Book Review: Atheist Yoga, Anton Drake (2013)

June 10th, 2013 3:51 pm by mad mags

Atheism & Yoga

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the author’s invitation.)

I’ve suffered from back problems most of my life. When I was younger, the likely suspect was an old, cheap mattress situated on the top of a bunk bed; in my young adulthood, nights spent sleeping at the bottom of a dog pile (sometimes five deep!) did the trick. And I won’t even get into my poor posture.

I started practicing yoga a little more than a decade ago in order to help relieve back pain. Not only did it work out the kinks, relieve stress and tension, and increase my flexibility, but yoga also helped me achieve a greater inner awareness: of different muscle groups, and how to alternately flex and relax them, sometimes simultaneously. This in turn aided me in other athletic endeavors, such as kickboxing and abdominal exercises.

I’m also a life-long atheist.

In Atheist Yoga, atheist yogi Anton Drake makes a compelling argument for the compatibility of yoga and meditation with atheism and materialism. Yoga’s “fundamental emphasis on introspection and self-mastery” is actually more suited to atheism than religious belief, Drake posits, because atheists are open to disbelief, aren’t censored by internal thought filters, and thus have an easier time both “losing” themselves and turning their focus inward, on the unconscious self. Atheists are better able to open their minds because they aren’t afraid of offending a supreme being or violating an external belief system.

Drake follows this thesis with a general discussion of the principles and techniques of Hatha yoga, with an emphasis on breathing and meditation. The chapter on asanas – yogic poses – is intentionally macro; don’t mistake Atheist Yoga for a 101 how-to book. Using the Mountain Pose (Tadasana) as an example, Drake describes the push-and-pull tension between different muscle groups that’s a universal characteristic of asanas. Also included are two chapters on sex and yoga.

Interspersed with these more practical sections are Drake’s (fictional?) exchanges with an unnamed woman as they meet along the West Coast. These interludes read like the conversations you might remember having had when you were stoned out of your gourd – a little weird, to say the least. (The book’s trippy cover encapsulates these vignettes most perfectly.)

I’d recommend this volume to atheists who already practice yoga and would like to learn more about how its history and practice squares with a lack of belief in a higher power. Likewise, yoga teachers with an atheist or more secular clientele might also find it a useful resource.

If, however, you’re an atheist who’s never tried yoga but is intrigued, Atheist Yoga might prove a little intimidating. Instead of reading about yoga, give it a try: borrow a DVD or two from Netflix, or hit up YouTube for some free workouts. Start with a session designed for beginners and work your way up from there. Watch the entire video once or twice before trying it yourself. If you don’t have a partner to help you perfect your poses, practice in front of a mirror or other reflective surface. (I use a framed Flying Spaghetti Monster poster with Plexiglas, propped up on the floor. True story!)

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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