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

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,770 ratings  ·  243 reviews
In the spirit of Born to Run and Word Freak, an eye-opening look?at the world of extreme yoga and?a?tale of personal transformation ? Yoga is practiced by 20 million Americans and?has grown into a $6 billion industry. Tales abound of the benefits that come from stretching your limbs?and your sense of self?to the limit. Author Benjamin Lorr began as a casual yogi, but he qu ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 30th 2012 by St. Martin's Press
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 ·  1,770 ratings  ·  243 reviews

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Nov 28, 2012 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 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
Jan 05, 2013 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
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
Tina Hamilton
May 05, 2013 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
Oct 27, 2012 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
May 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Some books are great because of the depth and breadth of knowledge the author may have in a field. What I appreciate even more though, are books on a topic in which the author started off as a neophyte, then wrote as the experience flowed in. This book is astounding. It follows Benjamin Lorr as he first dips his toes, then goes all-into Bikram yoga (you know, the sweaty one practiced in very hot rooms). It tackles the surprisingly controversial topic of authenticity in yoga, paints portraits of ...more
Apr 20, 2013 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
Sian Lile-Pastore
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 17, 2012 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
Steven Furie
Mar 19, 2013 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
Nov 24, 2012 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 04, 2013 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 Deggans
Jan 05, 2013 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
Aug 03, 2013 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
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, yoga, health
And then there is Bikram himself. Who says: "People come to me and think yoga is relax. they think little flower, little ting sound, some chanting, hanging crystal… No! Not for you! Waste of time! Here I chop off your dick and play Ping-Pong with your balls. You know Ping-Pong? That is yoga!"

So, this is a must-read for all hot yoga practitioners that would react like Lorr when having a conversation about pain with his teacher:

I asked my favorite instructor about it, she just smiled. One of thos
Angie Lee
Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a great read for anyone who has tried yoga and why it sometimes feels so other worldly. It’s also a good example of how a good idea or practice can become warped in the wrong hands. Lorr doesn’t spend a lot of time on the man Bikram and I’m thankful for that but he does a great job explaining how close it gets to becoming almost cult like as everyone involved experiences the bonding of doing incredible things with your body and the way yoga works with pain
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very good hot yoga expose'. The author's perspective -- having participated in the yoga community to the extent he did -- gives his story more weight than someone who just reviewed current literature.
Jerry Peace
Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Having practiced asanas off and on for forty years, more off than on, and always at home, never having attended any class or session, I'm fascinated by the extreme intensity and surprising competitiveness of Lorr's Bikram yoga experiences. The book is layered by both sensitivity and cruelty, compassion and meanness, and explores obsession and pain. Very thoughtful are the instances of almost miraculous physical recoveries via yoga, with the emphasis on yoga as simply one effective conduit throug ...more
Jaclyn Day
Aug 12, 2013 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
Mar 01, 2013 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
Jun 24, 2013 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
Nov 15, 2012 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 09, 2013 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 teacher t ...more
Dec 11, 2012 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
Mar 17, 2013 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
Jan 29, 2013 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
Ravi Raman
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Why 5-stars? For me the answer is easy. I was a hardcore Bikram yoga for many years. Particularly during the 2000-2006 stretch. For many years, I had a daily practice. This made the book really come alive for me. His descriptions of the 90-minutes of hot and humid yoga really hit the nail on the head. I was curious about what it was like at the upper limits of competitive and dedicated practice, and this book revealed that for me. It was funny and the author is a very good writer. The book also ...more
Dec 25, 2012 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
Jan 10, 2013 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
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