Hell-Bent is Benjamin Lorr’s first book about his experiences with Bikram yoga (aka Hot 26) and competitive yoga. He also discusses the many people he meets along the way, and how they have shaped his view on yoga as a practice, and the community at-large.
This was the first nonfiction book I’ve read in literal years, and I couldn’t put it down! Okay, I did put it down quite often, but I always came back to the book eager to learn more about Lorr’s experiences with yoga, particularly at the height of Bikram’s popularity.
What Lorr describes is transcendent, inspiring, cringe-y, and sometimes just plain sad. There is no denying that yoga is a powerful form of movement that has helped transform many people’s lives. However, the lengths some of the people described go to in order to prove just how yogic they are, is downright terrifying; and the amount of disgusting behavior people tolerate and ignore just to fit in is breath-taking! Everything is done in an effort to be balanced--transcendent and grounded. However, the amount of undue pressure placed on everyone is cult-like to say the least. Yoga is supposed to yoke one’s light and dark self, but for most of the people involved, it seems to be about vanity and elitism.
I really liked how Lorr maintained a critical eye while also fully participating in the practice of yoga. For instance, while it is very clear yoga changed Lorr’s life and perspective, he was still able to note the contradictions and unsavoriness of certain people and situations without trying to sweep them under the rug, and make excuses. This was refreshing because it seemed like in an atmosphere of constant good vibes, people seemed very willing to ignore ugliness in order maintain the veneer of good feelings and togetherness.
Benjamin Lorr’s writing is very easy to digest, and flows very well. I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy the book until I started reading because usually once I put a piece of nonfiction down, it’s never read again. However, this book made me go, “Yes, I want more, more I say!”