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Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,354 Ratings  ·  209 Reviews
Author Benjamin Lorr wandered into a yoga studio—and fell down a rabbit hole

Hell-Bent explores a fascinating, often surreal world at the extremes of American yoga. Benjamin Lorr walked into his first yoga studio on a whim, overweight and curious, and quickly found the yoga reinventing his life. He was studying Bikram Yoga (or "hot yoga") when a run-in with a master and com
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 30th 2012 by St. Martin's Press
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Jan 20, 2015 Diane rated it really liked it
I like yoga, but I'm not obsessive about it. I also like Benjamin Lorr's book, where he details his obsession with Bikram yoga, which is a series of poses done in rooms heated to 100 degrees or more. I have never taken a hot yoga class, and before reading this book I didn't realize that Bikram is the name of an actual person -- Bikram Choudhury. (More on him in a moment.)

Lorr begins the book by discussing how he came to yoga in the first place -- he was trying to lose weight and get back in shap
Jan 16, 2013 Katie rated it liked it
I started practicing Bikram yoga in 2006. Within a year or two I was practicing 5-6 days a week and considered going to the teacher training. I went to see what it was like in 2009, in Las Vegas, I got to take a couple of classes (one with the man himself) and easily decided that this was not for me. I later trained with Jimmy Barkan, who is quoted a few times in this book. I still go to my local Bikram studio, but it is not the be all and end all. The author puts his finger on something I'd nev ...more
This is my first autobiography/memoir book that I've read. I cannot say much how good this book as memoir, compared to other similar books.

Actually, I don't have any expectation when started reading the book. Majority of the book is the life of the author in yoga related activities, especially when the author practicing Bikram Yoga (BY) style.

For people who doesn't familiar yoga or BY, this book could be read as an introduction what is a serious yoga practitioner's life, a ton of controversial s
Jan 20, 2015 Elizabeth rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This read was a guilty pleasure.

Last year, I started practicing Bikram yoga. Classes practice 26 postures undertaken in 105-degree heat pumped around a room for a 90-minute session. I loved it. I lived it. I drank the proverbial kool-aid! And then I hurt my back.

SO, I was interested in Benjamin Lorr's experience. Lorr turns out to be quite candid. And he just about covers it all. Is yoga spiritual? Or competitive? Why did Lorr become so addicted? Who is Bikram?

Each of us needs to find the pain
Oct 30, 2012 RickyB rated it really liked it
Great book! I'm so excited about Yoga after reading this. But the Bakram (for whom this particular Yoga practice is named after) sounds like a disgusting, repulsive man who does nothing but discredit the discipline of yoga. At least the author was unbiased enough (most of the time) to write about his teacher honestly, and sometimes brutally.
Apart from the biographical info on Bakram the yoga itself was also covered well. The history (only a little of it - perfect) was covered just enough to int
Tina Hamilton
Oct 30, 2013 Tina Hamilton rated it it was amazing
If you practice yoga, read this book. If you don't practice yoga, read this book. Well researched, beautifully written, insightful, and compassionate, it certainly wasn't what I expected. Training for a yoga competition? Paying $11,000 for teacher training with the maniacal Bikram? Please. However, the prose is wonderful. One moment the author exposes the love/hate relationship we all have with bodywork or exercise. The next moment the author recounts hilarious and strange moments with his fello ...more
Aug 13, 2013 Corine rated it it was amazing
Hell-Bent is a fantastic read. The writing is superb. The book is funny, scary, unflinching. Okay there might be a bit of character assassination involved but is saying bad things about Hitler and Charles Manson character assassination? As an author I wondered why this book isn't a bestseller. Is it because the yoga community is reading it in secret but too afraid to admit it or spread the word? I practice uninspired yoga once a week or less, but this book made me want to spread my towel on a ge ...more
Sian Lile-Pastore
Dec 30, 2014 Sian Lile-Pastore rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, yoga
This is a really interesting book that looks at bikram yoga, bikram himself and personal stories of lots of yoga people. I love yoga and although I haven't taken a bikram class I regularly go to hot yoga classes... this book made me scared of bikram yoga and also had me searching for the closest bikram class (about an hour away and costing 16 for an hours class).

Bikram himself (he started the whole hot yoga thing and used a particular set of poses which makes it 'bikram yoga' rather than just ho
Nov 17, 2012 roscoe rated it really liked it
a sprawling, wide-reaching, and sometimes weird, complex book that defies all pre-conception. somewhat surprisingly well-written, and thoroughly researched, i feel it's to quickly become a watershed moment for the practice at large, and a potentially landmark one when the Bikram-shaped yoga landscape of the past 30 years, is; quite necessarily as it turns out, actually turned on it's head [pun intended]. the book delves intriguingly into the area's of our understanding of pain; up-to-the-minute ...more
Apr 20, 2013 Hope rated it it was amazing
Possibly because I'm familiar with the scandals surrounding Bikram yoga, I found Lorr's writing compulsively readable. His voice is smart, funny, and self-questioning, all the qualities you want in a memoir-meets-investigation like this. The title is a bit of a misnomer. Lorr focuses solely on his years practicing Bikram yoga, immersing himself in the culture and bounces between first-hand accounts and interviews with medical professionals, not on other forms or styles of yoga.

Lorr's journey a
Steven Furie
Mar 19, 2013 Steven Furie rated it really liked it
I have been practicing Bikram consistently for almost 6 months now, and almost immediately developed a deep appreciation and connection to the sequence and heat. B.Lorr does a good job at peeling back some of the layers for the new Bikram yogi, while remaining rather objective in his pursuit as a self-acclaimed admirer/advocate. I was first a bit put-off by the title, as it initially projects one to question it's critical qualities towards yoga, sounding an alarm for those who do not do Bikram y ...more
Jennifer Glass
Dec 02, 2012 Jennifer Glass rated it it was amazing
As a regular Bikram yoga practitioner, but not someone who has ever gone really "gung-hu" besides keeping up my bi-weekly practice and doing a 60-day challenge, I was very interested to read Lorr's account of the inside-world of the bikram elite, those who participate in competitions and go to teaching training. Lorr must have natural yoga talent to have so quickly progressed from yoga novice to national competitor. I thought that the strongest parts of the book were the sections where Lorr psyc ...more
Shana Kennedy
Jan 05, 2013 Shana Kennedy rated it it was amazing
Insightful. Clear-thinking. Well-written. Fascinating. Thought-provoking. Honest. Humorous. Intelligent. I'm not sure if this book will be as powerful for readers who don't do Bikram Yoga, but for those of us who do, it's a gem. The author takes a look at all the questions that come up for practitioners, and delves into thorough research on them. His conclusions are level-headed, and not black-and-white.
There are so many excellent passages in this book, but here are a couple of my favorites:
Shawn Scarber
Jan 05, 2013 Shawn Scarber rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to know the inside world of Bikram yoga
Recommended to Shawn by: Bikram yoga teacher
I bought this book because one of my Bikram instructors recommended it. It's been an enlightening read. Benjamin really touches on the various experiences of Bikram yoga from the hot sauna workout room to the Bikram Teacher's Training to national competitions all the while examining both the pros and cons of taking an extreme form of yoga and making it even more extreme.

I just started practicing Bikram yoga myself. I've gotten to that stage where I need the extra kick in the pants to keep me wor
Oct 27, 2013 Stacey rated it really liked it
I read this book because both of my sisters are avid Bikram practitioners and the author is a childhood friend of my husband's. As someone who easily contracts multi-day migraines following intense exercise in heat, I have never been tempted to try Bikram. However, I did find several points made in this book to be quite interesting and insightful. (You may not want to read on if you plan to read the book. I wouldn't exactly call these spoilers, but they may ruin some key "aha" moments.)

One insi
Dec 15, 2012 Sunflower rated it really liked it
My copy of this book has the word "Bikram" instead of the word "competitive", but I'm sure it's the same book. The author of this book isn't just talk. He still practises yoga daily, has done the Bikram teacher training and competitive yoga- you will find out what this is, in case you haven't been there- so to me that gives him authenticity. The journey he takes the reader on starts with yoga as a feelgood which also works as a panacea and cure:he gives some compelling examples, one of which inc ...more
Jaclyn Day
Aug 23, 2013 Jaclyn Day rated it really liked it
The title of this book is misleading. While it does spend some time talking about competitive yoga (Lorr went from yoga novice to performing in the National Yoga Asana Championship within a few years), this book is really about Bikram Choudhury and Bikram yoga.

In short, this book is a great example of the theory that any workout regime can make you a crazy person if you take it just far enough over the line of normalcy. Lorr points out early on the “Lululemon-izing” of yoga, or the mass market a
Oct 06, 2014 Robyn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: yoga, 2013
I've kinda been on a "yoga journey" kick as far as reading goes. I'm not a hot yoga yogi, so I had no problem reading this tale of Bikram Choudhury total lunacy. It was awesome. Hot yoga is also called Bikram yoga, and it's very popular. It was founded by Bikram Choudhury, who is a true Indian yogi. He had an interesting childhood, forced to practice yoga intensely from age 3 and then apprenticing with an abusive guru. He came to the U.S. and offered his yoga teaching for free, as was customary. ...more
Mar 05, 2013 Colette rated it liked it
I am a hot yogini and hot yoga teacher. I still love hot yoga and believe in the power of the practice after ten years, but I have a sense of humor about it, and I don't believe it is for everyone. So this was bound to be an entertaining read. The author takes a class randomly and quickly starts going multiple times a week and eventually becomes part of the Backbenders, an extreme hot yoga subculture (to which I do not belong) who get together a few times a year to practice advanced poses eight ...more
Nov 27, 2012 Jodie rated it did not like it
I have practiced yoga for years. That's right. Yoga of all forms. Notice I have mentioned the yoga name without a tag in front of it. Honestly this book really ticked me off. First of all, I thought it was just a Bikram bash book. I didn't see the positive light of yoga within Mr. Lorr at all. I have never practiced Bikram before, but I can say that not every type of yoga fits each person. Just as you wouldn't go to a tennis class if you didn't care for the teacher or a Zumba class if you didn't ...more
Lindsey Jarrett
Feb 20, 2013 Lindsey Jarrett rated it liked it
Shelves: yoga-meditation
I was as up & down with my feelings toward this book as the author was with the content and his feelings toward Bikram. For the most part, it kept my attention and opened me to a world within yoga that is so extremely different from my own experiences. In my few years practicing yoga, I can already appreciate it as a journey and it's clear the author does too (he refers to this near the end of the book). It could also be why I felt the content was a bit scattered at times, jumping from teach ...more
Jan 29, 2013 elissa rated it really liked it
Totally enjoyed meeting the author at my church (UUCSS) on Sunday (3/10/13). I hadn't met him before, but think both of his parents are great. In fact, I've taken yoga at our church with both of them. :)

I had looked in to hot yoga when a studio opened in Takoma Park within the past couple of years. I decided at the time that it looked too militaristic to me, but Ben's book made me want to try at least one class just to see what the 26 poses are, so I may do that soon. I thought it was pretty gen
Steve Hirsch
May 03, 2016 Steve Hirsch rated it really liked it
A very enjoyable book on a subject, Bikram Yoga, about which I knew nothing. Ben Lorr starts taking hot yoga, becomes a devotee, then more as he take classes on teaching it, meets the luminaries and Bikram himself. Bikram is quite a character, self-invented, self-involved, charismatic and narcissistic.
Even if you're not involved or that interested in yoga, the history and Ben's explorations are well explained and he makes them interesting.
Wendy Coulter
May 07, 2015 Wendy Coulter rated it really liked it
I engaged with this book. Crossed pages out, threw it across the room, kissed it & held it in Anjali mudra, left notes on 1/2 of the pages. Sure, some gossip. Also a long history of BK. As his ex student Tony Sanchez says (paraphrase), "It didn't have to turn out this way."

Neither a Bikram-bashing tome nor a tribute. Wonder why the author wasn't sued for telling the truth.
Dec 25, 2012 Lisa rated it really liked it
This is a well written memoir-esque piece. It starts off as a memoir and then the author delves into interviews with others in the competitive Bikram community. Because the structure is a little diluted (starting off as a memoir and then becoming interviews and others accounts of their experiences with Bikram Yoga and then peppering the piece with additional bits of memoir here and there) the ending wasn't as satisfying as it could have been. I give it four stars because it is well written and t ...more
Carol Horton
Feb 11, 2013 Carol Horton rated it really liked it
Shelves: yoga
A fascinating, well-written, gripping and sometimes horrifying look into the world of Bikram yoga. The author does a great job of combining the story of his own involvement with this method and some very solid, provocative research into its history, development, social resonance, and physiology. Although the chapter on the Bikram teacher training program made me feel embarrassed to have anything to do with the world of American yoga at all - the world it depicts is profoundly unappealing to me - ...more
Jan 23, 2013 Brandi rated it really liked it
This book was a lot of fun to read, and really much more intellectual than I initially guessed. A crazy look into Bikram yoga and the man (megalomaniac) himself.
At first I took issue with the competitive aspect of the book, but it ultimately makes sense to me. Leaving one's ego at the door is no easy feat, and I realized I am very competitive in the yoga world too, if only with myself.
I would recommend this to anyone who practices (or is considering practicing) yoga.
It's informative, intellectua
Apr 11, 2016 Jennifer rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2016, yoga
Benjamin Lorr is a good writer. He certainly spent the time and the (literal) legwork getting into the Bikram yoga world. I was impressed with his dedication to backbending, entering competitions, and surviving a 9-week Bikram teacher training, all for the sake of research. And he brought in some interesting outside experts - doctors, philosophers, psychologists - to discuss the various points about Bikram yoga.

But... here's my problem - I think the subtitle was misleading. I didn't realize tha
Feb 21, 2015 Bridget rated it really liked it
A book about Bikram: the yoga, the man, and the community.

The story;
Benjamin Lorr, in his late twenties after an injury, had put on weight. Was tired all the time. He fronted up to a Bikram studio looking for something to set him on the path to good health. Low and behold, he became an addict.

Bikram fascinated Lorr, both the man and the practice, so Lorr decided to write a book documenting his journey through Bikram, which culminated in his participation in a yoga competition. It mightn't sound
Sep 16, 2014 Jonathan rated it liked it
This was an entertaining read, but unfortunately it's all over the place. The problem is that the author tries to interweave several stories, but does so inconsistently. For example, you'll spend a little bit of time reading about the author's friend Saul, and then you'll detach from Saul until the very end of the book, and kind of forget why you're supposed to care about him at all. Another issue I had was not really the author's fault, but more of a result of timing. In 2012 (when the book was ...more
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“Treat people as if they are what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they can be.” 1 likes
“It was a metamorphosis. We all change. But we also have some control over the path. We choose our surroundings; we choose where we put our energy. Bikram—one of the most powerful forces to spread yoga—chose his road of materialism and control. He chose to surround himself by very needy people who gave themselves to him. Was it always there from the beginning? Of course it was. But so were many other possibilities.…” 0 likes
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