She was a popular yoga teacher who adopted QAnon: NPR
QAnon – the baseless conspiracy theory that claims a cabal of Satan-worshipping, blood-drinking elites control politics and the media – is closely identified in political circles with some supporters of former President Donald Trump. But he also has a foot in yoga and wellness circles.
Themes like everything is connected, nothing happens without purpose, and nothing is what it seems to be at the heart of yoga philosophy and conspiratorial thought.
“If you’ve practiced yoga, these ideas will be very familiar to you,” said Matthew Remski, a former yoga teacher and journalist who hosts a podcast about conspiracies, welfare and cults called Conspirituality.
During the pandemic, many yoga teachers have started speaking more openly about their belief in conspiracies, to the point that there is now a term to describe this phenomenon: the “wellness pipeline to QAnon”.
To understand what wellness and conspiracy theories have in common, I decided to follow the radicalization journey of a Los Angeles-based Kundalini yoga teacher named Guru Jagat (to hear the full story, subscribe Join the LAist Studios Podcast Imperfect Paradise: Yoga’s ‘Conspiracy Theory Queen’“).
A yoga teacher in LA with celebrities
Guru Jagat was born as Katie Griggs but used her “spiritual name” professionally.
She ran a Kundalini yoga studio in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles called RA MA Institute for Applied Yogic Science and Technology, where she taught celebrities like Alicia Keys and Kate Hudson. Part of the reason she was so popular was that she was somewhat contradictory: she wore flowing white clothes, wrapped her hair in a turban, and could sing in Sanskrit, but she also swore profusely and talked about sex and sex. classroom fashion.
Jaclyn Gelb first took a course with Guru Jagat in 2013 and was immediately drawn in.
“A yoga teacher talking like that was real. It was grounded,” she recalls. “I knew instantly. He’s my teacher.”
Soon Gelb was training four to six hours a day, taking cold showers (which is a Kundalini yoga trick) and trying to get his friends and family involved.
Gelb has always liked Guru Jagat to be an edgy troublemaker, who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Before the pandemic, she sometimes talked about conspiracies, but that seemed to be part of her schtick. But after the pandemic hit, Gelb noticed his teacher was starting to speak more openly in class and on his podcast, reality riffing.
Guru Jagat shared his belief that the government wanted everyone to be home for reasons other than public health. She suggested the coronavirus was being sprayed into airplane chemtrails. She said artificial intelligence is controlling our minds and suggested meditation as a way to regain control.
“And she said, ‘That’s what you get for spending the weekend on YouTube, watching alien videos,'” Gelb recalled. “It caught my attention, because it was like, ‘Oh, she is, she’s falling down rabbit holes.'”
Soon Guru Jagat was defying local orders to stay home to practice without a mask and in person. On her podcast, she began interviewing controversial people with fringe beliefs, like Arthur Firstenberg, a New Mexico-based writer and activist who believes 5G wireless internet caused the coronavirus pandemic.
Gelb said it was hard for her to see her teacher change, but she couldn’t look away either. She began to wish that someone close to Guru Jagat would “find a way to wake her up, a way to get her out of there”.
But in December 2020, Gelb hit his limit. That’s when Guru Jagat invited David Icke to speak at the studio and on his podcast.
“It just wasn’t something the woman I knew before would do,” Gelb said. “It was so deeply offensive.”
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Icke is a well-known conspiracy theorist and anti-Semite who claims reptilian aliens are controlling the world. By the time Guru Jagat interviewed him in January 2021, he had been banned from Twitter for spreading lies about COVID.
Their conversation ranged from lockdown to other far-right talking points.
“The wellness industry has been hijacked by all of this, this kind of woke agenda,” she said.
Guru Jagat wasn’t the only yoga teacher to dive down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories during the pandemic.
From the philosophy of yoga to conspiratorial thought
Remski, the host of Conspirituality, noticed a number of yoga teachers flirting with QAnon during the early months of the pandemic. At first he suspected it was a marketing ploy. With the sudden closure of yoga studios across the country, teachers have been forced to compete for the same audience online. But as the pandemic progressed, some teachers, like Guru Jagat, did not back down on their rhetoric.
Of course, many people practice yoga without believe in conspiracy theories. However, yoga philosophy and conspiratorial thinking have a lot in common, Remski said, making it easier to transition from the former to the latter.
In both circles, the emphasis is on “doing your own research” and “finding your own truth”. And many people who practice and teach yoga are wary of Western medicine, preferring to find alternative solutions or try to let their bodies heal themselves.
“The relativism around truth, which has been part of wellness culture for so long, has really come into its own in the pandemic,” said Natalia Petrzela, author and historian at The New School. “This idea that ‘the truth is right in the eyes of the beholder’ is something that can feel a little empowering when you’re sitting in a yoga class, but when it’s the pandemic, and that kind of language is being rolled out to foment, like vaccine denial or COVID denial, it has the same power, because we are all steeped in this culture… it can be used for real harm.”
QAnon, in particular, may have particular resonance for yoga practitioners, according to Ben Lorber, a researcher at Political Research Associates, a think tank that monitors right-wing movements, as both communities share the idea of a higher truth. accessible to a few selection.
The secret truth QAnon followers believe is that the world is controlled by the “Deep State”, an evil cabal of elites who worship Satan and sexually abuse children. In yoga it’s more nuanced, but it could include ideas like enlightenment or spiritual awakening.
One follower leaves, but others stay
Jaclyn Gelb stopped taking classes with Guru Jagat; she was angry with her former teacher.
“She was so smart. She had so much power,” she said. “She could have done so much good.”
But as Guru Jagat became radicalized, she retained many of her followers.
Nancy Lucas is another of Guru Jagat’s longtime students who said she loves hearing what she calls “all sides of the story” in her class and on her podcast.
“I think she gave people from all walks of life the opportunity to come and speak and give their perspective,” she said. “I think she felt the press was biased, and I think I was too. I mean, if you ban people’s comments on Twitter and Facebook, we don’t have an open forum for dialogue.”
Guru Jagat’s story came to a sudden and unexpected end on August 1, 2021, when she died of a pulmonary embolism. She was 41 years old.
Since his death, his yoga studio, the RA MA Institute, has initiated an elaborate period of mourning, including two weeks of continuous chanting, a gong ceremony and a “13-day Mayan ceremony for clarity and direction”.
Since then, Guru Jagat has become a holy figure to many of his followers.
In a YouTube tribute, student Angela Sumner described her as follows: “Even if you think she’s a hustler, even if you think she’s a conspiracy theorist, you can’t look at her eloquence and her teachings and to deny that she is one of the greatest teachers who have ever lived in our time.”
To hear the whole story, listen Imperfect Paradise: Yoga’s ‘Conspiracy Theory Queen’ LAist studios.