Alpacas add sense of calm to yoga class

Jun 24, 2021

“Imagine you’re a grazing alpaca.’’

That was one of the suggestions yoga instructor Keri Cusson DeFusco offered to the 30 or so people doing stretches and hitting poses on mats set out in an open field on a warm summer evening. 

They didn’t need to look far for inspiration. 

As the participants performed various moves, about 10 alpacas walked near them, in some cases coming right up to their mats for attention _ and a bit of the food that they were provided to entice the animals.

They were participating in alpaca yoga, which is held every Thursday from 6-7 p.m. at Hill Crest Alpacas. 

The event drew its largest audience yet on June 24, farm co-owner Shirley Lanouette said. 

“People enjoy the alpacas so much,’’ she said. The animals project a “calm, stress-free’’ vibe, she said, that fits in well with the mood set by yoga.

Cusson DeFusco encouraged participants to focus on “relaxing and letting the day go’’ by “enjoying the pace of the farm and the slow pace it offers us.’’

That calm was welcome for Lanouette when she left behind the retail industry and its stresses and sought a new chapter for her life.

Having lived on a farm for much of her life, she was comfortable with animals. When she saw a television program about alpacas, her interest was piqued.

She and her husband and farm co-owner Roger Lanouette began visiting alpaca farms and quickly became hooked on the animals. And a new career was born.

Native to South America, alpacas are hardy enough to tolerate New England winters and subsist primarily by foraging on the pasture, with a half cup of daily supplements. “They are not very hard to take care of,’’ she said. “Most tend to be laid back.’’

In addition to alpaca yoga, the farm also hosts a Halloween event, when children aren’t the only ones in costumes. She also dresses up the alpacas, at least “the ones that will let us,’’ she said with a laugh. 

The farm also offers open houses and birthday parties and has welcomed youngsters for field trips.

Those are especially important this year, she said, since children were prevented from getting out much during the pandemic. “It’s time for them to enjoy some sort of summer,’’ she said.

Summer is also the season for alpaca yoga, which runs through August.

“I loved this so much,’’ said Alexa Gifford of New Bedford, who was dubbed “the alpaca whisperer’’ by farm staff because even the shiest of the animals approached her on her mat.  “I love yoga and I love animals,’’ she said. Combining the two “elevates the experience.’’

“This is wonderful,’’ said Franca Gifford of New Bedford. “It’s wonderful to be outdoors and the animals are very sweet. This is a wonderful place to do natural yoga.’’ 

Cusson DeFusco said she hoped the alpacas served as teachers. “Hopefully this is a reminder to slow down when you can, to not take life too seriously and to enjoy little moments like these.’’