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Book review: <i>Hell Bent</i> by Benjamin Lorr

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the cover of the book

A book about Bikram: the yoga, the man, and the community.

The story

Benjamin Lorr, in his late twenties after an injury, had put on weight. Was tired all the time. He fronted up to a Bikram studio looking for something to set him on the path to good health. Low and behold, he became an addict.

Bikram fascinated Lorr, both the man and the practice, so Lorr decided to write a book documenting his journey through Bikram, which culminated in his participation in a yoga competition. It mightn't sound like your cup of tea, but whatever your cup of tea is, it's a pretty compelling read.

The style

Lorr was upfront with everyone with regards to his writing; every person featured gave their permission. This works well in two ways: firstly, you know Lorr isn't some creepy investigative journo pretending to immerse himself while being jaded in his writing, the story is very honest. It also means the people who offered him stories and opinions, or behaved in a certain way in front of him, did so knowing they may well appear in published works. This adds a particular dimension to his work, and an authenticity about himself as well as the people featured.

The writing is compelling. Lorr is one of those incredibly enthusiastic people, you know, who just want to investigate LIFE and then tell you EVERYTHING ABOUT IT. Those people are fun, (in small doses, usually!) and therefore fun to read. Lorr is honest about his preconceived notions, the development of his understanding about yoga, Bikram, and himself. He admits when he loves something, is wrong about something, and he seems determined not to take anything at face value. It's his journey, it's very personal, and the fact that he's willing to share it is fantastic.

His enthusiasm makes you enthusiastic, and also intrigued about his story. He really does his research too, consulting pain specialists, heat specialists, a whole realm of people, and also he's honest about his obsession with Bikram. He runs headfirst into a long and gruelling journey of self discovery, and while the telling process is somewhat fragmented, it is a great insight into the Bikram inner circle, and also the Bikram community in general. I have recently started doing Bikram, so it was interesting from that point of view, but it would have been equally interesting I think as both a personal journey and an insight into a very popular and controversial yoga form.

Who is this book for?

This book was loaned to my by my friend, and we both read it within the first month of Bikram practice. Similarly, it is for the curious, or just someone who likes a good, honest story from somebody trying to find their truth. That sounds stupid, but this story isn't drippy or annoying, it's hard hitting and well written.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Look, I couldn't read Eat Pray Love. The author of said book praised this one, and people have compared them, but I can't. I don't read much non fiction, but for some reason my mind kept casting back to Hunter S Thompson's Hells Angels, probably because of the honest writing and the author's journey between admiration and horror for the group being investigated. While I would absolutely recommend Hunter S, I am certainly not saying the actual content is similar, or even that liking Hell Bent recommends Hells Angels. Maybe I'm super shallow and it's just the name that's reminding me.

In short

Title: Hell Bent
Author: Benjamin Lorr
Publisher: St Martin's Griffin (reprint ed)
ISBN: 978-1250042781
Year published: 2014
Pages: 320
Genre(s): Non-fiction
Review Type: