If you're a South Asian woman, a fitness enthusiast or a fan of Bollywood films, you have probably already heard of Yasmin Karachiwala, the trainer responsible for the toned, sculpted bodies of many Indian actresses, including Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. And if, while scrolling through your Instagram feed, you happened upon her recent video showing a Pilates sequence in the UAE, you'll be pleased to learn that her fitness techniques have found a home in Dubai at The Pad – a newly opened Pilates and dance studio in The Greens.
Karachiwala travelled to the United States to obtain a certificate in Pilates more than a decade ago, and when she returned to India, she discovered that the discipline wasn’t really well known or understood as a form of fitness. Soon, a handful of clients at her personal training studio saw the effects of her training, and the word spread – leading to her first celebrity client, Kareena Kapoor.
As more of Bollywood’s famous faces began working with Karachiwala and started taking to social media to give their followers glimpses of their behind-the-scenes fitness sessions, the trainer’s popularity skyrocketed. “Social media has made a big difference as people from all over can see what we do. It is also a big reason why Pilates in India has gained a lot of popularity,” she tells us.
While Karachiwala’s journey to discovering Pilates stemmed from seeking a practice that would strengthen the abdominals, she discovered that its effects are far more wide-reaching. “I recommend Pilates to everyone as it helps with correct body alignment and to improve posture,” she says. “It helps stretching and strengthening the muscle at the same time. But more importantly, it helps in movement through life. When you do Pilates, it isn’t just a one-hour workout, you learn principles that you apply when you sit at your work desk, or while you stand and cook, or do whatever it is you are doing. It literally changes how you move through life. It is a great workout to do at all ages and helps you prevent and recover from injuries.”
She says that over the past few years, there has been a shift in thinking when it comes to women’s fitness, and that the gym is no longer a place to go just to lose weight. “I think generally there is more awareness about being strong rather than skinny. Gone are the days when being thin was enough for the screen, now everyone wants to be known as a fitness icon.”
As part of her training routines for the stars, Karachiwala endorses and teaches weight training – a practice that’s stereotypically reserved for men, but equally beneficial for women, she explains. “Weight training is important, especially for women, as we tend to lose muscle post-menopause and are more prone to osteoporosis. Strength training helps to increase bone density. Women cannot become bulky like men as we do not have such high levels of testosterone, so that fear is unfounded. It’s essential that women weight train,” she says.
Viewers see the end results first-hand on their screens, when actresses such as Deepika Padukone and Katrina Kaif flaunt their toned bodies in glamorous outfits during the many song-and-dance sequences in Bollywood films. But Karachiwala says that while these women may make it all look easy, a lot of effort goes into preparing their bodies for their roles. “My clients work extremely hard despite their busy schedules – beneath all the fashion and glamour, there is a lot of hard work and sweat. They shoot for 14 hours a day, but they still ensure to get in one-and-a-half hours of gym time at the end of it. They maintain clean and healthy nutrition plans, and are very regular with their workouts – no excuses,” says Karachiwala.
In the film industry, each role comes with its own body brief, and she sets goals with her clients to help them achieve their desired look. “An inside joke Katrina and I always have is every time she’s about to do a major song or movie, and we’re prepping and working out really hard for it, she always threatens me that if anything ‘jiggles’ or if she doesn’t look the way she’s supposed to look, she’s going to go public and tell people that I’ve not done my job. And we always laugh because I tell her nothing is going to jiggle, and she’s going to look amazing, and when that happens she has to go public and tell everyone what an awesome trainer I am,” she says.
Karachiwala has gained more than half a million followers on Instagram – working out with celebrities has made her something of a celebrity as well. Nonetheless, she stays grounded, and continues working to perfect her training. “I am constantly upgrading my knowledge as there is still so much to learn,” she explains.
“My niece, Shaazia, and I just went to Arizona and learnt Fletcher Pilates, which has helped me deepen my years of practice.” Shaazia Qureishi is the co-founder of The Pad, where Karachiwala’s fitness techniques will now be taught in Dubai. “I am very excited about it, and will definitely be coming often to teach courses and workshops, as I consider it my own rather than a franchise studio,” concludes Karachiwala.