My Problems with Hell-Bent

I read Hell Bent as soon as it came out. However, I struggled for a long time if I should review it here or not. Why? I don’t have positive things to say about it, and I think I am probably in the minority. Most people seem to truly love it. But after much thought I decided to go ahead and write up my thoughts on it. I think my thoughts on this book are an important critique of it and not just negative ramblings.

I don’t want to spoil the book for you if you haven’t read it. I’ll try to write this up in a way that doesn’t spoil it.

Here are my two issues with the book:

1. My first beef is the least serious. It’s this: The book lacks a clear focus. Is it a book about competition? Sort of. Is it a book about the author’s journey into developing a Bikram practice and the community at large? Sort of. Is it about key players in the Bikram community? Sort of. You get my point. It’s sort of about a lot of stuff and never about anything specific. As a result, Lorr dips his toes into lots of pots on a primarily superficial level. I learned some new things from the book,  but not that much. I was able to follow the book. It’s just not clear to me what the overall purpose of the book was.

2. My second issue is the most serious. In reading this book, I had to wonder if a purpose was to make Bikram, the man, look as bad as possible. I’m not saying Bikram is a golden child who doesn’t do jerky things. What I am saying is that Lorr appeared to go out of his way to uncover everyone’s bad experiences with Bikram as well as lay out any negative rumors/conjecture with minimum evidence to back up his claims. He collected many negative stories about Bikram in depth. A bad form and misuse of triangulation in research. It made me question his motives.

Wait a minute. Who said this was research?

Well, the description of his book on amazon says that this text was a, “…culmination of two years of research.” So I think it’s fair to critique the quality of the research.

But really, is the point of the book to share negative stories about Bikram? I don’t know. The book lacks a clear focus. This is just one example of that at play.

I’m not saying that the stories Lorr collected about people’s negative experiences with Bikram are false or inaccurate. I accept that each person is telling his/her truth. I’m not questioning their authenticity. But what I know as a researcher is that if you get a bunch of evidence that paints a key player in your project in a negative light you better go and talk to that player – or at least try to.  Lorr never interviews Bikram or has any significant conversation with him. As far as I know, he didn’t even attempt to talk to him. I could forgive the absence of Bikram’s voice had Lorr said he reached out to Bikram and was refused, but he didn’t say that. And you should know, there are at least two serious allegations against Bikram in the book that shouldn’t be there without additional evidence beyond an interview with the person making the claim. Are these more serious stories true? I don’t know. I cannot trust that I am getting all the information I need to make a decision because one interview does not provide all the information. What I do believe is that you don’t go making serious claims about people in print without real, verified evidence. And Lorr does not provide it. All he does is fuel the rumor mill.

As a researcher, Lorr committed a very serious sin in my eyes. He wrote a book based on a man but did not provide that man a full voice. Instead, the voice that he gave Bikram was what he found in the community. And by not speaking to Bikram, not allowing Bikram to have his own voice in the text, he effectively silenced and marginalized him. It doesn’t matter how rich Bikram is or what you think of him or if you think he would have told the truth had he been included. None of that is the point. If you’re going to write a book that critiques a person, that person has a right to have their voice included or at least opt out.

Are there things to enjoy about this book? Sure. There are fun and interesting stories, and it was cool to learn that, “L like Linda” is a real person, and I enjoyed reading about Tony Sanchez. But I can’t get over the way the research for this book was conducted. It’s a major flaw of the book which results in an overall lack of credibility on the author’s part.



Adventures in San Diego: Bikram Yoga!

Adventures in San Diego

Part II: Bikram Yoga San Diego

While the main point of going to San Diego was to attend a professional conference (technically), the other primary objective was to squeeze in as much time at Bikram Yoga San Diego as possible. And let me tell you, at the end of the day I am a HUGE fan of Bikram Yoga San Diego. I’ll say more as we progress.

Let's go do some yoga!

Let’s go do some yoga!

First, making the time (and coughing up the money for a cab) was worth it. I managed to get someone to come to class with me on three out of four trips so my cab fare was not as bad as I had anticipated. Keeping up with my practice while on the road was worth the effort, but it was hard. Really, really hard. I had jet lag. Also, this studio is intense.

Let’s start with intense. The studio itself is larger than what I am used to, but that made it fun. Just making a guess, I would say it can hold about 80 people. My first class had around 40 people in it and there was still plenty of wiggle room. I didn’t feel crammed in at all (my studio holds 49 says the fire marshall). I walked in and got nailed with a giant wave of heat, stink, and sweat. I think it’s ok to tell you that because it’s owned by the fabulous Jim Kallett.

I did not get to take a class or even meet Jim while in San Diego. My schedule gave me room for one class a day at one specific time each day. It was what it was. But I can tell you I’ve had a couple of conversations with Jim over email, and he is a fabulous and wonderful person. If you are in town, don’t miss his studio. They’ve got an excellent deal for travelers. Trust me. I abused the heck out of that deal.

Anyways, I think it’s ok to tell you Jim’s studio is incredibly hot and stinky because when I returned to Raleigh and told the instructors this they busted out laughing and said that Jim makes no apologies for his studio being very hot and smelly because that’s how it’s supposed to be. Jim was also one of their favorite teachers from teacher training. I’m bummed I didn’t get to meet this guy!

There are no fans in Jim’s studio except for a giant industrial one in the corner that I assume is used to air out the room between classes. Instructors will not open the door and let a breeze in. You are in this hot box, with no circulating air, for 90 minutes. Get used to it. That’s all that can be done. Honestly, I stopped noticing the smell on day three and was getting used to the heat on day four. If I could have gone every day for a week I would have adjusted.

I was expecting the heat to be a bit stifling before I arrived. I had read Hell-Bent recently. In the book, there is a section that talks about a man named Chad Clark. Chad’s an expert in designing hot yoga rooms. It’s his thing.  He’s a heat expert, and he designed Jim’s heating system. In the book, Chad is quoted as saying, “Heat makes things hard. Point-blank. Studio owners want to use the heat to push people…Jim Kallett wants his regulars on their knees. That’s a direct quote…It’s a special kind of madness.”

Indeed it is.

Indeed I was on my knees, and I was never alone. So excellent work Chad!

Anyways, I knew I was in for something different when I arrived, and I was not disappointed. Add to that the fact that I had no choice but to take the 6:30 am class on days two and three and the madness becomes extra special. I had jet lag. Although I attempted to go to bed at 9:00 each evening, I often couldn’t fall asleep until 10 or 11, and the I started waking up at 3:00 am and was wide awake by 4:00. Doing yoga in this madness with almost no sleep (and what I had was poor quality) made for a different kind of class than what I was used to.

But you know what? I would do it all over again. The whole thing was a struggle of a different kind for me. Suddenly it became about being in the room, being in the moment, and doing what I could. I was forced to pay attention to my breathing and my body in ways that I don’t think I have in a long time. My postures did not look like what I was used to. My stamina? Forget that. I had no stamina in that room. Gone. I was forced to let go of how my postures should look and how class should be. I had to accept what it was. Well, I guess I could have fought reality but that didn’t seem like a great choice.

The instructors throughout all this were marvelous. I expected them to be wonderful, and they did not disappoint. I had three different ones (had one person twice), and I loved that I got to experience new people. The best way to describe the instructors at this studio is strong and compassionate. They all showed extreme compassion to everyone – not just the jet-lagged, sleep deprived woman wondering why it’s been two hours and we’re only on eagle (yes, those were the kinds of classes I had!). I believe if I was a member of this studio I could learn a lot from the instructors about compassion.

Of course my visit would not have been complete without adding to my collection of yoga clothes! We all know I have a slight problem with buying yoga clothes. But this wasn’t my fault! Honestly! BYSD sells clothes they don’t sell at my studio in Raleigh. What was I supposed to do? Not buy them? That would be silly.

These aren't meant to be worn together, but you can see how cute they are individually.

These aren’t meant to be worn together, but you can see how cute they are individually.

I already wore the top, and today I get to wear the bottoms! These are from La La Land in case you’re curious.

Can you believe that after this post and the one before it I’m still not done telling you about my yoga experiences in San Diego? Next time I’ll tell you the crazy weird yoga thing that happened to me while I was there plus more guerrilla yoga!