During the pink-salt-lamp-lit evening classes she'd conduct at Yess Yoga in Minneapolis, Marnie Bounds frequently shared a mixture of metaphysical philosophies about the "subtle body," a person's energetic layers that transcend the physical, while folding in her own astrological interpretations.
After the pandemic started, Bounds' classes moved online and she added a weekly info session — "What on Earth Is Happening?" — that brought something new to the mix: QAnon.
QAnon is the movement that falsely believes former President Donald Trump has been working to destroy a child sex-trafficking cabal of Satanists run by prominent Democrats and celebrities. Its adherents include a handful of Minnesota politicians along with members of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, including horn-helmeted, self-declared shaman Jake Angeli.
But the QAnon movement also has found a surprising foothold in the yoga and alternative-medicine community.
Julia Szilagyi, a yoga teacher in Naples, Fla., noticed a spike in QAnon-influenced yoga teachers last spring, around the same time that people started wearing masks. She believes QAnon influencers observed the yoga community's focus on freedom and authenticity, and then lured in vulnerable yogis via social media.
"I started hearing things like, 'QAnon encourages me to think outside the box,' from people I've known and worked with for a long time," Szilagyi said.
QAnon believers are typically anti-vaccine, a view shared by some practitioners of alternative medicine.
"The anti-vax part of QAnon is deeply embedded in libertarian beliefs about the body/individual as self-property and the needle as invasion," said Jack Bratich, a professor at Rutgers University and expert on conspiracy theories. "It can connect to 'body as temple' [theories] in Western versions of yoga, where more 'natural' health beliefs also circulate.
"QAnon takes this a step further to say vaccinations are part of a deep state plan to control people through microchips."
That was precisely the view voiced by Twin Cities teacher Bounds in a YouTube video she posted in November. Bounds opined that people who got the COVID-19 vaccine might get a chip implanted under their skin. She also stated that COVID is "hugely important ... for our evolutionary process."
Since May, she has crafted regular 60- to 90-minute informational sessions for her YouTube channel, "The Time Is Now: Teachings for the Great Awakening", which has more than 170 subscribers.
Bounds and Yess Yoga did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
E. Romero, a yoga teacher in Tucson, Ariz., said she became concerned when she heard an offhand comment made by Bounds during an online yoga class, implying that protesters were somehow less enlightened than those in the know.
"That really worried me as a BIPOC person," said Romero. "There were some things she was saying that sounded almost Trumpian. I started to think, 'That's not possible — I am in a yoga space.' "
Yogis fight back
How did some people in the yoga community, which uplifts care, connectedness and a holistic approach to the environment and humanity, come to embrace QAnon?
Los Angeles-based yoga teacher Seane Corn and other wellness community influencers first noticed QAnon beliefs spreading among yoga followers via social media. They called it out in a joint message posted last September. (Corn has 109,000 followers on her Instagram account.)
"Conspirituality," a podcast focused on the intersection of far-right extremism and New Age spirituality, compiled a list of nearly 50 prominent yoga and wellness community influencers who espouse QAnon theories.
The followers of QAnon claim to receive information from "Q," a self-proclaimed, mysterious "government insider" with a supposed high-level security clearance.
Since 2017, "Q" has posted cryptic messages ("Q drops") to online boards. According to QAnon, the "Great Awakening" would happen when Trump won the 2020 election. An apocalyptic showdown would ensue, destroying the aforementioned child sex-trafficking cabal and transforming America.
Neither happened, but QAnon persists.
Facebook continues to shut down QAnon pages, calling the conspiracy theory a "militarized social movement." The FBI labeled QAnon a domestic terrorist threat but Trump has said its followers "basically believe in good government."
Following President Joe Biden's inauguration, some QAnon believers have tried to rationalize the transfer of power, convincing themselves that Biden is part of Trump's plan to take down the global cabal.
Rutgers professor Bratich said QAnon's stance against masking and surveillance makes it attractive to "the influencers community around lifestyle. I think yoga becomes part of that."
He said QAnon is as much a religious movement as a political one: "QAnons are developing a sort of holy war/spiritual warfare around good and evil. Trump is good, and he's going to destroy the evil Satan-worshiping cabal. It's pretty classic Christian demonology."
QAnon's presence in the yoga community sounded an alarm for Minneapolis-based teacher Serita Colette, who was born in Kerala, India, a renowned center for the spiritual practice.
"These people sound very lost and disassociated from the tradition," she said. It's an example, Colette said, of the ways that yoga has become subject to cultural appropriation. At the same time, she said, QAnon is creating "a deeper distaste for communities of color, which, by and large, have not been met with great experiences in the white-dominant [American] yoga world."
For longtime yogis, QAnon's presence disrupts the core of yoga.
"If you are going to honor yoga's philosophy and roots in the practice, you are either one or the other — either a yoga teacher or a QAnon person," said Szilagyi. "They can't exist together."
@AliciaEler • 612-673-4437