The notion that there is a nexus between the health and wellness community, anti-vaxxers, and Q-Anon has gained traction in the past several years, particularly over the course of the covid pandemic.
This nexus has been dubbed ‘conspirituality’.
It’s a catchy name, without a doubt, but the ‘con’ in it isn’t just conspiracy.
The bigger con is this: In most articles on conspirituality, the implied, if not explicit, conclusion the reader is left with is that a majority of people engaging in yoga, alternative medicine practices, or who question the motives or methods of the pharmaceutical industry reside in this nexus, flirting with fascism, embracing the ludicrous beliefs of Q-Anon, and at the same time believing that having good vibes alone will prevent them from catching covid.
It’s not that people embracing all of these beliefs don’t exist. They clearly do, as every article on conspirituality finds an outlying whacko to profile.
The failing of these articles is that they present these individuals as representative of the majority of people who have a regular yoga practice, or seek out alternatives or complements to Western allopathic medicine, or have an affinity for spiritual exploration in a broad sense, none of them once believing anything associated with Q-Anon, most of them getting vaccinated against covid, and consistently expressing disgust at anything even stepping rightward in the direction of fascism.
It’s at this point a tired and false trope.
The latest example is a profile of now-deceased LA-based yoga teacher Guru Jagat published by NPR.
I won’t describe the exact nonsensical rabbit hole Guru Jagat herself fell down, as the details are less important and less interesting than the characterization of her descent into dubiousness made by the author Emily Guerin and the sources she quotes. Read the original source if you want the facepalm-worthy details of what Jagat ended up espousing.
The NPR article opens with the dubious assertion that “During the pandemic, many yoga teachers began to speak more openly about their belief in conspiracies…”. The emphasis there is mine.
Later in the article, the author quotes former yoga teacher-turned-debunker-in-chief Matthew Remski as noting that “a number” of other yoga teachers had fallen for the sort of nonsense Guru Jagat began promoting as the pandemic took hold.
What number of yoga teachers exactly are we referring to here? How many is many?
Even if we could document 100 yoga teachers getting sucked into the conspirituality nexus and believing that “a cabal of Satan-worshipping, blood-drinking elites control politics and media” (Guerin’s accurate description of the tenets of Q-Anon), that’s about 0.5 percent of yoga teachers in the United States.
100 yoga teachers is certainly “a number”. It’s in fact a tiny number, however, placed in context. It’s without any doubt not “many”.
(And until I am presented with stats showing otherwise, I have a very hard time believing even that many yoga teachers are also Q-Anon adherents.)
The article also asserts, backed again by Remski, “[T]hemes like everything is connected, nothing happens without a purpose, and nothing is what it seems are central to both yoga philosophy and conspiratorial thinking.”
You know what other branch of human thought believes that everything is connected? Ecology. Nothing happens without a purpose? Physics. Nothing is what it seems? Quantum Physics.
Sure, yes, I am oversimplifying. But no more so than trying to clumsily link together yoga philosophy and conspiratorial thinking via some pop-culture misunderstanding of it all.
Here’s an example, coming via a quote from Natalia Petrzela in Guerin’s article:
“The relativism around truth, which has so long been a part of wellness culture, really reared its head in the pandemic. This idea that ‘truth is in the eye of the beholder’ is something which can feel kind of empowering when you’re sitting in yoga class, but when it’s the pandemic, and that kind of language is being deployed to kind foment…vaccine denial or covid denialism…it can be used for real harm.”
Such a relativism vis-a-vis truth may have some currency in wellness culture, true, but to be clear is not actually part of yoga philosophy.
In fact, the exact opposite is taught: there is one truth underlying all existence, we can all experience this truth; and no matter what different names learned people call it, we are all experiencing that one truth and are in relation to that. We do have our own perspectives and experiences with this unity of existence, but also this oneness is knowable by anyone. In short, yoga philosophy never says truth is relative.
Guerin also goes on to write, “Q-Anon, in particular, may have a particular resonance for yoga practitioners…because both communities share the idea of a higher truth accessible to a select few.”
This is assertion is bunk on two levels:
- That yoga practitioners make up a disproportionate amount of Q-Anon adherents is far from proven statistically; and importantly,
- No text or reputable teacher of yoga says that only a select few can access some higher truth. In fact the methods of yoga, and the insights into Existence that can be experienced through yoga, are open to anyone who chooses to put in the time to learn and practice them, not a select few.
Perhaps more than any part of Guerin’s article, this paragraph shows a fundamental lack of understanding about either what is taught in the overwhelming majority of yoga studios in the United States, or what the actual foundational spiritual texts of tenets of yoga are about.
If you are teaching that truth is absolutely relative and that if you practice yoga you are in some superior group that has access to a higher truth only you can access, you aren’t teaching yoga.
Ultimately, an individual yoga teacher or practitioner embracing Q-Anon is a failure of their own critical faculties and perhaps lack of understanding of yoga itself. It is not the fault of or emblematic of yoga philosophy, which encourages critical discrimination and discernment in thought and observation of both the inner self and the world around us.
This sort of painting of an entire community and philosophy in the likeness of a misguided member of that community is just bad logic, lazy thinking and hack writing. But also, more importantly, this is the sort of thing that leads to the demonization of many due to the actions of a few.