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Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga [Hardcover]

Benjamin Lorr
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 30 2012

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.

Frequently Bought Together

Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga + Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes + Yoga Anatomy-2nd Edition
Price For All Three: CDN$ 54.23

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Product Description


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.

About the Author

BENJAMIN LORR graduated from Columbia University with a degree in environmental biology and creative writing. He lives in New York City and is currently at work on his second book.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excelent book for anyone who loves yoga! March 2 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am really enjoying reading this book ( not done yet..). It is enlightening and forced me to put aside my own prejudices and open my mind on the definition of yoga. It is vastly different form person to person and what may at first seem like the anti-thesis of yoga
(yoga competitions!) can actually be understood as one's personal journey into the strength, power, focus and flexibility that yoga teaches its practitioners. To take a direct quote form the book: to try to define yoga is to limit it". I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys yoga and life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars very balanced May 2 2013
By Gita
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was an excellent book, well written, well researched, humorous, and an easy read. The author definitely writes for the reader. I not only learned more about the world of "Bikram" but also about the brain, addiction,and passion. I highly recommend it!
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Anyone who has ever practiced Bikram yoga will find this book shocking and absolutely fascinating. Lorr also reminisces about his days as an extreme backbender in glorious, gory detail (who knew backbending clubs were even a thing?). Couldn't put it down.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  159 reviews
40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fair look at the science and emotion, the good and the bad of Bikram Yoga Nov. 3 2012
By BBB - Published on Amazon.com
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.
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing Read Nov. 14 2012
By Ashley Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Candid and Engrossing Feb. 19 2014
By Todd K - Published on Amazon.com
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.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent jump down the rabbit hole ... Nov. 28 2012
By ChristineG - Published on Amazon.com
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 ..."
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars confirms and validates what I knew or suspected about Bikram and the yoga Jan. 15 2013
By M. K. Leiva - Published on Amazon.com
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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