with chickens, and see them as a part of my practice to connect with others, that this is different. But before we blanketly dismiss something, let’s learn a little more about it, and perhaps not scoff at things because they don’t seem like “real yoga”.