Iso-exercise with Millennial Barbie

Justine Toh on what obsessively watching travel yoga classes on YouTube has in common with religion and worship.

Confession: I spent an entire video work meeting this week in downward-facing dog because I knew I would not be seen.

At least (I want to say) my eyes weren’t glued to Heavenly Hippie*: my iso-exercise-YouTube binge of choice.

It’s a winning combination of yoga practice, travelporn, and a hefty dose of aspiration to look like—and vicariously live the life of—its lissom instructor. Millennial Barbie does yoga in exotic locations? Sign me up, along with one million (and counting) subscribers.

Regular video exercise classes just can’t compete with travel yoga hosted by a supermodel. Hence it’s become my daily destination to stretch out my creaky, working-from-home limbs. All because I crave a fantasy of escape from the monotony of shutdown and a (sufficiently gaunt) guru to lead the way to my new, better, body.

Religion of old looks nothing like this. But the phenomenon of Heavenly Hippie is, at least, semi-religious. There’s no traditional worship, sure, but there’s much devotional activity pointing lives, practices, and bodies in the direction of what is ultimate, and ultimately meaningful, in life.

It’s been making something of a devotee out of me. But it also feels slightly tone deaf right now: the wellness equivalent of A-list celebrities bemoaning shutdown from palatial estates. Can’t fly? She travels the world. Stuck at home self-isolating? Her itinerary is so far off the beaten track that there’s never another soul in sight.

Heavenly Hippie is fairly harmless but the good life it sells is impossibly out of reach. Its host is everything we call beautiful, but everything about her leverages the gulf between her and me. A saviour who instead draws near to us? Now that would be truly divine.

* not its real name, but not far off from it either.