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 competitive yoga champion led him into an obsessive subculture—a group of yogis for whom eight hours of practice a day in 110- degree heat was just the beginning.
So begins a journey. Populated by athletic prodigies, wide-eyed celebrities, legitimate medical miracles, and predatory hucksters, it’s a nation-spanning trip—from the jam-packed studios of New York to the athletic performance labs of the University of Oregon to the stage at the National Yoga Asana Championship, where Lorr competes for glory.
The culmination of two years of research, and featuring hundreds of interviews with yogis, scientists, doctors, and scholars, Hell-Bent is a wild exploration. A look at the science behind a controversial practice, a story of greed, narcissism, and corruption, and a mind-bending tale of personal transformation, it is a book that will not only challenge your conception of yoga, but will change the way you view the fragile, inspirational limits of the human body itself.
©2012 Benjamin Lorr (P)2014 Audible Inc.
I really enjoyed this book. This book is about yoga and I'm a fat truck driver. This would not be a book truck drivers would like. It's a really good story and it's really interesting. I learned lots of things from hell bent that I didn't know and would never learn. Please understand this was an entirely arbitrary and random choice. The title appealed to me and I had no idea it was about yoga. I was surprised to say the least. As you would have it, I'm now very interested in hatha yoga. I'm gonna go bend. Maybe I'll stop being fat.
Progressive who occasionally reads conservative books to try and find some merit.....still looking.
One of the best! Very well done.
The thoughtfulness and reflective approach to telling the story. He was immersed in the the story, but at the same time, a witness to the story.
His enthusiasm and obvious joy in yoga.
There was a story about the young woman who came in second place in the yoga championships and was initially disappointed she couldn't use the winning tour to raise money for childhood cancer. Then, she decided to go on tour as if she *had* won. She invested herself and her own resources to achieve her goal. She learned she didn't have to win the championship to fulfill her goal. This was a very powerful lesson and Lorr's admiration of this young woman was evident.
The information on Bikram was about what I expected and had gleaned from other sources, but the story was wonderfully told and transmitted the excitement, fear, disappoints and joy of the Bikram yoga experience. The description of the teacher training class was new to me and quite appalling and basically showcased cult indoctrination. Anyone on the outside could see Bikram was frankly abusing and mistreating his students. Lorr shows, through highlighting other successful yogis (such as Tony Sanchez) that cruelty and bullying were not necessary for the yoga to be effective. I tried Bikram yoga a few times, but instinctively knew it wasn't my kind of yoga. Now I know why. At the same time, I respect the good it has done many people. I think this is both because of, and in spite of Bikram, the guru. The ambivalence of this is theme of the book and the central mystery of Bikram yoga.
In ancient mythology, a common theme is a dying and resurrecting Godman, who often descends into Hell to save the souls trapped there, before emerging from the bowels of the earth stronger than ever.
In modern times, a person pays eleven-thousand dollars to descend into Hell. This is the route that Benjamin Lorr took, and descend into Hell he did. It was inhumanely hot and crowded, where the poor trapped souls vomit and defecate on themselves, where seeing a woman shove ice cubes down her bikini bottoms seemed nothing out of the ordinary. And true to mythology, Lorr redeemed many people while there. From Ms. Boobs, to a whole host of lost souls who by all rights, really shouldn't have been there.
Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says that before you can fall up, you must fall down. To use the word transform here seems trite and clichéd. I have studied various healing methods for many years, from Christian prayer to Reiki, from alternative medicine to placebos. The healings in Hell-Bent are some of the most gritty, personal, believable healings and transformations that I have ever come across.
In fact, while the universe doesn't work on fairness or unfairness, it struck me as unfair that people can get healed with the laying on of hands or taking sugar pills, when these people had to work through their pain on a level that most Americans will never know. No, if there is one thing in America don't do well, it's pain. There is a pill for that, after all.
And Bikram, where does he fit in? I'm not sure it would be right to place him in the role of a very charismatic Devil. I don't know. Maybe we should ask the women he molested along the way? To be fair, Bikram helped thousands of people in his role of teacher and guru. From the lowly peasant, to sports and movie stars, it seems it made no difference to him. A true equal opportunity helper. Perhaps he helped hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. How do we balance the remarkable things he has accomplished with his dark side? My cognitive dissonance whispers, "maybe those women really did know what they were doing when they went into his room." Who is to say they didn't?
The modern concept of creating your own reality actually emerged from ancient yoga. I think Hell-Bent embodies this meme. There is Bikram, who should be a poster child for creating his own reality. Indeed, he just makes it up as he goes along. There are the yogis, who created a western fiction called yoga that is really pretty much a fantasy compared to ancient yoga. If anyone doubts that they play a large part in creating their reality, they should read this book. Here are people that believed something very strongly that really had little factual basis in reality or truth, yet they were able to transform and heal themselves using this fiction in their heads. Truly remarkable.
I think my favorite line in the book was when Bikram collapsed on the floor and someone leaned over and told the master to "just breathe." To me, that is yoga reduced to two words: just breathe.
This book is less a story of competitive yoga than an exploration of the wacky, overheated world of Bikram Yoga. Benjamin Lorr doesn't spare the gory details (sexual exploitation of women by the guru; the OCD practitioners happily popping ribs; people vomiting and pooping their pants in rooms heated well over 105-degrees) but he's surprisingly convincing about the benefits of the practice and the miracle transformations, too. When I came to the end, I was simultaneously glad I had extricated myself from the cult of Bikram years ago and itching to start taking classes again.
This is basically a memoir of Lorr's own experience getting into and (partly) out of the Bikram universe. He's a vivid and wildly entertaining writer and his descriptions have enough vitality and humor to make this accessible to all readers. Although it will almost certainly be most interesting to those who've practiced in a Bikram studio.
The book is well researched and contains fascinating chapters on the uses of heat, charismatic leaders, pain, the placebo effect, and narcissism--among other things. (The chapters on narcissism and the cult surrounding narcissists could be describing Donald Trump exactly. Chilling.)
He's a good reader with an appealing voice that's neither too bland nor too dramatic. He slurs every once in a while, but I found this kind of appealing.
I was very glad I listened to this and recommend it highly.
I enjoyed this book tremendously. I practiced Bikram Yoga about 15 years ago. I can say I was the thinnest at that time of my life; however, I don't think I was in the best shape. I'm in better shape now than I was then. This story brought back memories although I never met Bikram. After reading the book it sounds like that is a good thing.
I enjoyed how Lorr told his story both in content and narration. Lorr's enthusiasm for yoga comes through in his writing and narration. I don't think any other narrator would have been able to describe Bikram in quite the same way.
After reading the book I might have to drop into a Bikram Yoga class just to see if I'm any better at it.
Let me start by saying that I am a long time Yoga student and teacher and that I have never stepped foot into a hot room of any kind. I thoroughly enjoyed this book primarily because it's really just a very good book it is very well written, entertaining and informative. I also really enjoy the insider's view of a kind of Yoga that I personally have no intention of ever attempting. It was very insightful, honest and raw. I would recommend this to anybody whether they practice yoga or not. My only critique is the performance and the pronunciation or should I say often miss pronunciation of the Sanskrit terms, but that's just the perfectionist in me. Otherwise, fantastic book!
This book is entertaining, informative, and well researched. Everyone with an interest in yoga should read (listen to) this book & those who don't will still enjoy it for the excellent memoir it is. I look forward to more from this author. The audiobook is read by the author which makes the story even better.
Great narration by the author! This was a good history of Bikram yoga in the US. Benjamin does a nice job describing the manic personality of Bikram.
All the stories are told with an over the top finesse of a writer who may be trying a little too hard to entertain. But it does entertain and draws you through his whole story.
The book itself is mis-titled. It really should be something more like "Bikram Yoga: Its Roots, Its Creator and the Extremists Who Practice it". There is very little discussion about competitive Yoga - it is almost a side note. Instead the vast majority of the book talks about Bikram Yoga and the man Bikram. It also talks about the extremists who practice, mostly but not exclusively Bikram Yoga. You get a good dose of the science behind Yoga as well as an interesting walk through the history, a history that I was never taught during Yoga teacher training.
Personally I am glad though that the book was improperly titled. I would not have picked it up if I had known it was so focused on Bikram. A narcissist and perhaps even a psychopath, Bikram started by creating something great with Yoga in the west only to turn into a cancer to what he created (read the book for details). It is not very pleasant to read about how he treats other people, even those dedicated to him. But by the end, I found myself having a bit of compassion for the man and where he came from even if I think that now he is doing more harm than good.
The main disappointment I had is that the book spent way too little time talking about the Yoga outside of Bikram.
Also, the author seemed to follow some of Bikram's style by exaggerating his stories beyond belief to a point where I questioned all the stories he told. What is truth and what is fiction here? For example, with current science, it is impossible to put an eyeball back into the eye socket so that it still works if the optic nerve is severed but he says it happened in one story.
Finally, the author obviously had a deep understanding of Yoga and the more advanced concepts of the self, meditation and the benefits of Yoga. However het got too caught up in trying to show his knowledge and big vocabulary off and left this reader, who has a little training in these subjects, scratching his head and wanting more explanation. I think he drank a little too much of the Bikram kool aid and is trying to show off without helping actually educate others. That or he really doesn't understand it properly and is trying to hide that fact by using big words and phrasing it in that unapproachable "Yogi on the mountain" way.
Regardless of its flaws, the book was somewhat entertaining and gave me some things to think about - a perspective from a Yogi whose approach to Yoga is very different from mine but just as valid and valuable to him.
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