To: K <>

From: Sury Dongre <>

Subject: Lululemon lied. Yoga sucks.

Dear K,

Yoga is kicking my ass. My body was not meant to contort into half moons and standing splits; it was meant to sit with a C-shaped spine and pore over my computer screen. But I did pay $60 for eight weeks of chair poses. As such, I go to every class. And I hate it. 

The fuel for the flames of my rage is my teacher. He ends every class with no sweat, hands at heart center, saying “Om” for the whole class. It’s not just his physical aptitude — something about it feels extra insulting when it’s a white man beating you at your own game. Yoga is something my ancestors invented thousands of years ago. He’s just getting a doctorate in Tibetan studies.

Every time my teacher strikes a perfect half plank into an upward dog combo, I struggle, my knees hitting the mat. Every time a bead of sweat stains the mat and my muscles scream from the lengthening, I feel like I’ve lost. Like the supposed culture that flows through my veins has been siphoned, as if I’ve been abandoned. I don’t know why I expect some secret genetic code to unlock and suddenly BAM! I can do a full lotus. But when I can’t even do the Asian squat, one’s mind tends to grab onto whatever it can. 

Feeling unmoored is part of the immigrant experience. This, I know. This I have been taught in every literature class since 10th grade. But it’s not because the kids at school called my lunch stinky or because I don’t like going to pujas. It’s because yoga is something that I know defines my culture, a checkbox on the long list that is required to belong somewhere. It’s because if I can’t do this, then maybe I’m not worthy. Not worthy enough to be Indian, not worthy to carry the millennia of culture. Not worthy to be some fucked up brand representative for my “homeland” and definitely less worthy than the smug white man staring at me as his legs float into a handstand. 

The most annoying part about my teacher? The fact that he’s right. Every word that comes out of his mouth that isn’t “Breathe” or some variation of, “Bring all four of your limbs off the mat and start levitating” is some pearl of wisdom plucked out of the goddamn Vedas. Always, “Yoga is about embracing your suffering” and “calming your mind.” I wish I could be so removed, so able and lithe that my thoughts aren’t “OW” or “I hope you trip and fall.” Let’s add another emotion to the list: jealousy. Ah yes — anger, frustration, abandonment, jealousy — I love feeling the full spectrum of human emotion in chair pose. 

To be confronted with my own ineptitude is truly a startling experience. To have that compounded by feeling as though I don’t belong to my culture is worse. It evokes a feeling of rage, a rage that feels like stretching and holding and contorting. A rage that is hot and all-consuming and damn near painful. To revel in my rage feels good. And maybe that’s what he wanted. For me to embrace the ache in my muscles, the strain in my tendons, the anger that flows through me. Because pain, both physical and emotional, is temporary. So enjoy it while it lasts. Embrace it. Pain makes us human. Wonder what Tibetan studies class he learned that one in. 

But my favorite part of yoga class is the end, dropping out of the last pose. Everything dissipates, and I exhale all the anger and frustration into the setting sun. I love it when we all sit up, exhausted and sweaty, and our teacher leads us in three counts of “Om.” It sounds silly, and maybe it’s just the acoustics of the gym, but it sounds light and airy and golden. And for those three counts, immersed in the vibrations of everybody else and the amber light of the setting sun, I feel it. Just a little. I belong. 

Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month,


A version of this article appeared on p.12 of the May 25, 2023 edition of the Daily Nexus.