by Kara-Leah Grant
The moment I was a chapter into Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain and the Search for Something like Transcendence in Bikram Yoga I knew I had to track down the author Benjamin Lorr and interview him for YLB.
So I did.
And he didn’t disappoint.
Benjamin was an overweight school teacher who’d graduated with a double degree in environmental biology in creative writing when he walked into his first Bikram Yoga class in 2008.
Within three months he’d lost 45 pounds, met a yoga champion, Sarah Baughn and been dismayed with his favourite Bikram instructor had a stroke. The combination of these factors – yoga’s power to transform, yoga’s inability to prevent all illness and disease and the idea of a yoga world champion – convinced him there was a story in the world of Bikram.
He promptly got himself an agent, whipped up a book proposal and landed a book deal – as one does. Armed with that contract and an advance, Benjamin was able to dive head-first into the world of Bikram Yoga all in the name of research.
He practiced 14 hours a week or more. He joined an Extreme Backbending Club. He competed in the National Championships. And he went to Teacher Training in 2010 and witnessed Bikram Choudhury first hand.
The resulting book is a deep, satisfying and surprisingly literary expose of the world of Bikram – handled with decorum and compassion.
You don’t have to be a Bikram Yogi to love the book – you don’t even have to be into yoga. It’s a damn good read, regardless.
Over some 280 pages – more if you include the substantial footnotes – Lorr writes about the miraculous healing powers of Bikram Yoga and the fear-based nature of the community as it was then (between 2008 and 2011).
He details Bikram’s quirks and eccentricities and attempts to verify the details of Bikram’s personal history. He fails to find any record of many of Bikram’s claims, and fails to secure an interview with the man himself.
However the book doesn’t suffer for it. Lorr speaks to many of the inner circle, and witnesses directly Bikram’s antics during the 9 week teacher training process.
Lorr’s book came out at the end of 2012. Over the course of the next year (2013), five women filed civil suits against Bikram for a range of reasons from rape to sexual assault. Those cases are still before the courts, and Bikram has not been found guilty of anything at this point in time.
We talk about why Lorr wasn’t able to talk about those cases in the book, and what he was able to do. Plus lots of other goodness. (We lost connectivity a couple of times, so I’ve had to do a rough edit and the clip ends abruptly. Apologies for that!)
An interview with Benjamin Lorr, author of Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain and the Search for Something like Transcendence in Bikram Yoga
Find out more about Hell-Bent and Benjamin Lorr here. And admire Benjamin’s yoga… here!