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Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga Hardcover – October 30, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 175 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In a narrative guaranteed to give goose bumps to chiropractors and their patients, Lorr announces one anatomic objective in the opening paragraph of this high-energy book, I convinced myself that I could take my spinal cord and bend it so severely that I could touch my forehead to my ass. To achieve his goal, he employs an extreme form of yoga that accounts for only 8 percent of the yoga practiced in the world, Bikram yoga. Bikram Choudhury is the leader of this intense and hot (the temperature of these studios is deliberately ratcheted up) form of yoga. Lorr describes Choudhury as a charismatic but controversial character while portraying himself practicing yoga for more than 14 hours a week and enrolling in a nine-week Bikram Yoga Teacher Training course that costs $11,000. His description of that surreal experience might make even Franz Kafka envious. Lorr’s appraisal of yoga culture and Bikram yoga, in particular, feels fair. He documents remarkable self-transformations—weight loss, enhanced energy, improved sleep. He marvels at the commitment of devotees. Back bending and bliss, stretching and sweating, bonding and betrayal have rarely seemed so complementary. Hell-Bent is sure to turn readers’ impressions of yoga upside down. --Tony Miksanek

Review

"Extraordinarily thoughtful... ["Hell-Bent"] stretches and reaches and bends in several seemingly impossible directions at the same time. It is as once a searching act of self-examination, a fascinating scientific investigation, a brave spiritual endeavor, and a fair-minded look at one of yoga's most controversial icons. All in all, reading "Hell-Bent" makes for a wonderful, inspiring, maddening, complicated, edifying journey--and one that I was very happy to take." --Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat, Pray, Love"

"Who knew that self-purification could be suspenseful? This tale of an unlikely American yogi and his maniacal, outlandish master is more than a memoir. It's a spiritual thriller." --Walter Kirn, author of "Up in the Air"

"As a long-time practitioner of Bikram yoga, "Hell-Bent" had me at hello. But one need not be familiar with the strange and fascinating culture of hot yoga to fall head-over-heels for this book. Insightful, compassionate, and laugh-out-loud funny, Lorr delves deep into the quest for and motivations behind our human obsession with god-like perfection, introducing a cast of unforgettable characters and exposing a world of faith and devotion, pain and promises, myths and miracles. I couldn't put this book down." --Aryn Kyle, author of "The God of Animals"

"Benjamin Lorr's "Hell-Bent" is a fascinating, riotous, and hilarious insight into the world of hardcore, competitive postural yoga practice." --Mark Singleton, author of "Yoga Body"

"Benjamin Lorr smartly unpacks the complex, often deeply confusing relationship between modern yogis and their all-too-human gurus. "Hell-Bent" is a compassionate, insightful exploration of the emotional and intellectual tug-of-war many of us have experienced in our yoga practice, revealing how we can fear and resent our most charismatic teachers--yet still be willing to follow them to the ends of the earth." --Suzanne Morrison, author of "Yoga Bitch"



"If, in addition to good health, yoga offers insight, then this might be the most thorough and honest book on the topic. "Hell-Bent" is a personal romp through a bizarre world, a clear-eyed exploration of the science of contorted bodies, and an unflinching expose of a guru that finally leaves you asking: How do you judge the salesman when the snakeoil might actually work?" --Stefan Fatsis, "New York Times" bestselling author of "Word Freak" and "A Few Seconds of Panic"

"This extraordinarily thoughtful book stretches and reaches and bends in several seemingly impossible directions at the same time. It is at once a searching act of self-examination, a fascinating scientific investigation, a brave spiritual endeavor, and a fair-minded look at one of yoga's most controversial icons. All in all, reading "Hell-Bent" makes for a wonderful, inspiring, maddening, complicated, edifying journey--and one that I was very happy to take." --Elizabeth Gilbert, "New York Times" bestselling author of "Eat, Pray, Love"

"Who knew that self-purification could be suspenseful? This tale of an unlikely American yogi and his maniacal, outlandish master is more than a memoir. It's a spiritual thriller." --Walter Kirn, "New York Times" bestselling author of "Up in the Air"

"A vividly researched, beautifully written insider's account of the yoga world's most inscrutable, profitable, and misunderstood subculture." --Neal Pollack, bestselling author of "Stretch"

""Hell-Bent" is a compassionate, insightful exploration of the emotional and intellectual tug-of-war many of us have experienced in our yoga practice, revealing how we can fear and resent our most charismatic teachers--yet still be willing to follow them to the ends of the earth." --Suzanne Morrison, bestselling author of "Yoga Bitch"

"A fascinating, riotous, and hilarious insight into the world of hardcore, competitive postural yoga practice." --Mark Singleton, author of "Yoga Body: Origins of Modern Posture Practice"

"On

"An addictive read." --"People" (3.5 of 4 stars)

"A fast-paced narrative about how one struggling, overweight, undisciplined New Yorker discovers a guru who takes him on an incredible journey of personal transformation... Lorr makes you grimace but also laugh and ponder the broader consequences of searching for self." --"USA Today"

""

"You'll be inspired to strip down to your intimates for hot yoga after devouring this read." --"Marie Claire"

""

"[Lorr] offers insights into the Bikram Yoga world gathered from his research and his personal experiences in a narrative that's thought provoking and entertaining." --"Yoga Journal"

"If, in addition to good health, yoga offers insight, then this might be the most thorough and honest book on the topic. "Hell-Bent" is a personal romp through a bizarre world, a clear-eyed exploration of the science of contorted bodies, and an unflinching expose of a guru that finally leaves you asking: How do you judge the salesman when the snakeoil might actually work?" --Stefan Fatsis, "New York Times" bestselling author of "Word Freak" and "A Few Seconds of Panic"

"This extraordinarily thoughtful book stretches and reaches and bends in several seemingly impossible directions at the same time. It is at once a searching act of self-examination, a fascinating scientific investigation, a brave spiritual endeavor, and a fair-minded look at one of yoga's most controversial icons. All in all, reading "Hell-Bent" makes for a wonderful, inspiring, maddening, complicated, edifying journey--and one that I was very happy to take." --Elizabeth Gilbert, "New York Times" bestselling author of "Eat, Pray, Love"

"Who knew that self-purification could be suspenseful? This tale of an unlikely American yogi and his maniacal, outlandish master is more than a memoir. It's a spiritual thriller." --Walter Kirn, "New York Times" bestselling author of "Up in the Air"

"In all honesty, "Hell-Bent" may be the best book I've read all year. Ima

""Hell-Bent "is""witty and wise. If you don't practice yoga, read it anyway - you may learn something about the impulse for self-transcendence. And if you do practice yoga, you will laugh and cry with recognition." --Stefanie, Syman, "New York Times Book Review"

"In all honesty, "Hell-Bent "may be the best book I've read all year... Imagine if you can the lovechild of a sober Hunter S. Thompson and Elizabeth Gilbert and you'll get an idea of the prose." --Kayt Sukel, "The Big Think"

"An addictive read." --"People Magazine" (3.5 out of 4 stars)

"This extraordinarily thoughtful book stretches and reaches and bends in several seemingly impossible directions at the same time. It is at once a searching act of self-examination, a fascinating scientific investigation, a brave spiritual endeavor, and a fair minded look at one of yoga's most controversial icons. All in all, reading "Hell-Bent "makes for a wonderful, inspiring, maddening, complicated, edifying journey - and one that I was very happy to take." --Elizabeth Gilbert, "New York Times" bestselling author of "Eat, Pray, Love "

"A fast paced narrative about how one struggling, overweight undisciplined New Yorker discovers a guru who takes him on an incredible journey of personal transformation... Lorr makes you grimace but also ponder the broader consequences of searching for self." --"USA Today"

"Meticulously researched, suspenseful and engrossing." --"Kirkus Review" (starred review)

"Lorr writes about his odyssey in vibrant, entertaining prose. Although he is obviously enamored by the discipline that has transformed his life, he retains a critical distance that allows him to present his larger-than-life guru in ruthless clarity." --"Publishers Weekly"

"Who knew self-purification could be suspenseful? This tale of an unlikely America yogi and this maniacal outlandish guru is more than memoir. It's a spiritual thriller." --Walter Kirn, "New York Times" Bestselling author of "Up In the Air"

"A vividly researched, beautifully written insider's account of the yoga world's most inscrutable, profitable, and misunderstood subculture." --Neal Pollack, bestselling author of "Stretch"

"One need not be familiar with the strange and fascinating world of hot yoga to fall head-over-heels for this book. Insightful, compassionate, and laugh-out-loud funny, Lorr delves deep into the for and motivations behind our human obsession with god-like perfection, introducing a cast of unforgettable characters and exposing a world of faith and devotion, pain and promises, myths and miracles. I could not put this book down." --Aryn Kyle, "New York Times" bestselling author of "The God of Animals. "

"A fascinating, riotous, and hilarious insight into the world of hardcore competitive postural yoga practice." --Mark Singleton, author of "Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice"

""Hell-Bent "is a compassionate, insightful exploration of the emotional and intellectual tug-of-war many of us have experience in our yoga practice, revealing how we can fear and resent our most charismatic teachers - yet still be willing to follow them to the ends of the earth." --Suzanne Morrison, bestselling author of "Yoga Bitch"

""

"""You'll be inspired to strip down to your intimates for hot yoga after devouring this read." --"Marie Claire"

"If, in addition to good health, yoga offers insight, then this might be the most thorough and honest book on the topic. "Hell-Bent "is a personal romp through a bizarre world, a clear-eyed exploration of the science of contorted bodies, and an unflinching expose of a guru that finally leaves you asking: How do you judge the salesman when the snakeoil might actually work?" --Stefan Fatsis, "New York Times" Bestselling author of "Word Freak" and "A Few Seconds of Panic."

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (October 30, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031267290X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312672904
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (175 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Benjamin Lorr lives in a small apartment in the West Village of Manhattan. For the six years prior to writing Hell-Bent, he taught high school science and sex education in Bushwick, Brooklyn. He currently consults with New York City public schools and is at work on his second book.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a very fair examination of Bikram yoga, the people who practice it, the people who teach it, and the man who popularized it.
Neither a hatchet job that shares every piece of dirt to be found, nor an obeisant recital of Bikram's hyperbole laden claims.
Just a smart, insightful, and grounded perspective on the yoga, the people who practice it, the people who teach it, and the man whose name it bears.
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Not being a yoga devotee, I was unsure of what this book would have to offer to the uninitiated, but a few snippets I've heard about Bikram from friends who practice intrigued me enough to pick it up. It reads like some of the best New Yorker articles - an esoteric subject that you'd normally shrug off becomes truly engrossing when Lorr takes the time to deconstruct it in many ways. The author's voice walks the line between insider & outsider in terms of respect for his subject (and actual immersion), while maintaining a skepticism that allows him to write very honestly about the good, bad, and bizarre aspects of the practice & the man Bikram. All in all, a really fascinating read.
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Format: Paperback
My teacher often reminds us that yoga is not a competitive practice, which has me wondering now if he has a history with Bikram yoga... A practice I have never and will never pursue. This book blew my mind! I think anyone who practices or is interested in yoga will enjoy this tome on the topic. The author applies several staple yogic traits to his writing: clarity, flow, honesty, humor, and insight. While sharing his lurid story into competitive yoga, you sympathize with his path because anyone motivated to "better themselves" has battled narcissism in some way. Thankfully, he found a way out of the bad and back to a grounded placed for reflection and sharing. I have always been intrigued by the power of the mind and body - may it be its tolerance for pain, ability to defy reason, and the power to head itself. He explores this all and more! I highly recommend this book! A great read to follow is Human Movement Potential: Its Ideokinetic Facilitation.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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 never quite articulated. Bikram doesn't churn out hundreds of good teachers at these trainings. He churns out people who can lead a good yoga sequence. There are good teachers out there, but they came to it by doing more than regurgitating the "dialogue." I enjoyed reading this, knowing what I do about Bikram, the yoga, and lots of yoga "die-hards" and it validates my decision to train elsewhere.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the best available evaluation of Bikram Yoga by a gifted young writer. Somehow during the "jump" down the rabbit hole, Lorr managed to retain his sense of self. The message -- dump the guru, keep the practice -- has undoubtedly liberated many yogis and studio owners to date. One of Lorr's many talents lies in stripping away the inflated rhetoric. This includes contextualizing the practice, evaluating benefits and naming sexual harassment for what it is despite Bikram Choudhury's Michael Jackson-like presentation (I'm cute, I'm a child, give me what I want NOW or I will obliterate you! "His followers BEG him for sex. What's the man to do?"). The latter is particularly creepy given that most of his trainees are women.

Bottom line: There are many things to criticize about Bikram Yoga -- the heat, the expense, the guru, the seeming unstructured flow of knowledge, the extremism -- but there are no unhealthy people in the room. (OK, perhaps 1 1/2 exercise anorexics in the studio where I practice). Working in the mirror takes cojones. Turning inward is difficult, unpredictable and immensely rewarding.

This is more than an entertaining take on extreme yoga from a young author, however. "That's my mother-in-law!" exclaimed a non-yogi friend upon reading the really excellent section on narcissism.

"No! No! It's my ex-husband ..."
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My fiancé bought this book for me (he loves yoga) and I blew through it in about a week -- loved it. It manages to cram a lot of substance and research into a very candid, page-turning narrative that I couldn't put down. The thing I think prospective readers should know right off the bat is that this is really not a yoga book... Yoga happens to be the activity the writer explores, but honestly if he'd become obsessed with amateur hockey or pole vaulting I would have been just as fascinated. Also, while getting the dirt on Bikram (the man) ad Bikram (the business) is interesting -- and at times cringe-inducing -- the best parts of the book in my opinion are where the author explores more provocative questions about psychology and physiology. For example, there is a whole chapter in which Lorr explores his nagging suspicion that at least part of the massive physical/emotional change he experiences from practicing yoga is the result of the strength of his belief, i.e. the placebo effect. And he spends several pages exploring the possibility (which seems to be exceedingly likely, after reading this book) that Bikram has narcissistic personality disorder. But in between these detours you'll find the author's gripping personal journey, told in a candid, funny and self-deprecating voice that I really appreciated (it would be so easy for this book to become preachy, angry, fluffy or trite, but somehow Lorr manages to avoid those pitfalls).

Overall I highly recommend this book. Just one disclaimer -- shortly after reading this book you may find yourself twisted up like a pretzel, dizzy and nauseous in a 105 degree room wondering why in god's name would anyone do this to themselves. And then the next day you might go back. It's true... that's what happened to me.
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