Matthew Remski : Conspiracy Theories in the Wellness Industry

About Matthew Remski

Matthew Remski is the author of eight books, the most recent being Practice and All is Coming, Cult Dynamics, and Healing in Yoga and Beyond. He has been practicing meditation and yoga since 1996, learning from teachers from the Tibetan Buddhist, Kripalu, Ashtanga, and Iyengar streams. Along the way, he has trained as a yoga therapist and an Ayurvedic consultant and maintained a private practice in Toronto from 2007 to 2015. Matthew currently facilitates programming for yoga trainings internationally, focusing on yoga philosophy, culture, and the social psychology of healthy communities. In all subject areas, he encourages students to explore how yoga practice can resist the psychic and material dominance of neoliberalism and the quickening pace of environmental destruction. He has been working on Conspirituality Podcast since May of 2020 With colleagues Derek Beres and Julian Marc Walker

To get more information about Mindful Strength and the upcoming 30-day practice progression click here

To learn more about the Mindful Strength Membership click here

Mindful Strength Advertisement for Strength Training to Complement Yoga

Show Notes

To Visit Matthew’s Website CLICK HERE

To Follow Him On Facebook CLICK HERE

To Follow Him On Twitter CLICK HERE

To Purchase a Book CLICK HERE

To start your 7-day FREE trial for the Mindful Strength Membership click here. 

Matthew Remski: Heart-Centered Skepticism

twelve episode collage of a podcast

About This Episode

Kathryn and Matthew discuss his work in cult dynamics and how he sees similar patterns in discourses related to the current pandemic. They explore the confluence of wellness and conspiracy theories occurring online through social media platforms and influencers using concepts of propaganda and censorship. Matthew shares information on his latest podcast Conspirituality and provides a description of how that term emerged, and how that word lends itself to critically examining charismatic wellness leaders.

click to order book

Podcast Transcription

Kathryn: [00:02:35]

Alright. Matthew welcome back to the podcast.

Matthew Remski: Thanks so much, Kathryn. It’s good to hear your voice.

Kathryn: [00:03:05]

Yeah. It’s great to talk to you. This is our third time on the podcast. The last two times you were here we were talking about your book. We were talking about your research on cults. Do you want to take a couple of minutes to tell people about the work that you are most focused on now and how this shift has come to be?

Matthew Remski: Sure. Yeah. It feels organic in some ways, but also a bit of a freight train has run through my life. That’s true for everybody, I think. When lockdown fell upon us or a lot of us throughout the world, it was the first anniversary of the publication of my book on Jois.

[00:03:49]

The first thought that I had when I realized that all of the groups that I’ve studied, I’ve done investigative journalism on, or I’ve talked with survivors of, all of those groups have physical locations. Many of them are residential for groups like Ashtanga Yoga.

They are not residential unless you’re going to my Mysore and you are staying for a month or six weeks or two months or whatever to practice with the Jois family. You are still in your local shala. You’re gonna be showing up every day and spending two to three hours on practice, and recovering from practice for the rest of the day.

There’s an in-person component to most high demand groups. That really allows for groups to enforce a kind of behavioral control that involves people’s bodies in very direct ways. The first question I had was: I wonder what is going to happen with these cultic dynamics in these groups as they are forced to go online? As their residential complexes close and as they start to lose money, who’s going to be able to successfully pivot into the online environment?

[00:04:59]

That’s kind of an ongoing question for me. What I started to notice quite early on was people who had relationships with high demand groups began to show an affinity for what we call now on our podcast – based upon some academic research that comes out of 2011 – ‘conspirituality’.

A way of offering a kind of new-age or spiritual solution to soothe. A way to provide relief for the other half of their content equation, which is the assertion that public health measures are a means for social control; or Bill Gates is trying to take over the world; or that George Soros is funding secret cabals of pedophiles or whatever.

I began to see a linkage between people who have spent a lot of time in high demand groups perhaps in leadership positions and COVID denialism, plus the willingness to market their content into a COVID denialist form. I can give you two examples there. One I’m going to be talking about on the podcast episode coming up this week.

My old cult leader Michael Roach is actually pivoting his now 30-year-old content to launch an online program that starts on August 1st. That offers a series of meditations that he claims will help to eradicate the virus throughout the world. I was like: “oh, well that makes sense”. It’s like you were selling this particular type of spiritual solution to the world’s problems in the late 90s and it worked then. Why shouldn’t it work for you now?”.

Then the other connection that I saw really clearly was that I started following a “holistic psychiatrist”. She’s not a psychiatrist anymore I guess officially because she’s let her certifications lapse. Her name is Dr. Kelly Brogan. She reviewed a book I think in February that was written by a woman who was one of the “personal secretaries” of Yogi Bhajan. She describes decades of institutional abuse. Now Kelly Brogan goes and reviews this, but doesn’t really review it. She uses it as a way of platforming her own book.

[00:07:31]

She gives a reading to it whereby she says: “When I was in my activist feminist heyday I would have talked about this book and I would have really sunk into the theme of the male manipulator. The charismatic genius who abused all of these people. But now I realize that that’s a victim narrative that doesn’t suit me anymore”. It was a really weird kind of misreading of Pamela Dyson’s book but it put her on my radar.

Then I realized that within a few weeks she was becoming very public as a COVID denialist. This overlap between people who are involved in high demand groups or were affiliated with high demand groups. They were using their media platforms to engage in this new but also old conspiracism in order to gain either media attention or market share or new followers. That linkage was very clear.

[00:08:32]

Then I started to realize that the techniques that some of the main influencers were using were actually lined up almost perfectly with the way in which charismatic leaders attract followers. The most stunning example early on was I believe that on May 5th that was the publication date for ‘Plandemic’, featuring Judy Mikovits. That probably flashed across your own social media feeds. I bet you knew people who shared it and stuff.

You know it didn’t take long for people who actually know the data to issue corrections and to debunk Mikovits as an authority in epidemiology, and to question her credibility as a source and so on. I was grateful to see that. There was a very strong and fast response.

[00:09:29]

What I was very interested in was that the producer of that documentary Mikki Willis went onto Facebook the day after I believe the release occurred or maybe two days after. He gave this weird selfie sermon into the camera. It was all intrusive eye contact and you know “I know that all of you out there are going through some really amazing transformational changes and big things are coming “. It was all very vague. But the main point was: associated with the faux revelations of his documentary, everybody was going to see the capital ‘T’ truth about the pandemic as this hoax of social control.

But the way he did it was in the mode of kind of like a messianic and charismatic leader. He kept gazing into the camera saying “I have to tell you this is going to be hard. Communicating this truth, this holy precious truth is going to attract a lot of criticism. I’m going to be de-platformed and censored. But I can tell you that I’m not afraid to die because I’ve realized the truth of something, something, something”.

[00:10:48]

It was very vague. People just went bananas. He’s a former male model, so he’s flashing these magnum eyes. What’s it called in Zoolander? “Blue Steel”? His look that he gives. It’s kind of like that. He radiantly filmed himself. He just looks like a kind of Jesus walking out of Ohi, California.

Immediately all of my cultic red flags go up because one of the primary things that the charismatic leader does is he or she offers this dual message. That’s at the heart of ‘conspirituality’ but it’s also at the heart of cultism. The dual message is terrible things are happening, worse things than you can possibly believe; and everybody who you are taught to trust is actually trying to kill you, or trying to capture you, or brainwash you.

That one half of the message. Then the other half of the message is: if you gaze deeply into my eyes; if you feel a heart connection with me; and you recognize that what I’m telling you is true, then I will offer you a solution to all of that anxiety that I’ve actually caused. That pivot, that double message is at the heart of cultic technique. You scare the crap out of people and then you offer them a solution that only you have access to. That only you can communicate for followers. It sets up this rhythm between terror and a kind of faux love that is really engaging, it’s really captivating. It can trap people into this attention loop where they just keep asking for more. I’ve been following that research track now in my reporting. Yeah, it’s wild and painful to look at.

Kathryn: [00:12:45]

Yeah. This loop that you’re talking about: I totally see what you’re talking about when it comes to influencers or public figures or leaders of groups. What I think is so interesting as I also see this happening with everyday people to some extent. I know people who have everyday jobs, who live in a small city, who are not public people, and who before this have not even been like real serious social media platform users. They are now going through this same loop within their own small communities, small local friend groups, or small local family groups.

It’s so interesting you everything you’re talking about, the “sharing this information to really freak people out to really scare people and then offering a solution”. This is not just happening with celebrities. This is happening on even such a smaller scale, which I feel like in some ways is just as problematic.

[00:13:51]

When I see a big celebrity and they’re promoting this thing, I think part of me is always like “oh, well they’re selling this or they’re selling something and so of course, there’s going to be a bit of distrust there”. But when people who don’t have something to sell or who are sharing this stuff, I guess, from what they feel is the goodness of their heart or something, I feel like this presents a new type of problematic behavior.

Matthew Remski: Right. Yeah, I totally agree. A couple of things jump out at me in relation to what happens when the terror-love dance tango filters down to this to the intimate social or familial level. One axiom in cultic research is: you know that indoctrination or recruitment into a particular group or ideology has been complete when the group members end up recruiting other members on behalf of the leadership.

[00:14:51]

In other words, it’s like Mikki Willis, or Christiane Northrup, or Kelli Brogan, or Sayer Ji, or Zack Bush, or anyone of these well-platformed figures can issue disinformation in this very compelling way. Their job is actually done when people who have nothing to sell, as you say, are actually communicating it to their family members.

I think what’s going on and this is speculative, but it’s the emotional compelling-ness or the emotional attractiveness of the intensity of the exchange that becomes the ground-level social currency. I imagine that what happens on the community or the family level is that somebody gets really, really revved up about Mikki Willis’s passion in that Facebook video. They want to share or connect with their family members in ways that are really meaningful and maybe unfamiliar to them.

Maybe there’s been some family alienation or maybe it’s just felt sort of like boring or unconnected or disconnected in the family for a while. This is something that hopefully we can all sink our teeth into and become passionate about because it involves our bodies and our health and our spirituality.

[00:16:13]

And yeah, it’s a tribute to the effectiveness of how the large platform personalities are able to get, within a very short period of time, people who have nothing to sell to replicate almost virally the kind of social exchange that we’re talking about. They do it in a way that has real-world impacts. I was just looking at some statistics that said in the U.K. vaccine hesitancy around a potential COVID vaccine is 30 percent. It’s 40 percent in the US.

I don’t know what it is in Canada, but it’s going to be at the community and intimate family levels that those political realities will really have an impact.
Yeah. The next thing I was going to ask you is: what are some of the real-world impacts of all this?

Some of us are definitely like watching these conspiracy theories come about with people we are close to, in particular on the Internet, and we say “oh, whatever. That’s not actually going to affect anybody”. I do think these are not just stories that are seeing on the internet. These are ideas that are like permeating our thoughts about public health, health care in general, who is immune-compromised, diet and health, and all of these things.

I saw a post on the Internet yesterday that was more and more along the lines of: “I would come to your house and take away all your junk food and make sure you’re healthy. This way you’re not gonna get the virus. This is how we should all be taking care of ourselves. If you don’t want to have this discussion then don’t talk to me”. There are so many deep levels of problematic stuff that’s going on here and the way that it’s it is actually shifting the way that we participate with public health.

Matthew Remski: [00:18:10]

I want to just remind your listeners that, I mean you’re in Cornwall, right?

Kathryn: Mmhmm.

Matthew Remski: Yeah and I’m in Toronto. We’re both speaking to the world from Canada. I don’t know how Cornwall is doing specifically with infection rates, but I think we had four new cases in Toronto yesterday, which is pretty darn good. Toronto is still behind the rest of the province in terms of the next stage of opening.

But there’s a lot of uncertainty with regard to especially schooling; the impacts of closed spaces and whether or not ventilation is going to be appropriate in especially the older school buildings we have.

[00:18:52]

I have a four-year-old and a seven-year-old at home. It has been very, very challenging to have them both at home while we’re trying to homeschool them but also work our freelance jobs. Everybody’s going through this, but at the same time, we are incredibly advantaged in Canada with a certain amount of emergency assistance provided so far. Every single bit of anti-mask libertarian “we need to reopen because we have to be able to socialize. Our suicide rates are going up because we’re not able to go up in restaurants”. All of that stuff knows no borders.

The amount of anti-mask, anti-vaccine, I mean, those movements are strong in Canada, but they’re louder in the States. The loudness just bleeds over the border in a way that functions to lowers trust and engagement with public health as an ongoing scientific process that is going to issue conservative instructions. They are going to make corrections and they are trying to do their work with high integrity.

Vaccine resistance or vaccine hesitancy with regard to a potential COVID vaccine I think is a real-world data point that we can focus on, and we can probably see it rise going forward. We can track that as a real-world impact. I would also just say that like the purpose of propaganda, going right back to Hannah Arendt, is not to get people to change their minds about things necessarily. It’s to exhaust them and to make them distrust the institutions that would either produce trustworthy knowledge or would be counted on to protect the population.

Her studies in totalitarianism looked at how the Nazis and the Soviets both put out disinformation campaigns whether it be about Jews, or international banking, or about the Roma people, or whoever it was. The purpose of it was not thought to be successful if your average Berliner suddenly said: “Oh yeah, the Jews are responsible for X Y and Z”.

The propaganda was said to be responsible to the extent that the average Berliner just turned off the news altogether. They just stopped engaging. They became so overwhelmed with the contradictions in the media that were presented to them that they became apathetic and cynical about the entire project of participating in society. That in itself was said to be successful or thought to be successful by none other than somebody like Goebbels.

[00:21:45]

I think we can look at the real-world impact as even being represented in the tones of our voices as we discuss this. I don’t know about you but I feel exhausted by the onslaught of disinformation and trying to just figure out what to do with it. Every time I shut down. that’s very necessary. We’d totally have to take care of ourselves and disengage from social media I would say on a daily basis to maintain some sort of mental hygiene.

[00:22:15]

I start to get cynical about people’s capacity to be empathetic, to push back against these really bad ideas. They are basically as a reader of mine on my page Lisa Prentiss calls “medical libertarianism”. They are really really harmful to the public and specifically harmful to marginalized people, because it’s poor people who suffer the most during this stuff, of course. As soon as we get tired out then it’s like the propaganda. I try to keep mindful of that and to rest as much as I can so that I can engage as positively as possible.

But there’s one other thing. There’s one other sort of technical conundrum that is not a nice thing to consider. This comes from the work of a guy named Imran Ahmed who runs the organization the Center for Combating Digital Hate in the UK.

My colleague Derek Beres on ‘Conspirituality Podcast’ just interviewed him for this week’s episode. I was reviewing the preview copy and he was explaining in a way that I’ve heard before, but it became really clear to me. The platforms that we use are driven by engagement and nobody is retweeting the NHS.

[00:23:42]

I realized that I’ve spent the last three months retweeting or reposting in a critical manner the work of the content of ‘conspiritualists’. Just by reporting it, I’ve contributed to the visibility of it. In a pre-digital media landscape, that’s a positive thing. In the social media landscape that we have now, engaging with that content actually increases its attractiveness to the algorithm in terms of the Attention Economy.

Ahmed’s attitude is you’ve got to block, you’ve got to de-platform, you have to produce pro-public health content. You can’t feed the trolling. You can’t feed disinformation. The platform itself is set up to capture and to amplify this highly polarizing and emotional content that is ultimately harmful. The business model is built upon the attractiveness of disinformation. That leads into a whole other sort of problem of: how do you talk to friends then, right? How do you engage with people without feeding this beast?

Kathryn: [00:25:03]

I want to take a moment in the middle of this episode to tell you about the Mindful Strength Membership. When you join the membership you get access to weekly live and recorded classes, so there’s always something; classes and workshops with guest teachers; a Q&A at the end of our live classes; and a diverse collection of styles from resistance bands to classes with weights, workouts, yoga classes, and restorative movement. To learn more about the Mindful Strength Membership and to join us go to mindfulstrength.ca and click ‘membership’. All right everyone, back to the show.

Kathryn: I wanted to ask you about social media. This is something that I’ve been thinking about, not just right now because of the pandemic. I would say in general over the last year or so it seems. We all have social media whether you use Twitter or Facebook or whatever it is. This gives all of us a voice, which in some ways is great. I think sometimes this starts to equal us thinking that everyone’s voice is important, which is in some ways really great and that everyone’s voice is equally as important.

[00:26:29]

I’m wondering what you think about this. I know that your like you are not the deciding factor on this, but you are just one person with an opinion. I’m just interested in your personal opinion, I guess. I’m wondering what you think about this and censorship and free speech. All of that seems to be really relevant right now. Should we be allowed to just share whatever we want social media? Should there be censorship? What do you think about that?

Matthew Remski: [00:27:02]

Well, I think censorship is the wrong term to speak of when we’re talking about Twitter de-platforming QAnon accounts, or removing ‘plandemic’ video or Facebook or YouTube or Vimeo removing disinformation. I mean those are all corporations that have purchase over their corporate brands and what they choose to support.

Censorship in technical terms is really about whether or not it is legal for you to utter a falsehood or to spread disinformation that might threaten public health. So far as I know, I haven’t heard of any state prosecutions against Mikki Willis or Christiane Northrup, or Rashid Buttar, or Zack Bush, or anything like that. They are free to speak their views on Parlor, or MeWe, or whatever smelly corner of the Internet they can find.

[00:28:07]

De-platforming is a tactic that activist groups use sometimes for bad purposes, but often for really good purposes to get hateful, damaging, and information that instigates violence out of the public square.

We’re not really talking about the public square when we’re talking about Facebook. We’re talking about Zuckerberg’s corporation and his community guidelines however he’s going to enforce them. I think censorship is actually a red herring. Until we see Mikki Willis put in jail for suggesting that the COVID-19 pandemic was actually planned by people and purposefully released from the lab and Wuhan, then we’re not really talking about censorship. We’re talking about who has access to which spaces owned by whom.

[00:29:04]

Yeah, I’d just like to point that out as a technical thing. The other thing that comes to mind is: it feels like social media UIs are plugged into our emotional tender spots with regard to sharing, disclosure, vulnerability, and the illusion of intimacy or real intimacy. Everybody’s profile can open a window into a life that is extraordinarily raw or performed extraordinarily as raw. Is the person on Instagram really being vulnerable or are they mimicking the performance of vulnerability as they communicate their capital ‘T’ truth to you? How would you know?

The experience that I believe many of us have of scrolling through the influencer content and having this alternating sense of “oh that really resonates with me” and “oh that person’s full of crap” speaks to the fact: whatever you’re doing when you look at the profile of an influencer or anybody else, you’re looking into a private world. A private world that is now transgressing its boundaries. It’s breaking the fourth wall and becoming public. There are no rules for that really. Right? It’s almost like we’re able to be in everybody’s living rooms.

[00:30:35]

This structural bias that allows people to communicate from their hearts really changes the notion of what is reliable information. A person who can effectively communicate in an emotional way and they have an affect that resonates with hundreds of thousands of followers, what they say can become valid for those followers.

Not because it’s factually true, but because it’s emotively connective. Many of us are in this position where we’ve found it impossible to discuss data and facts with somebody who is absolutely emotionally convinced of a particular conspiracy or a theory about reality. It just doesn’t seem to work, right?

I know there are people who do scholarship on this who know a lot more about this. Personally, it strikes me as our platforms are these machines for producing a kind of subjective knowledge. A kind of personal knowledge that by the force of people’s charisma and their personableness becomes valid information. Listening to Tony Fauci boringly read out the statistics during a White House press briefing is just not as compelling.

[00:32:11]

I don’t know if you followed, I know her first name is Bonnie, but she’s the Public Health Minister where she’s a Minister of Health in British Columbia. I don’t know if she’s still doing them, but she used to do Facebook Livestreams every day reporting on the curve in B.C. I followed her all the way through April and May.

I don’t know if she’s still doing them. I remember at one point a reporter asked her question and she cried a little bit. It was this moment in which everybody who was following her really recognized the pathos of the frontline worker who really cares about her colleagues, and who knows she has friends who are dying because they’re serving COVID patients.

There was this little moment where her voice warbles and she sheds a few tears and then she gets back onto the relatively boring announcement that she has to make for the day. This highlighted for me the contrast between the wellness slash messianic influencer who can spend their entire time emoting and because they spend their entire time emoting they don’t have to deliver any facts. The emotion is the fact.

[00:33:26]

What the public health official has to do, which is to convey basic provisional and careful information in a way that’s just not appealing. Mr. Ahmed said nobody retweets the NHS. I’m realizing that I have never re-shared the Public Health Ontario posts that I get on my Facebook feed. I probably should start doing that.

They’re not coming from personalities, but that’s the best information that we have been able to pool together through the notion of a “common good” in our province. Why am I not supporting that?

Facts are just not as attractive as emotions. It’s a real problem. On the other side of that, it means that if we want to restore the relationships with family members or friends who have gone off the ‘conspirituality’ deep-end, we have to do something to acknowledge those emotions. They are real. That’s what’s driving the conversation.

Kathryn: [00:34:26]

So interesting what you just said about the Public Health Minister in B.C. I wasn’t watching the updates every day, but I heard about them. I think I heard about that one update. It was a big deal. My parents told me about it and other people I knew were talking about it. I think it was because there was emotion and it wasn’t just reading out all of the facts. I think it’s so interesting that’s the one I heard the most about.

Matthew Remski: Right.

Kathryn: [00:34:51]

You mentioned that people who are quite charismatic, who speak with a lot of emotion and really connect with people on that level, they don’t have to share great facts because they’re connecting with people in this other way. Another thing is when they do share facts. I mean, are they called facts if they’re not true? I don’t know. Bullet points of information shared as facts make me consider how effective that is. I can see how effective it is, obviously.

But it also makes me wonder: do the public health officials stand a chance at educating the public if they are not connecting with people in these different ways? Does that have to shift in order for the everyday person to watch those Facebook Lives or watch that news briefing every day?

Matthew Remski: [00:35:51]

Yeah, I think one of the reasons that when Andrew Cuomo was doing his press briefings every day at the height of New York City’s catastrophe…I’m not endorsing him politically or anything, because as a Democrat he embodies a lot of the things that I feel the party has failed on. Anyway, he was very effective at combining public health information with a kind of gruff “we’re gonna pull through.

We’re New Yorkers”. There was an appeal to a common sense of shared identity and good that was particularly effective to the point where #presidentcuomo was trending for a while.

I do think there’s room for public health officials who are not trained in PR and politicians to get their game up-leveled a little bit, for sure. But I think it’s a really difficult task. I also want to point out that there was a Maclean’s article about this that another fascinating part of the public health media puzzle is how it’s gendered.

I don’t know if you saw this article, but it basically profiled the fact that it’s like eight or nine of the provincial health ministers are women in Canada right now. They’re all they are responsible for communicating the public health data and the initiatives, regardless of whether they’re Tory or Liberal Governments.

[00:37:20]

What I’ve noticed about the other side of the equation is: while there are women influencers who are full-on denialists, the main driver of that media voice is male and charismatic. I think it’s probably more culturally resonant for figures like Mikki Willis and Zach Bush to deliver the hellfire and brimstone part of the ‘conspirituality’ message alongside the new age. “we’re going to save the world” side of the message.

One thing that I noted in a previous report on Christiane Northrup was: here’s a woman who has 25 or 30 years of women’s health activism under her belt and has done wonderful work. Her books are well-loved by a huge cross-section of the population. She’s been on Oprah and this whole bit.

She’s always mingled things that might be considered pseudoscientific in her biomedical writing. Now she’s really taken a full turn towards her ‘conspirituality’ content. In the process, almost everybody that she points to has at least the veneer of medical legitimacy; Andrew Wakefield the anti-vax charlatan former doctor, Dr. Zach Bush, Rashid Buttar, the Bakersfield doctors.

[00:38:55]

All of the medical authorities that she points to as a reference for her propaganda are all male. She goes so far as to then promote Tony Robbin who’s a known or a well accused, credibly accused sex assaulter over decades, as somebody who is interviewing anti-vax doctors – many of which are male.

There’s this weird almost deference to male charismatic figures, who are at the heart quote rooting out the “disinformation” of public health officials. I find the gendered aspect of it’s so painful to encounter. A lot of the influencers that I’m talking about were also active and anti-cult movements. It’s weird to see them then swing around to say “oh well let’s follow these men instead”.

[00:39:50]

Christiane Northrup kills me because the only women she promotes on her Facebook page that I’ve seen are Spirit Channeler’s, counselors who talk to angels on your behalf for six hundred dollars an hour, and stuff like that. Very strange. I really don’t know how public health officials can take a crash course in upping their game. I think they definitely have to.

Kathryn: I feel like I could continue asking your questions about this for a long time. I do want to wrap this up. Tell us about your podcast. Even just like the word conspirituality. What does that mean? What’s this project?

Matthew Remski: [00:40:30]

Conspirituality was first the name of a Vancouver rap group who I think registered it in 2009. An interesting group that used conspiracy theory discourse to talk about the capacity for spiritual awakening. As far as I know, I haven’t listened to all the tracks. The group was pretty unironic in how it presented its message. Then in 2011 a couple of academics named Charlotte Ward and David Vos published a paper called “The Rise of Conspirituality”. The abstract of that paper we can provide for your listeners because it’s very very clear.

They say that they’re describing a social media-based movement that connects the themes of male and right-wing political flavored, conspiracy theory energy with mainly female-identified, health and wellness spirituality, or New Age content. These two influences kind of horseshoe around to meet each other. They propose that because all of these terrible things are happening, that’s the conspiracy part, we have the opportunity for a great awakening, which is the spirituality part.

[00:42:03]

I think looking at the work since April of somebody like Christian Northrup really drives that home. She’s got a whole video series called “The Great Awakening”. This has its roots as a phrase going back to 19th-century Christian evangelical movements. Then it’s also picked up and it’s used as a hashtag by the QAnon conspiracy group, which is a whole it’s a whole other podcast we could do.

The paradox is that the movement really combines and blurs political lines between the right-wing hands off my body, Libertarian freedom movements associated with white nationalism, white supremacy, especially in the States. On the other side, a kind of New Age spirituality. It wants to view either in an earnest way, or in a spiritual bypassing way, any kind of cultural crisis as an opportunity for transcending typical human consciousness or moving into 5D reality, or whatever their promises.

[00:43:11]

Conspirituality is this very confusing mixture of political and cultural forces that drive towards anti-authoritarianism and a kind of distrust in public institutions from two sides of the political spectrum. We wind up with yoga people who are promoting for Trump, right? I mean, they existed before. To be clear: it’s not like yoga practice is some predictor of political affiliation.

Now we have this sort of growing movement of people who would identify as wellness culture content producers who sincerely believe that what they do is in direct opposition to the aims of public health and wellness. That’s the hill they’re going to die on.

[00:44:11]

Derek, Julian, and I have known each other for at least 10 years. They’re both in California. We’ve bounced writing ideas and thoughts off of each other for a long time. I think Derek invited us onto his podcast to talk about Kelly Brogan, other figures, and conspirituality in general. It went well enough, we had enough to say about it that we decided to make it its own content stream. Since we started, we have like been inundated with listener contributions. “Have you checked out this?”; “what’s this person doing?”; “why are these messages mixed?; “how much impact is this influence or having?”.

We were wondering at the beginning of this whether we were going to run out of content, but it is a growing cultural movement and something that I hope that by covering it we’re not actually helping to grow. Hopefully, we’re providing some reflection and some insight into where it’s coming from.

Kathryn: [00:45:16]

Yeah, amazing. We’ll have a link to your podcast. I’ll definitely take the link to that research abstract that you mentioned. Anything else you want to send over my way we’ll put in the show notes. We’ve recently started to transcribe these podcasts.

Matthew Remski: Oh great.

Kathryn: [00:45:34]

Yeah. Kyle is doing most of that, to be honest. He’s sitting at the computer for many, many hours. It has been really great because I think more people are starting to read the transcripts, like folks who might not have listened otherwise.

Matthew Remski: That’s important because it makes the podcast material searchable too, right? So that’s really great. That goes beyond tags to specific phrases, and so on. I just want to say in closing, I wanted to ask you: do you feel personally that you’re going out on a limb? Are you risking social connections by speaking about this material in this way? I just want to acknowledge that if that’s true, that’s hard. I hope you’re able to continue to provide a reasonable and welcoming voice for as many people as you can.

Kathryn: [00:46:20]

Yeah. I definitely feel a little bit that way. I definitely know that there are likely some people in my community whether that’s online, internationally online, or listening to the podcast who will really not agree with what you’re saying.

At the same time, I do feel a bit of a responsibility to bring people on this podcast to offer just as much like grounded in reality information; whether we’re talking about stretching mechanics, or we’re talking about diet culture, or we’re talking about this whole thing, what’s happening right now. As we are having this conversation, I had these moments of our people going to think like “what the heck does this have to do with movement?”.

Usually, we’re talking about movement, but I think this is kind of our community right now. This is part of the discussion that’s happening within our community even though it’s not about strength training. Even though it’s not about stretching. I do feel a sense of responsibility to bring somebody on who I feel is going to offer something that is grounded in reason. I want to thank you for coming on.

Kathryn: [00:47:31]

Yeah, you’re welcome. I think the overlap is actually really clear, but it’s somewhat hidden. Everything that I know about your work really falls under the category of agency and empowerment. Coming away from modes of yoga training that are really not about the person’s body and their internal experience at all.

There is a strong overlap between starting to feel as though you are taking charge of your internal body through movement practices, or through various strength training exercises. This feeling that maybe you can perfect your immune system on your own, or that you’re going to be fine because you have agency and you have independence.
I agree with you that there’s a responsibility to try to promote within wellness spaces that intersect with the idea of personal freedom while there’s also something called collective health.

We have to we have pay really close attention to that. All the strength training in the world isn’t going to prevent you from shedding virus if you’re not wearing your mask in Whole Foods.

Yeah, a hundred percent. Within the first couple of weeks of the pandemic, before the lockdown began here in Canada, I had Claire Kelly on the podcast.

Matthew Remski: [00:48:43]

Oh great.

Kathryn: She has a couple of degrees in public health and is a Pilates and movement teacher. We had this discussion. It’s so interesting for me to go back and reflect on that discussion. Even when I was talking to her, and she was saying all of the things, right? Social distancing and this is what we need to do now, and “folks, don’t go to the gym you know stay home. Maybe handwashing isn’t enough right now. Cancel your events.”.

[00:49:08]

Even in the back of my head, I was like: “No, it’s gonna be fine. We’re gonna have our wedding in the summer. It’s gonna be fine. This is crazy”, you know? It’s just so interesting to see how the next few months would turn out. I feel like I’ve learned a lot. In those really early weeks, I think so many of us were like “is this actually real? I feel like this is a great continuation of that conversation that Claire and I started at the beginning of the lockdown.

Matthew Remski: [00:49:42]

Well, that’s great that’s great. I’m happy to hear that. Thank you so much for everything you do Kathryn. Great to talk to you.

Kathryn: Yeah. Thank you, Matthew.