Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr

hell-bentI’ve recently gotten back into doing yoga. And the thing that nobody ever tells you about yoga is that it becomes kind of addictive. So when I walked into my library and saw Hell-Bent I had to pick it up. It is a compelling and revealing memoir about one man’s descent into Bikram yoga, a bit of a take down of Bikram himself by a practitioner and a look at the darker side of what yoga has to offer. Oh, and it’s un-put-downable.

So to let you know where I’m coming from – I like yoga. I believe that it is really good for both your body and your mind. I’d like to see myself doing it 2-3 times a week, so I am by no means a fanatic. I think Bikram’s yoga is crock of hoowie and that he is an ego-maniac. All this without ever having tried Bikrams.

In Hell-Bent Lorr really looks at his descent into hot yoga. He critiques it, evaluates, condemns it and ultimately can’t stay away from it. He’s practicing yoga on a completely different plane than the rest of us – multiple classes a day, intensive boot camps – it overtakes his life. But it is so interesting to see why.

I also learned so many amazing and interesting facts while reading Hell-Bent. If memory serves, Lorr’s weight would fluctuate by some 14 lbs during the course of a day. Clearly this is largely due to dehydration. Bikram initially started to look into hot yoga to mimic doing yoga in India. Temperatures started at about 80 degrees. But then he pushed it to see how high he could take it without people passing out. 110 degrees is to hot, so he settled at 108.

Who would like this book? If you’ve ever wondered about Bikram yoga this is a great book. As I’ve mentioned, it is a bit of a take-down of hot yoga, but it is done by an insider, someone who can’t get enough. It’s also a great book if you’re interested in what makes yoga fanatics tick, what competitive yoga looks like or the history of contemporary yoga in North America. Even if you’re not interested in yoga, Lorr is a compelling enough writer and story teller that you may find something to enjoy in Hell-Bent.

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19 Comments

  1. I live in Vancouver – I know all about yoga. hahahahaha
    This actually sounds really interesting. Something I should maybe think about reading when all the other Vancouverites tell me I should go for hot yoga. I would DIE in hot yoga. But this will give me something to shoot back with.

  2. I’ll leave this book (and yoga!) to you – have never caught the yoga bug. Tried a couple of times but found the ‘enforced relaxation’ aggravating – obviously not the desired effect! My ‘active relaxation’ time is spent doing laps in the pool…

  3. Sounds like a fascinating read! I think a lot of exercise forms become like a religion for people. I am most definitely addicted to dance, the studio, the community, everything. And people become fanatic about “the practice,” which is part of the joy, but also part of the weirdness.
    I did do Bikram for about a year. I think it’s the kind of yoga that’s great for a detox once every 3 months or something, but sweating that much every day is just not a great idea. Plus, it’s a pretty disgusting practice to sweat that much in a tiny room which that many people in it – there’s no peaceful nameste happening :). That kind of crowded sweatiness is why I stay away from all things Spin as well. -Tania

  4. I like Bikram yoga. I’ve done it for about 15 years once or twice a week. It’s been good for my knees. I also like Vinyasa yoga. I think I’d like this book though it seems like the guy went totally overboard.

  5. I practiced Bikram for years and it was amazing for me. But I was definitely on the outside looking in the entire time. The practice had so many amazing benefits for me but I never understood the cult-like status of it. Which is why I absolutely loved this book!

      • I completely understand how it looks to people on the outside! I attended workshops with “elite” teachers and competitions (my studio owner asked me to participate in a competition but it was too weird for me to practice yoga on a stage in front of people) and it was pretty full on. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who are within the orbit of Bikram himself (though I heard some pretty crazy stories from teachers…which is why I loved this book.)

  6. This sounds like a fun book. Reminds me of Word Freak, about competitive Scrabble players. I can understand becoming obsessed even while feeling silly about being obsessed, because that’s what happened to me with country line dancing. Never in a million years would I have thought I would do line dancing, much less country line dancing! Now we spend at least ten hours a week doing it…more when we can get to a line dancing weekend!

  7. Pingback: The Path of Modern Yoga by Elliott Goldberg | 52 books or bust

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