What is common between Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone, and Jacqueline Fernandez? A kickass trainer who is no less than a celebrity herself — Yasmin Karachiwala, the reason behind India’s Pilates obsession. Yasmin has created a culture of holistic fitness among Bollywood stars in the past couple of decades. However, India’s fitness scene was starkly different when she started almost three decades ago. At the time, fitness wasn’t an industry and Yasmin hated working out. She ventured into fitness at a time when working out only meant losing weight. She enrolled in a fitness class due to peer pressure and taught her first fitness class by chance. Her aerobic instructor had fallen sick and, knowing that Yasmin knew the routine well, asked her to take over for a couple of days. She recollects in her book Sculpt and Shape: The Pilates Way how just one class converted her. Shortly after that in 1992, she got her first aerobic certification from the US.
It took Yasmin another 12 years to discover the benefits of weight training. But once she started strength training, she was blown away and decided to learn more about how movement can support overall wellbeing. In 2007 came Yasmin’s biggest breakthrough. She became a BASI (Body Arts and Science International) certified Pilates instructor, the first one in India. Yasmin was among the first few to popularise Pilates in India.
From a time when no one knew about Pilates to converting it into a full-fledged fitness movement, Yasmin has come a long way. Today, she runs her own studio, has franchises in Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Indore, Gurgaon, Dubai, Dhaka, and Bangladesh and is popularly known as the “trainer of the stars.” She is still eager to learn constantly, one of the qualities that have kept her at the top of the game.
A self-confessed perfectionist, Yasmin keeps a close check on all the franchises. She has CCTV cameras installed in every outlet. Whenever an instructor makes even the slightest of errors, she immediately calls and corrects them. It is this attention to detail that keeps her illustrious clientele attached to her. Plus, Yasmin does not believe in diets, instead, she designs lifestyle plans that are sustainable and practices what she preaches. Yasmin believes that it is integral to her process that while she is training her clients, she looks the part. She is a visionary and there are high chances that she is currently chasing the next big thing.
As someone who sets the trends for India’s fitness industry, Yasmin had to be a part of our #WomenWhoWin series. In a candid conversation with POPxo, she took us through her inspiring story, her biggest accomplishments, and the lessons that she learned along the way. Excerpts below.
I begin my day by snoozing my alarm at least three times before I am finally awake and moving. Then my typical work day starts. I head to the gym, train clients, work out in between, manage the office, eat lunch, shoot some workout videos for social media content and attend online clients in the afternoon. Then I go for my daily evening walk, play with my dog, eat dinner and go to bed.
Anywhere between 1.5 to 2.5 hours a day. But one hour out of that is always just walking and catching up with friends. I like walking with my husband and catching up on the day.
My hair tie, my earphones, and a bottle of water.
In the past three decades, I have seen the fitness industry evolve from people only working out to lose weight to people actually understanding the importance of fitness. I think what has helped me stay on top of my game is my constant need to stay updated, to improve my skills, to better understand human anatomy, and how to take care of my clients and people with injuries. Of course, the credit also goes to Pilates. It has changed my life, the way I look at fitness, the way I look at bodies. Through Pilates, I have learned to nurture the body rather than just work out aimlessly.
The fitness industry has changed by leaps and bounds compared to when I started 30 years ago. As I said, people were unaware of the benefits of exercise. I think everyone just wanted to be like Jane Fonda. It was all about losing weight for women or there were men who were intensely focussed on going to the gym and pumping heavyweights. Women were doing no weight training whatsoever. Thus, when I first started weight training, a lot of people questioned me. “Why are you doing this? Won’t you start looking like a man,” they asked. Over time, they have understood the importance of weight training and have adopted a holistic approach to fitness.
It is a really long journey. I have shared it all in my book Sculpt and Shape: The Pilates Way. I will tell you the short version. It was a friend of mine who actually urged me to join the gym when I had no intention to. I didn’t ever think of formally exercising but because of peer pressure, I caved in and realised that I sucked at whatever I did. So I walked into an aerobic class instead and saw people were dancing and thought “okay this might be my thing. I am a great dancer.” It did not go as planned and I was super embarrassed by the end of the class because I could not get myself to coordinate my movements. I was doing just the opposite of what the instructor was doing but that made me very determined to keep going and to keep trying and to get the steps right. Anyway, I had already paid for the membership so I had no choice but to go.
Thus, I kept going and learning the steps and one day I realised that I knew the steps as well as my instructor. One day when she was unwell, she asked me to take her class and that’s when I realised that I really enjoyed doing whatever she was doing. Following that, I went to the US for a fitness programme and decided to do a fitness course. Well, I haven’t looked back since then.
I think the biggest turning point for me was the difficulties that I faced because they made me more determined to do what I was doing. When I get stuck in a situation I like to use it to make myself stronger. I remember back when I had started my aerobic classes, I had a fallout with my partner and had to look for a new place. It was really difficult to find a place to do aerobics back then because the rent was really expensive. I literally worked for 7 years without making any money. I kept working and updating my knowledge. Then I purchased a studio in a residential society and they took me to court for that. They had not specified it when I purchased the studio. I was in court for 2 years fighting tooth and nail to keep my business alive but eventually, I found a really nice place and since then it has been pretty great.
My biggest accomplishment so far is reaching people in other countries and cities besides Mumbai through Pilates and helping them improve their lives through our franchises. We are currently in Ahmedabad, Indore, Delhi, Gurgaon, Bangladesh, Dhaka, and Dubai and we are planning many more. Pilates is such a wonderful exercise that I want more and more people to benefit from.
My personal mantra is– be fit because you deserve it.
I would like to say that keep your knowledge updated. So if you have done a course or if you have done a course, don’t think that’s the end and now you know everything. After 30 years I still feel that there is so much out there that I don’t know. And I think that is one thing that you constantly have to strive for– to learn more, to better your skills, to better yourselves, and to constantly work at gaining more knowledge. If you are weak at anatomy, keep going back and doing anatomy courses. Keep trying to reinvent your exercises. Talk to your clients, get feedback, ask what they like, what they don’t like. And if they don’t like something, look at it as a scope to improve yourself. Also, be true to yourself. Be honest with your clients. Be transparent with your staff. I think all of these things play a big role in your success.
My best way to unwind is by watching tv shows on Netflix. That’s my time after dinner but of late, I have another amazing way to unwind by playing with my puppy. We just got a new puppy and every day, I look forward to going home to him.
Featured Image Courtesy: Yasmin Karachiwala