Review: Hellbent: obsession, pain, and the search for something like transcendence in competitive yoga by Benjamin Lorr


A daily practitioner of yoga – even if just for ten minutes – the cover of this book leapt out at me from the Barnes & Nobles shelf. I don’t know the name of the pose the author is holding, but I know that I want to be able to do it. Most yoga books have pictures of warrior or lotus…both of which I mastered looooooong ago. This pose, though…this pose made me want to kick my shoes off right there in the middle of the mall and figure out how to bent just right.

Hellbent: obsession, pain, and the search for something like transcendence in competitive yoga by Benjamin Lorr is a very read-able mixture of memoir and expose. Memoir because it was the author who decided to embark on Bikram yoga – first attending classes, then attending the 9-week requisite teacher training, then competing regionally and nationally – and expose because there is no way this book would be sanctioned by Bikram Choudhury (founder of the 104 degree, 26 posture yoga practice), a man known for his privacy, and scathing hatred of anyone who defies him. (Read the book, yogis…don’t kill the messenger).

Lorr spends just enough time on the scientific, medical, and technical details to keep me interested, but luckily spends most of the book recounting his experiences. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a behind-the-scenes look into one of my passions. And I should admit that this book disillusioned me to the miraculous nature of Bikram yoga. I’ll admit it: I was sucked in. I was hellbent (pardon the pun) on practicing at my favorite studio on a weekly basis and was even trying to figure out how I could practice more often, high cost of practice be damned. But reading this book brought me back to reality. Made me remember that yoga is supposed to be restorative albeit challenging and heart-pumping; that yoga is a practice, not something to feel worthless over if I had to drop out of a posture; that yoga is most effective when the practitioner cross-trains. I was getting sucked into the commercial side of yoga, and this book brought me back. (Hey Lorr? My bank account thanks you.)

So it’s a great relief to have Esak next to me, struggling. Legs trembling, occasionally coming out of a posture early to sneak a break. It’s a relief because for the first time, I don’t feel like such a clod. Because in the beginner series we’re all leveled, all equal. But it’s also a relief because I know he’s legit. Only a fraud could make it through flawlessly every time.

In searching for the cover art, I found this blog written by a Bikram teacher. I appreciate her candid response to Lorr’s book because she respects his experiences with Bikram and casually remarks how hers differ.

If you have ever practiced Bikram, want to practice Bikram, like yoga, or just want to read laugh-out-loud and cringe-inducing stories, then pick up this book and read it. Read it while in lotus and your mind and your body will thank you.

4 Thoughts

  1. Guillotine, is the name of that pose. I’ve also heard it jokingly called “self examination pose” it’s in the Bikram Advanced Series, but not difficult if you are comfortable in standing separate leg head to floor.

    I both loved and hated the book, in different moments. It helped me to change the focus of my practice more towards myself and less of “Bikram says…”

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