The Betrayal of the Alternative Health and Wellness Community
How QAnon conspirituality overtook a “healing” community through fear, manipulation and ego
Five years ago, I was introduced to Ayurveda, and it changed my life. Since then, I have eagerly awaited the moment when I would enroll in a formal program to study and become a practitioner myself. Now, two weeks from the much-anticipated start of an esteemed program I’ve enrolled in, I find myself at a point of breakdown.
Incoming students filled out a vaccination survey two months ago, and despite having two online orientations leading up to the program (which provides options for in-person and online learning, though the latter is discouraged and will be eliminated next year, regardless of pandemic status), there wasn’t a word spoken about mask protocols or vaccination statistics among the students — and there certainly wasn’t any incentive or encouragement that students *should* be vaccinated before arriving in-person for ten-hour classes, five days a week for the next ten months.
Only upon a personal inquiry this week was I enthusiastically informed that half of the incoming students were vaccinated… HALF?! Suddenly, the last vestige of illusion I held about any sanctity left in the natural health and wellness world was shattered. While it breaks my heart, I know I shouldn’t have been surprised — although there are certainly elements of this phenomenon that have shocked me.
The last few years have highlighted a dark side to the world of “love and light” in the West. Wellness and alternative health practices ranging from yoga to Reiki to astrology to crystal healing have become infested with hateful and ignorant conspiracy theories, a trend referred to sometimes as “conspirituality.”
The rise of conspirituality, a term introduced in 2011 by anthropologists Charlotte Ward and David Voas, has been underscored by a preponderance for spiritually and alternative-minded people toward conspiratorial beliefs about secret groups controlling the sociopolitical order, and/or “paradigm shifts” in consciousness in the wake of totalitarian threats that necessitate acting from “awakened” worldviews. The result is a natural health and wellness community that finds itself split based on QAnon affiliations.
What is QAnon and what sort of conspiracies does it espouse?
Many people involved in QAnon are not necessarily even aware that they are subscribing to it. QAnon is a “big tent” conspiracy theory which essentially began with “Pizzagate,” a debunked claim from a Twitter account that had been promoting antisemitic and white supremacist views that alleged the NYPD discovered a pedophilia ring linked to members of the Democratic Party, including Hillary Clinton. It also alleged that the pizzeria tied to the ring served as a meeting ground for Satanic ritual abuse. This became a core tenet of QAnon, which would spread its conspiracies across social media sites ranging from Twitter (on which it’s now censored) to Reddit to 4chan, though they now promote most of their theories on 8kun and apps like Telegram.
The central tenet that unifies many QAnon believers is the idea that a tightly knit cabal of Satanic, cannibalistic pedophiles are running a global child sex trafficking ring. They also predominantly believe that this cabal conspired against Trump to overturn the 2020 election, and many believe that some impending storm, possibly warranting violence, will be necessary in order to sweep away the elites and save the country.
QAnon propels many antisemitic claims, including peddling the ideas that wealthy Jewish billionaires such as George Soros and the Rothschild family are controlling the world and perhaps even responsible for such things as “Jewish space lasers” that create wildfires on earth. Throughout the pandemic, QAnon has alleged that the vaccines are chipped by Bill Gates or the Jews (some claim Bill Gates is a Jew in disguise), and that either masks or the entire COVID-19 virus itself is a hoax made up by the cabal to control people’s minds.
While about four in ten Americans (39%) agree that COVID-19 was developed intentionally by scientists in a lab, 85% of QAnon believers think it was. A litany of smaller and equally absurd conjectures has fanned out from this core set of Q beliefs, often ending up in the minds and social media feeds of people in and around the wellness community.
Who is involved with QAnon? Is it just right-wing people?
Despite QAnon’s pro-Trump ties (a PRRI research survey from March shows that 73% of QAnon believers think the election was stolen from Trump), it would be negligent to assume that only right-wing people subscribe to QAnon. As previously mentioned, many people who believe in QAnon conspiracy theories don’t even realize they are related to QAnon — in fact, many may have never even heard of QAnon.
The following chart from the same PRRI survey illustrates a startling mass of Americans who believe in QAnon theories, some representing over 65 million people — concentrating higher amongst Republicans, but spreading out with a fairly large base across Democrats and Independents as well:
It is absolutely not unprecedented to see penchants for QAnon-style occult and alternative beliefs mirrored across extreme right- and left-wing groups. Jules Evans has written incredible articles about this phenomenon, including Nazi Hippies: When the New Age and Far Right Overlap. Indeed, much has already been written about the racism engendered in environmentalist groups, which also straddle a line between extreme left “hippie” and extreme right eco-fascist.
A wellness person who may be entirely open to liberal beliefs such as gay marriage or women’s rights may also be driven in their politics and behavior by extreme alternative beliefs they share with people across the political spectrum. After all, since a core myth QAnon propels is about child sex trafficking, the issue itself certainly isn’t a value that most anyone across the political spectrum would dispute — child sex trafficking = bad.
These theories, especially when conveyed by likeminded people, can become easily internalized; any one of them can become a gateway. And then there are many QAnon-adjacent people who may neither buy into or have even heard of the cabal conspiracy, but who cling to conspiracies about vaccines or something else.
Since almost half of Americans now believe QAnon theories (such as the 39% who believe COVID-19 was deliberately created in a lab), we are in a place where misinformation and fringe theories abound in the mainstream. There are very few institutional or reliable measures that have been taken to successfully combat this tidal wave of fear and distortion.
Women are more vulnerable to conspiracy theories peddled through conspirituality, possibly accounting for the slight skew towards women of QAnon overall at 54%, but that still leaves a hefty number of men supporting it as well.
It is not only white people who believe in QAnon, either. In fact, there are enormous swaths of people of color who subscribe to these theories as well:
I live in a remote region that attracts many off-the-grid people, including many with affinities for communes and cults. Months ago, I met an Asian woman who is a guru; around the age of 30, she lives on a farm which her followers (mostly garnered from Instagram) come to stay and worship her and offer free labor on her farm. The majority of her followers are queer and people of color — I met some who were Black, Latinx and mixed race. She believes and promotes not only that people should not get vaccines, but that COVID does not exist, and this is an imperative belief for her followers.
That woman’s baby died early in the pandemic due to a mysterious virus that sounded a lot like COVID, but living as “Gaia” had prescribed was still the only key to living well through her eyes. It was shocking to me, as some part of me had believed these irrational beliefs were concentrated only in white religious communities (I was well aware of the prevalence of QAnon in the Mormon community down the road).
Matthew Remski, a cult-survivor and yoga teacher, has written and spoken extensively on the subject of conspirituality, including in his eponymous podcast. Remski has discussed multitudes of yoga teachers and others throughout the wellness and alternative health communities that have publicly embraced QAnon (also sometimes called “Woo-Anon”). Many of these people are influencers who have cashed in on their Q beliefs and put their followers in great danger.
Less than two weeks ago, the owner of the most popular surf school in Santa Barbara brutally murdered his two babies, one of them only 10 months old, because he believed that they possessed “serpent DNA” according to a QAnon conspiracy, and he was “saving the world from monsters.”
January’s infamous Capitol Riot was also heavily attended and orchestrated by QAnon members. Jake Angeli, the “QAnon Shaman,” who sported face paint and horned headgear during the insurrection, held a sign that read “Q Sent Me,” and went on a hunger strike in jail until a federal judge agreed that he could receive an all-organic food diet.
Countless other yoga teachers and alternative health practitioners have shirked their responsibilities and endangered their clientele; in December of 2020, during a surge of COVID-19, Seattle’s Haute Yoga owner Leah Zaccaria decided to reopen her studio under a religious exemption. ‘We have chosen to be a light in the darkness,’ she proclaimed.
Last October, my own Kundalini teacher died of COVID-19 due to serious negligence around the virus. He claimed the virus was no match for powerful breathwork, and hosted a mask-less indoor gathering in the summer of 2020 where participants sat in a circle doing intensive breathwork. Every single participant, including the teacher and his wife, contracted COVID-19. He spent months on a ventilator, and eventually died last October.
Why is this happening and why are so many in the wellness community involved?
The global health and wellness industry, including spiritual self-care, is valued at around $4 trillion. Leaders in the industry have been notoriously apolitical; inserting political views can hamper followings, diminish profit and also deter the “Positive Vibes Only” rhetoric that tends to pervade many wellness circles.
Western alternative wellness practices are still based in a capitalist paradigm — selling products and services by appealing to feelings of inadequacy and desire (losing weight, becoming more conventionally attractive, becoming a “better” version of yourself, etc.) underpin the vast majority of these businesses in the West.
Much of what these practices have to offer can be transformative and profound. Personally, I have not only benefitted extraordinarily from Ayurveda, but from many other practices as well, such as acupuncture and Reiki. I don’t believe that these practices are all quackery or that all practitioners are opportunistic frauds.
I do think there is some truth to Marx’s idea that “religion is the opium of the people,” and that when wellness practices and the conspiracies they feed become rigid dogma, they undermine a lot of the moral and rational footing that people can otherwise hold.
We are in a time of great confusion, chaos and grief. It is natural for people to turn to practices they believe can mitigate some of that negativity and help them cope. A major problem is, and ostensibly has been since the introduction of many of these practices to the West, that many of these practices are displaced from their origins and bastardized to satisfy a hedonistic and avoidant context that they are not intended for. Skinny yoga influencers propagating pyramid schemes about weight loss smoothies seems in some way like an inevitable confluence of Eastern spirituality in Western culture.
Marc-André Argentino, a researcher at Concordia University, identified a trend that he referred to as “Pastel QAnon,” which involves the rampant spread of Q theories across social media sites through feminine-coded aesthetics that are intended to indoctrinate women. The brilliance and insidiousness of QAnon is manifest in its ability to adapt to and capitalize on trends that spread like wildfire.
And so, QAnon and the wellness paradigms that it latches onto can provide a ray of hope, a sense of community, a boost of influence or power, and a sense of purpose within people who are lost. And in spite of the fact that they are choosing to glom onto beliefs that are completely absurd and demonstrably false on every level, there is a communal sense of “being enlightened” rather than grasping the delusion that is fueling fearful and dangerous beliefs that cause harm to others.
The disappointment and hypocrisy.
Foundationally, many of the Eastern practices that are now monetized in the alternative health and wellness industry are so antithetical to the way they are packaged in the West, they are almost unrecognizable.
The yoga industry alone is worth well over $80 billion, and its most successful influencers and entrepreneurs tend to be thin, white, wealthy Lululemon-clad models. In India, where yoga originates, most people do not possess this body type at all, and yoga is not by any means intended to be a means of weight loss or competitiveness or financial success. Yoga is supposed to be about wholeness, and the yoking of body, mind and spirit.
So many of these Eastern practices originate in philosophies of non-attachment, oneness, compassion, presence and love. The paranoia and selfishness that guides most QAnon thinking completely contradicts this way of being. The selective conception of oneness that leads anti-vaxx wellness people to think their bodies are “pure” without receiving medicine –especially when that rejection causes mutation and proliferation of a disease that has killed and harmed innumerable people around the world — is a complete bastardization of “oneness.”
Oneness in its truest form is a reflection of “no man is an island” or “I am because you are” or insert related platitudes here. The point, which is actually quite beautiful, is that we are all connected. Not just to each other, but to every single thing that happens in the world. Every plant, animal, river, rock, place and being is part of an interconnected web of life and existence.
Oneness is not just you and your other thin vegan “awakened” cult friends; it’s all the people, all the things, even the ones you deem beneath your immaculate standards of living and consciousness. It’s libraries and roads and taxes and bombs and planes, trash in the oceans and planting food and cutting down forests and light and darkness and life and death; it’s everything.
“Purity” in the way that it has permeated homeopathic and wellness circles is baloney. The same people who are dying of colloidal silver overdoses after selling it as a fake COVID remedy to their cult members are suddenly concerned by the alleged impurity of the ingredients in the vaccines. It’s one thing to have healthy skepticism, it’s another thing to actively choose to believe that something undeniably false is true just because it validates your identity or your paranoia.
People whose lives and behavior are based mostly on ego and blind faith actually have the audacity to claim any scientific understanding of how the components of a vaccine interact with their bodies — all while living in or around polluted cities, using cellphones, using and wearing chemically treated plastics and clothing and occasionally eating something junkier or more processed or touched by GMOs than a piece of kale they grew. You can live as clean as you want and still die of cancer from radiation or choke to death from manmade wildfires.
Selectively choosing to focus on “purity” only when the consequences cause sickness, harm and death to countless others just for the sake of a false sense of moral superiority is beyond selfish, it’s disgusting. And it most certainly echoes other harmful pseudoscience claims about “purity” such as eugenics. There is simply no such thing as “purity” when you live on a planet ravaged by human existence and climate change. As my partner and I have mused, we would rather be chipped and die with people who care about others rather than survive with a bunch of paranoid selfish jerks.
Furthermore, the sentiment from these circles that blames sick people for being sick, posits that through “good living” aging or death could be avoided, and favors nonsensical, superficial and fatphobic conceptions of “health” as superior are all totally and completely devoid of any spiritual or rational foundation. These are all just white supremacist capitalism dressed up in mala beads and elephant harem pants.
I’m disappointed because I love many of these practices, and while I don’t think they’re for everyone, I know they can provide meaning and real healing for many people. I’m disappointed because I know this community can do better on so many levels, and while masquerading as something devoted to “health” or “wellness,” it seems to constantly leave an undeniable path of destruction.
So what can you do? Stay skeptical, including and especially of the gurus and teachers and influencers you see across social media and in real life. Notice if you have a tendency to only believe information that feeds fear and mistrust and disconnection, and make a concerted effort to understand why. Know that if alternative medicine is your jam, its function doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive to Western medicine — you can appreciate and leverage BOTH. Continue asking yourself what kind of world you want to live in, and do your best to ensure that your behavior matches those aspirations.