Yasmin Karachiwala is the fitness trainer behind Katrina Kaif’s figure in Tees Maar Khan, Deepika’s gorgeous body in Ram Leela, and a fitness guru many in Bollywood swear by. Twenty six years ago, a young school teacher started Body Image in a small rented college classroom. These group fitness classes, teaching inventive yet deeply scientific variants of aerobics and pilates, became the hit with the locals.
As an aspiring fitness trainer, this seemed to be a pretty neat endgame – but a series of events she had not even planned on happening, was set in motion. Her flamboyant spirit while conducting these group sessions ended up eclipsing her own brand name; and to her utter exasperation and delight, the classes came to be known as ‘Yasmin’s’. Before she knew it, everyone in B-town wanted to seek out her expertise.
Here’s how she went from being an ingenious fitness teacher to the go-to guru for the who’s who in Bollywood.
Part-time lover of fitness
An economics graduate from Mumbai’s St. Xavier’s College, Yasmin Karachiwala, now 52, was someone who detested moving in any form. The fitness bug only bit her when she was dragged to the gym by a friend, where she embarrassed herself in the aerobics class and kept coming back purely for redemption.
“Being bad at something really bothers me! I learnt the entire routine and in the process, realised I really enjoyed it,” she recounts.
Love for fitness and aerobics consumed her, and she decided to see it through by becoming certified as a Group Fitness Instructor by getting a degree from the United States.
The first BASI certified pilates instructor in India, Yasmin established the first Pilates studio in Bombay. But she started small – by renting a small space in Mumbai’s Rizvi College to teach step aerobics, under the name of Body Image. Also a teacher by profession, she would teach little children at The French International School every morning, before heading to Rizvi to teach her step aerobics classes in the evening – which is a routine that she kept up for eight years until she got married and had her first child. “After that, I felt like I just couldn't continue being a teacher, so I quit to spend more time with my child and started focusing more on my fitness practice,” she recounts.
Breaking into the Bollywood circle was not by design, and never even a conscious goal – it was just a consequence of the style and techniques she brought in, that was relatively unheard of at the time. “What I feel really helped me break into that ecosystem was my Pilates practice, which I started eleven years ago. People had barely heard of Pilates then – and I started raising awareness about it and generated a lot of interest in the process,” she says.
In fact, her group classes got so popular that she didn’t even have to indulge in any marketing, and celebrities started signing up.
“I never advertised, but a lot of celebrities started coming organically – like Gauri Khan, Chunky Pandey, Aishwarya Rai, Dimple Kapadia, Twinkle Khanna, Ekta Kapoor, and many others, ” she says.
Reaching for the stars
Seeing the rise in demand, she thought it was the right time to start a training privately as well – and hence, set up a studio in her house. Her first big client was Kareena Kapoor. “She heard about me and decided to try me out, and it just clicked! That’s how I got on the map. It’s not like I publicised this – and kept the details of all clients completely confidential unless the client themselves mention it to the press. It was all word-of-mouth and social media,” she says.
After a rather fruitful stint with Kareena, Katrina Kaif and Yasmin happened to cross paths at a party, where Katrina, having gained some weight at the time, directly asked Yasmin – “If I come to work out with you, will you help me lose this weight?” "I said, Yeah, sure! and that was that. Next day, she was at my doorstep, ready to work out and that’s what we did. The result was Chikni Chameli. While the general standard is 20-24 percent body fat, Katrina brought down her proportions to a mere 16 percent,” she says.
Katrina Kaif’s transformation was a product of a grilling routine that she mostly inflicted on herself – dieting with utmost caution and even showing up at Yasmin’s door past midnight when she’d get an insatiable desire to workout, Yasmin reveals.
Soon enough, celebrities right from Deepika to Alia, Parineeti, Huma Qureshi, Sophie Choudry, Kriti Sanon, and Ileana D’Cruz turned to this miracle worker.
“What I enjoy most about working with celebrities is their commitment to the way they want to look for each role, and how hard they’re willing to work for it. This excites me as a trainer. Katrina’s workouts range from Pilates to functional training to cardio intervals. Deepika is elegant and lean and she enjoys doing Pilates which in turn works wonders on her body. Alia is young and energetic, she loves doing something new and challenging every day,” Yasmin reveals.
Always minding the numbers
It was a one-woman show for a very long time – until there was no room left for more clients. “In fitness, equipment is very expensive and so I have always believed in growing according to demand,” she says.
Her flagship studio is in Bandra, where she has been personally attending to her clients since she first started. The Hill Road studio also has a Pilates room, where they conduct different types of Pilates lessons on the reformer, traipses, Wunda Chairs, and scores of different equipment barrels. Her first franchisee then came up at Kemp’s Corner.
All her franchises have private and group classes – except for the one she owns, which is just a private studio at the moment. “My unique brand proposition is Pilates and the way I do it. I travel a lot and try to learn as many styles of it as possible – without diluting the core principles of that exercise – which is what most people fail doing in India,” she says.
“We also make sure our clients are regular. People are enthusiastic about ‘gymming’ for all of two days. But we call and text them regularly. We don’t have a work out and get out”approach – I try to understand the overall wellness of the client and make sure we’ve prescribed the perfect regime,” she says.
Having said that, Yasmin cautions everyone that fitness has everything to do with health and very little to do with appearance.
“One should never compromise on health for fitness. Do it in moderation and do it right. Every second person who comes to my gym wants to look like someone else. Strive to be the best version of yourself,” she says.
With her business growing at a healthy rate of 15 percent to 20 percent year-on-year, her Body Image has even broken into international markets like Dubai and Dhaka. In India, they have studios in Mumbai and Hyderabad. “I am in expansion mode so you will see many more Body Image studios across India in few months,” she says, signing off.