Bookish: Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr


If you know me at all, you’ll know that I am heavily influenced by what I see and read. The consummate Dabbler, I flit from interest to interest, becoming hugely immersed. Sometimes these interests stick (yoga, nutrition) and sometimes they don’t (flamenco dancing, pottery throwing). Anyway, I just finished Hell-Bent, now guess what I wanna do.

Bikram yoga!

But first, the book. It’s a thoughtful account of the transformation of the author, from chubby and inactive to a yoga competitor. Lorr is funny, intelligent, and the writing is down-to-earth, neither a shiny cheerleader for Bikram yoga, nor a tiresome skeptic. He balances out his enthusiasm for the transformative practice with bouts of disenchantment for the yoga, his fellow yogis, and Bikram himself.

Lorr doesn’t get too caught up in the controversial issues of his topic: yes, Bikram’s kind of an asshole. Yes, he patented a series of the yoga that’s supposed to belong to no one and everyone. Yes, hot yoga can be hazardous to your health. Yes, asana competitions may not be “yogic,” but that’s for you to decide. The issues he addresses aren’t satisfactorily open and shut, but his opinions on the matters are smart and well thought out, and add fuel to the collective debate.

He also brings up differences in styles: the concept of pain and physical limitations in your practice is a big one, especially in the Bikram community. Finding a sustainable practice that suits you. Yoga as a money-making business. All of these issues are brought up as he encounters them. He doesn’t have an agenda, he’s not preaching his new-found gospel of asana, which is refreshing in the sea of yoga memoirs out there.

What struck me was how realistic his journey is: to find something so exhilarating that you become consumed by it, as many yogis do. You see your body change, you get those juicy chemicals in your brain going, you become a part of the community. It really does sound like becoming indoctrinated into a cult. But…a good cult, right?

Either way, Lorr’s story is fascinating. The practitioners are so touched and have such faith in their practice, but it seems as the higher you climb on the Bikram ladder–student, advanced student, teacher, senior teacher, etc.–the sadder and more corrupt the practice seems. You can read all about how Bikram is an obscene ego-maniac after a quick Google search, but the real question is about self-transformation. Whatever it takes to get you to a genuine place of connection, regardless if it’s Bikram yoga, Anusara, running, or biking across the country. Every step on the path to self-discovery can be exploited and misinterpreted, leading you further from yourself. But that’s the journey, isn’t it? Discriminating between what is leading you to your higher truth and what is pulling you further away from it, in any context, yogic or otherwise.

Anyway, I highly recommend this to both yogis and civilians alike. Have I come up with an adorable scoring system yet? 4/5 carrots or radishes or yoga mats or books? Not yet, clearly.

Score: 4/5 (insert clever and topical objects here)

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