Monday, February 18, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Hell-Bent

Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive YogaHell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga by Benjamin Lorr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As someone who has only relatively recently begun practicing bikram yoga as a form of "intentional stretching" for other sports, this book was really eye-opening. I practice at a studio called Yoga to the People, which about 6 months to a year ago was engaged in a lawsuit brought against them--and other studios--by Bikram. I didn't know much about the matter at the time, nor do I really know what the resolution is now, other than that the studios are still running and now offer many 60-minute abbreviated "hot yoga" classes.

That being said, I always yearned to know more about where this style of yoga came from and what the purpose of it was, when compared with other styles of yoga. Hell-Bent answered those questions, and more. My biggest issue with the book is its title and prologue: I sincerely thought that Lorr was going to spend the majority of the book discussing his experiences with competitive yoga. Instead, the book takes its time discussing individual cases of "what yoga did for Persons X, Y, and Z," as well as offering some historical context to yoga itself, and some scientific tangents about what happens to the body when exercising under extreme temperatures (which, I will admit, was one of my absolutely favorite parts of the book--I wish he had included more detail!). Learning so much about Bikram the man was also surprising, but I was impressed with the way that Lorr was able to refrain from offering his own judgement and instead offered his journalistic observations as well as empathetic accounts of people who represented both extremes: those who loved Bikram unconditionally and unreservedly, and those who despised him but revered him just the same.

I would recommend this book to anyone practicing or considering practicing any form of "hot" or Bikram yoga. Not so much in order to change your mind about the practice, but just as an educational tool. What makes it so remarkable is that the book doesn't try to change anyone's mind, nor does it offer its education as a play-by-play history or a pragmatic how-to manual; Lorr offers also memoir (his own) and a biography (Bikram's), all of which make it a loosely woven but informative narrative, which any interested Bikram yoga practitioner should peruse.

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