By Shatabdi Chakrabarti

A CURVY yoga enthusiast is proudly breaking down body image stereotypes in India

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Videographer / Director: Nagesh Ohal
Producer: Shatabdi Chakrabarti, Ruby Coote
Editor: Marcus Cooper

Dolly Singh, aged 34, has become known as the 'Curvy Yogi'

Thirty-four-year old media professional Dolly Singh began learning yoga after a doctor advised her to lose weight following an injury.

And she’s now winning an army of admirers after Instagramming pictures of herself practicing yoga in the streets of her local city, Mumbai.

Dolly claims that she first started to gain weight in her teenage years.

Dolly first took up yoga after being advised to lose weight by her doctor

She said: “Since puberty, I had put on a lot of weight. Obviously, I didn’t pay too much attention. You never think that anything’s going to happen to you. And to begin any thing, you sometimes need an alarm.”

The alarm happened for travel-loving Dolly when she sprained her ankle on a trekking trip to Hampi, in India, in 2012. She didn’t realise the extent of the injury at the time but got a big shock when she finally visited a doctor.

She explained: “My leg became really huge. The doctor said, ‘You have so much weight. Your leg is not going to take your weight. So all this travelling will come to and end.’”

Dolly attempted zumba and pilates before finding her affinity for yoga

“I asked him what needed to be done and he told me that I need to lose weight. So once I got back to Mumbai I decided to get myself a trainer.”

Dolly had never been to a gym and doesn’t like weight machines. So with her trainer, she started working out in the open and dieting.

She says: “I was so stubborn I had to lose weight . And I did manage to get my weight down 90 kgs to 63kgs in a year. But I was on a controlled diet. And I was also getting bored. So I started looking for other fitness routines.”

“I went for a Zumba class, only to realise that I have two left feet. When the trainer would say right, I would go left! So that was my story with Zumba. Then I tried Pilates. It was a fancy new form but that also didn’t interest me too much. Then I stumbled across a Yoga class.”

Dolly began to practise yoga in public places and attracted a lot of attention

Dolly noticed immediately that she was bigger than most of her classmates.

She said: ““Everybody else in the class was obviously thinner. And I was this round thing trying to go inside holding my leg from one side and I could actually do that. 

“After a week, I realised that I could do the postures way easier than everybody else in the class. People started saying things like, ‘Look at her, she can do it so well.’ I was like, ‘Really?’”

“But I always felt the elasticity of my body. I felt like it was a rubber and you could really stretch it. And I liked the challenging process. That’s what happened with Yoga.”

Dolly loves her nickname the 'Curvy Yogi'
Dolly's Instagram page celebrates her love of yoga

At that point her trainer started showing a special interest in her and she became an example for the others in class. Within two months she was able to do all the difficult postures with ease. But Dolly wanted to learn more and up her game.

So she went for a mountaineering course organised by the Indian Army which gave her the inspiration to post her yoga journey on Instagram.

She said: “When I went for that course, I realised that my body could do everything that was there. Be it rock climbing, snow rafting, or trekking.

“Everyone was younger than me and they all looked like sports people - very fit. But no matter how hard the treks got, I kept at it. I kept walking at my own pace. People would run or walk fast and finish, but I followed my pace, even if it meant that I would be the last one to walk in.”

She claims her physical strength has translated to mental strength

Dolly gained a lot of encouragement and inspiration from the people on the course.

She said: “I was the oldest in the group. But at no point, did anybody make me feel like that. There were guys who would tell me that when they got tired, they would just look at me and get inspired.

“They said: ‘You kept going on. You won’t stop, you will keep walking. We used to feel so inspired looking at you.’

“That’s where I started documenting my yoga journey on Instagram. I found an outlet to show that this is my body and this what I can do.”

And so Dolly began practising her yoga outside and posting the exercises on her Instagram page, ‘yogaforallmumbai’.

She explained: “I started practicing outdoors for a very simple reason - in the summer, it was too hot to do yoga indoors. So I went to the neighbourhood park and started practicing there. I instantly had so many onlookers. I was like an amusement.

Dolly loves a challenge and is now learning to ride a motorbike too

“People would wait for me to finish and then come up and talk to me about their yoga journeys or ask why I was doing this. I observed that visibility is acceptance. If you start showing different types of bodies doing the same type of things, then you do not associate that a thin body is only capable of doing this and a big body cannot do that.

“And I realised that with me practicing outside I was kind of trying to break these frames that are created, little by little everyday.”

Her public yoga sessions and Instagram page has led to magazines labelling her the ‘Curvy Yogi’, a label she loves.

She said: “I do feel nice with this label. It’s a good gratification. And more than that I feel great as to how people have come to accept this.

“I never knew that my body could do all this. It’s only when my body started showing me and telling me that we can move forward.”

Dolly now wants to inspire others to celebrate their own interpretation of beauty

Her experiences have also shaped her views on accepted notions of beauty.

She explained: “What is beauty? Something that is beautiful to you may not be beautiful to me.

“To put everyone in a bracket and say, ‘This is beautiful, and this is not beautiful?’ – I don’t think so.”

“It’s nice to be called curvy. My body is strong and can take things. My body can express things. My body is not just about being round or being fat.”

“My physical strength has translated to mental strength and, to me, that is body positivity.”

Encouraged by her experiences with yoga, Dolly is now seeking new challenges, has just started to learn to ride a motorbike, and believes that everyone should have something new to look forward to.

She said: “Do something. Do something simple.”

“Do something that you never thought you can do or do something that you always wanted to do. It could be anything.”

“Taking up a hobby helps you to channel all your energy into something good.”