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.
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.
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.
Yes. I am actually a Bikram Certified instructor and attended Teacher Training in 2007 so I have literally been there. Lorr nails this on every level--he paints a very accurate picture that is well-researched and examines the yoga from every angle.
Lorr's experiences at Jedi Fight Club are about as insider as you can get. I know Esak Garcia, he's stayed at my house and I actually wonder if he hosted a Jeti Fight Club at my home studio that I didn't even know about!
I think it's a big mistake for an author to narrate their own book. The lack of polish and professionalism detracts from the listening experience. I would actually like to read this because I think I might have missed whole sections when my mind grew tired of Lorr's sub-par narration. Great book, great job by Lorr, but he's not a voice over professional.
Having been a part of the Bikram world, I can vouch for Lorr that he left no stone unturned here. In lieu of Bikram's recent sexual harassment law suits, this book becomes even more important.
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