Bikram Choudhury is a narcissistic, lying jerk

…but I love his yoga classes.

from goodreads.com

from goodreads.com

I just finished reading “Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga,” by Benjamin Lorr. It’s one of those rare books that I could not put down and I continue to think about it long after I have read the final page.

The New York Times book review does a much better job of summarizing it than I could, but let’s just say I highly recommend it. In short, I would describe it as a book about extremism and the search for balance every human seeks.

I’ve been attending Bikram yoga classes twice a week for several months and I’ve become a huge fan. I’m noticeably stronger and more flexible as a result, and the classes have been a great compliment to my running. After a Bikram class I feel as though I just had a killer workout and I’m left feeling relaxed and a bit euphoric–much like having had a full-body, deep tissue massage. I love that each 90-minute, 105-degree class forces me to be “in the moment” and I even like the massive sweating involved.

Since I’ve been attending classes, I’ve heard many stories from people who swear their yoga practice has improved their health in some rather remarkable ways. The yoga has helped people with arthritis, thyroid problems, migraines, depression, addictions, and has eased or even cured all sorts of injuries–knee problems, lower back problems, and others.

I’ve noticed, even from just going twice a week, I’m not only enjoying new-found strength and flexibility, but I sleep better, I seem to handle stress better, and I simply feel better overall. I’m convinced there is something rather magical about it.

It’s  a big time commitment, though. Ninety-minute classes represent a big chunk of time for folks like me who work full time and have busy home lives. I doubt I could justify more than my twice-weekly classes along with the running I do three times per week. There are others, however, who practice daily or even more than that. There is also no shortage of people who are willing to pay $11,000 for grueling,  nine-week teacher training sessions where attendees power through twice daily classes, lectures, and where they must memorize the twenty-six-pose script, verbatim, in order to be certified as an official Bikram instructor. Lorr also became a certified instructor and describes the whole process with a great deal of raw insight and humor.

Throughout the course of the book, Lorr masterfully describes his quick addiction to Bikram yoga and how he quickly got caught up in the euphoria and impressive results from his daily practice, how he was influenced by several talented practitioners, and how he makes his way to not only instructor certification, but competition at the national level–meeting several other very influential people in the yoga world along the way. Lorr’s insightful and brilliant accounts of the people he meets and his experiences provide a riveting insight into the world of Bikram–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Bikram the man has been subject of many types of  unflattering portrayals over the years and there seems to be a great deal of agreement in several areas: he is clearly caught up in a world of greed, instant gratification, and self promotion even at the cost of several important relationships. Lorr also exposes these dark sides of Bikram in some rather startling and disappointing ways but at the same time, manages to provide this brutally honest account of Bikram’s yoga world in such a way where it’s possible for the reader to separate Bikram the yoga from Bikram the man.

For that, I am grateful. I’m not ready to give up my twice a week addiction just yet and I’m pretty certain I do not like Bikram the man.

____________________________

April 2013 update: This article, also written by Benjamin Lohr, discusses sexual misconduct charges against Bikram Chaudhry. No surprise there.

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