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

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  873 ratings  ·  174 reviews
Author Benjamin Lorr wandered into a yoga studio—and fell down a rabbit hole

Hell-Bentexplores 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 comp...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 30th 2012 by St. Martin's Press
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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
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...more
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...more
Sian Lile-Pastore
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 h...more
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
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...more
Steven Furie
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
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
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 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Tina Hamilton
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
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...more
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
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
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...more
Robyn Vines Smith
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
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
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
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
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
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...more
A fascinating first-person account of the way some people get completely obsessed with, and even addicted to, hot yoga -- in this case, particularly Bikram Yoga (there are other hot yogas, but Lorr was a Bikram devotee). He details his own journey from noob to fanatic, from True Believer to grounded realist, while sharing some incredible stories from other yogis, so incredible sometimes you might have to take them with a grain or two of salt (in your water with honey and lemon, of course). For t...more
Loved it. I've tried a few Bikram classes (and done a lot more Moksha and "hot yoga" classes) and Lorr does a great job of describing what the Bikram community is like, and how hot yoga can feel terrible and yet make you feel wonderful afterwards.

His love for the yoga community comes across, and I think he's pretty fair in his description of Bikram. I would say, based on what I've read in this book and in separate news articles, that Bikram has issues and Bikram behaves in a terrible and abusive...more
This book is a well-balanced and interesting look at Bikram Choudhury and the Bikram yoga. Lorr presents the good, the bad and the ugly, and boy is there some ugly. Choudhury appears to be a narcissistic control-freak who is much more concerned with wealth and status than with his practitioners' health and well-being.

Overall it made me want to try out yoga again, albeit in a more moderate manner than discussed in the book.
Mander Pander
This guy really roped a doped me good, and early on. I'm reading about this super intense, incredibly painful practice methods that leave him seeing stars and my reaction is what the hell is this guy doing to this his body? This is basically everything wrong with the modern perception of yoga.

And then, blammo! I see (and I am paraphrasing) "you readers who have some time practicing or experience with something other than Bikram yoga are probably thinking 'this dude is such an asshole, and this y...more
Interesting book as I practice Bikram yoga and have met several of the people discussed in the book: Esak, Mary and other re-named teachers. I think there are many benefits to hot yoga, but there are lots of inconsistencies in the dialogue (which I find fascinating). I am not at all surprised to have read about Bikram's narcissism. Like most things in life, I find that moderation is key (for me).
I was so mad at the start of reading this - competitive yoga is an oxymoron to me. It really made me furious. But it was written by a friend's son and I was drawn in first by the excellent writing, then by the humor and ultimately by the heart. Do read to the end - or if you skip do read the end. The last few pages are very powerful.
I've recently embarked on a Bikram yoga regime, so "Hell-Bent" was extremely information and interesting for me. I appreciate Lorr's objectivity and the numerous scientific interviews and facts peppered throughout the text.
Nicholas Smith
I loved this book about yoga.

The title is misleading in that it sounds like a healthy yoga-gone-addiction yoga story. More, the title implies the book is ONLY about competitive yoga, an oxymoron that the author handles with impressive ease. There are those after-school story, rags to riches, overcoming tragedy elements, but the guts of the book are about the positive aspects of the yogic lifestyle from the western/ American point-of-view.

It's a healthy balance, coupling the thousands of years...more
I took some hot yoga classes at the Bikram yoga studio in Encino. I found an article about this book in last years Yoga Journal magazine while waiting for class to start in the lobby. Curiosity took over, and I had to read this book (kindle version) The stories and interview were fascinating. The quotes in the last part of the book proving where the info was from was kinda longish, so I skipped it. I had to find out who Bikram was and is, and where he got his inspiration and why the rooms are so...more
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