What It’s Like Being an Indian-American Yoga Teacher

From being called “exotic” to hearing fellow teachers mock Sanskrit, a yoga teacher explores the hurtful things she’s experienced in the studio.

Vallabhan

Marguerite Seger

My parents were born and raised in India, but they didn’t practice yoga, so my exposure to it wasn’t through them. They immigrated to the States with my brothers in 1965 and my sister and I were born in Lubbock, Texas. Growing up in Lubbock, we had a decent-size Indian community, but it wasn’t like growing up in a bigger city where you might have more interaction with your culture and language. I was a dancer, and I was introduced to yoga in college when one of my dance instructors recommended that I try it. I found a fantastic yoga teacher and was hooked.

After college I moved to New York City and immediately started looking for places to practice yoga. I went to several studios, and I kept getting pulled back to one that incorporated chanting and philosophy. I found those elements made the practice a significantly deeper experience. Within six years, I trained as a teacher.

Early on in my teaching career, a fellow teacher referred to me as “exotic” and told me it could be a boon to my career. At the time, I didn’t know what to do with her comment, although I knew I didn’t like it. Exotic means of a distant or foreign country, so apparently I have the look of a faraway place. Ironically, that place is India, which is where my parents and yoga are from! But… I’m American. She was separating the fact that I’m an American from the dominant (white) yoga culture in America. Thus, making me an “exotic” yoga teacher.