Dolly Singh is a 34-yo media professional, home chef, a yoga practitioner and a body positivity influencer. Her motto in life is, ‘your body is not your limit’. NLT spoke with the “curvy yogi” as she likes being called, earlier this week.
Since Singh is an advocate of body positivity, the first question we asked her was what, according to her, is body positivity. Here’s what she says,
“Body positivity to me is more about not judging a book by its cover. What I mean is, what I look like, what I appear like, what the color of my skin is, how ‘big’ or ‘small’ I am… all these things are extremely superficial. These cannot define who I am on the inside.”
Singh believes that a major part of body positivity is about self-acceptance. She says,
“I feel that this is my body that has taken me through so many things in life and is still going to take me through a lot more. The least I can do for it, is not be ashamed of it.”
“Yoga is always the answer”
Quite naturally, we were interested in finding out how yoga happened to Dolly Singh and vice-versa; was it her first choice or did she settle for it after having tried different forms of exercise.
“Yes, I did try a lot of other stuff before yoga happened. I tried aerobics, Zumba, Pilates and a lot more in an attempt to find something that would be interesting to me; something that I would stay on with. The two forms of exercise that I enjoyed the most were running and yoga. I think what worked for me was the fact that to perform both of these, you actually need nothing. You don’t have to find a group or go somewhere specific to do these. I guess that’s how these became a part of my regular routine.
I think what attracted me to yoga most is how it presents the whole idea of pushing one’s body a little further every time, and seeing what all your body is capable of. Also, I love that through yoga I realized the beautiful symmetry of our body. It was nice to see what forms and shapes my body can take, and how much I can push it every day in terms of flexibility, strength and agility.”
But Singh didn’t want to confine her practice to the four walls of her small studio apartment in Bandra. She decided to take her practice to the parks, but was amused by the response she received. She says,
“The original reason behind practicing yoga in public spaces was very simple: I live in a small apartment, and in the summers, it would get very humid and stuffy when I would practice with the fans off. I thought practicing in parks would be refreshing; I could enjoy some fresh air and a view. But what it eventually resulted in was very surprising for me; people reacted in a way that I had not expected. I think the reason could be that people are still not used to the idea that big bodied persons don’t just sit on a couch, that there is a possibility for us to be working out as well! (Laughs)”
Dolly told us that random people would come up to her and ask her how she was performing such difficult poses with so much ease. While some would inquire how she could bend and twist so much, others were astonished by Singh’s strength. All of this surprised her, she says.
“It was startling for me because in my head, I wasn’t ever thinking that I am big-bodied and people are going to judge me and so I should not take my practice outside.”
What started as a way to get some fresh air while practicing, turned into an idea of reclaiming public spaces. Singh says,
“Public spaces are for people to do what they want to do, and everyone should be allowed.”
She also spoke of how practicing yoga in public places was necessary for more visibility. She explains why that is important by saying,
“You see visibility is acceptance. If you show more big-bodied people doing things that probably thin and ‘able-bodied’ people are supposed to be doing, then this whole stigma of being big-bodied or being branded as ‘lazy’… you know how a fat person is associated with being lazy, right? Yes, I think all this will go away. Also, when more people see me doing yoga and other challenging stuff, they will realize that they too are capable of doing a lot of things.
Finally, it is also a way of promoting yoga. Yoga is just so fulfilling and satisfying. It is a one-in-all kind of a package that works for me, on both a physical as well as a mental level. To be honest, now I think I have moved away from my obsession with the physical benefits of yoga to its mental advantages.”
“I am thick-skinned, both literally and figuratively”
Taking her yoga to the public, in the real and the virtual world, has also invited body shamers and trolls that Singh has to deal with on a regular basis. Speaking about this, she says,
“I do believe that when you become a public figure, and I am not saying that I am huge public figure, but if I am out there and I am putting my practice for people to see, then I know the response will involve both the good and the bad. And the bad will be overwhelming, but I think for every thousand or hundred trolls, I get two very kind messages in which people tell me how I am inspiring others, how I am teaching them to learn how to accept themselves and incorporate flow and movement in their usual lives. And that works for me. I don’t know these people who troll or shame me, and I don’t have that kind of energy to answer them because I am extremely occupied with my work, my practice and everything around it. To be honest with you, I don’t care so much about them. I don’t care at all, actually (laughs).
“a number cannot be a deciding factor for me”
There is a general perception that a person’s BMI is an indicator of one’s fitness. Also, people do not seem to know that there’s a big difference between losing weight and being fit, although they are not mutually exclusive. Considering all this, we asked Singh for her advice to people who want to lose weight rather than becoming fit through yoga.
According to her,
“I am not a certified teacher, nutritionist or anybody for that matter. I have no qualification to talk about the BMI issue. But what I know is that a number cannot be a deciding factor for me, and a number should not be deciding things for you either. So BMI is just another number like your weight. I am obese or maybe over-obese by BMI standard, but that’s my problem. That’s my body whose weight I have to learn to carry. My muscles need to take that weight.
For me BMI is not what decides whether I can do something or not. I don’t mean that I will be great at doing everything, but I will give everything a try. I might not be able to run 20 kilometers, but I can run 10 kilometers, and that is good enough for me. I might not be able to climb the Everest with my weight, but I can go up to the Everest Base Camp to trek. (Laughs)
What I mean is these are the small things that I want to do. I am not going to limit myself because of my BMI. For me it is so much easier to exercise, do yoga, go for a run or a swim, than to think about ‘oh I am doing all of this, but I am still fat, I am still round, I am still big’. When I practice yoga or do other physical activities, I feel at bliss. The whole energy is different. But if I sit down and measure the consequences, like whether or not I am losing weight by doing all this, then that would depress me. For me, it is about doing my bit and doing everything I want to do in my life.”
“We are all a part of conditioning. But in my everyday life, I am trying to break that barrier for myself.”
Dolly Singh is a media person, and all of us know how the media has contributed immensely to the contorted idea of beauty that Singh is fighting. We thought it’d be interesting to ask her how she imagines the media could undo the damage and rather help spread a more embracing view of beauty.
“Being a media person myself, I remember sitting for an interview once and telling them that you know thousands of pictures of white women were circulated and everybody bought it. And then we realized that we need to expand it to be able to sell more, and so we started circulating pictures of black women and realized that you know what black skin is hot too. So I thought I should jump into the bandwagon, and say even big can be beautiful. And you can see how that worked, right? People started buying that too! (laughs)
This brings us back to the concept of visibility. The whole “box” idea of beauty that has been created, is obviously the reason behind the internal drawbacks that we think we as women have. Everybody out there is trying to tell us that you know what, you are not perfect, but we have this perfect remedy for you (for your weight, for your aging skin, your eyes, your feet, and the list goes on.) It’s almost like everybody is telling you that you are not good enough, but I can help you with my product. And we have been buying these propositions for the longest time. I won’t be a hypocrite; even I have given in to this lucrative offers in the past. But now I have realized that this way I will never be able to enjoy my life. I took that decision for myself. And it is so much nicer and better now when I don’t have to bear the burden of looking perfect, being ‘beautiful’. Now I really don’t care about how I look to someone else. And by doing that I have made my life much easier. Every day I wake up and dress up the way I want to and come to work or meet friends. I am not self-obsessed anymore about the way I look. And my practice has helped me do this. I have realized that by not channelizing my energy and not focusing on those aspects, I can actually focus on the important things.
Something that is beautiful to me might not be beautiful to you. How and why are we buying into a fixed standard or a set pattern or a number that defines beauty. This is something that I have started questioning. Though it is still very difficult. We are all a part of conditioning. But in my everyday life I am trying to break that barrier for myself. I still judge myself. I am not ‘very happy’ with my body. I want my stomach to go in so that I can do a full head stand so that my core becomes stronger. So I still look at my flabby stomach and wonder when it is going to go, you know! (Laughs) So yes, there is a constant fight. Today I don’t want my stomach to go in so that I look pretty, but so that I can do a headstand! (Laughs)
“I think we both share the same anger and angst”
Speaking of the person who inspires her most, Singh says,
“For my practice, I am really inspired by this big bodied yogi from the States, Jessamyn Stanley. I think she is kickass; in not just what she does, but also everything she says. I think she is my lost sister. I think (laughs) we both share the same anger and angst against people who think we are not capable of doing things because we are big-bodied. (Laughs)”
“I tell them that when I play on the mat, I play in my life”
Those of you who are not aware, Dolly Singh loves cooking and is endorsing regional food through her pop-up food service, Home Café. Not just that, Singh loves to traveling, telling stories to her little nieces, and loves making crafts. Speaking of her hobbies, she says,
“I think everyone have a hobby. I, for example, love crafts. I enjoy cooking, I practice yoga, I love being outdoors. I also love telling stories and tales to kids. I love creating things. I love clicking pictures of things that are around me, things that are a part of my daily life. I am into immersive travelling too.
In my opinion, hobbies are very important. I always ask myself this one question: when I turn 50 what am I going to do? If I know 10 things, if I build skillsets, then I can do a lot rather than becoming redundant at that age. Also, hobbies are a great way to channelize your thoughts, creativity and energy. The whole joy of learning something new transcends into your daily life. You know I am generally this very cheerful, vibrant person at work and everybody asks me how are you so energetic, and I tell them that when I play on the mat, I play in my life.
I love craft. I find it therapeutic. It keeps the child in me alive. I love telling stories to kids and that makes me a better storyteller. I want to learn pole dancing soon; now that I have some upper body strength, I think I can do some great moves (smiles).”
“And if you are really busy to not have time for yourself, then I think that is a big problem”
Nowadays, we hear a lot about stress, and how people’s lives revolve around their work. In such a situation, how important, does Singh think, it is for them to incorporate yoga into their daily routine. Let’s find out.
“I think “being busy” is the most overrated phrase that almost all of us have used at one point or another. For me, even when I do miss yoga because I have other things going on, or for example it’s the holiday season right now and my family is here, so I am not being able to practice, but it is not because I am busy. It is just that I don’t feel like doing my routine. Busy can never be the reason; you need to be honest with yourself. And if you are really busy to not have time for yourself, then I think that is a big problem. Not being able to take out even 20 minutes for yourself, is warning bells to me. You need to ask yourself how you are utilizing your time and energy.
Since I am from the media and we have very hectic schedules, one thing I have learnt is how to use my time well. I know how to prioritize. I don’t procrastinate because I feel if you start thinking a lot, you will not achieve anything. So you need to take out time for self-care, because how do you expect the stress to go away if you don’t do anything except the things that are stressing you out? Isn’t it that simple? You need to do something to de-stress; you need an outlet.
It is very important to incorporate something in your everyday routine that makes you sweat. We are all living a very sedentary lifestyle. I mean we now even have an electric toothbrush to do the brushing for us. I mean how ridiculous is that?! Very soon we will be using gadgets that will help us wear socks and pick things from the floor! That is a very bad thing. If you are sedentary for really long, then you are going to develop problems.
So it makes no sense to be busy when your body is not supporting you, health-wise. I have done that whole “being busy” bit in my twenties. Now in my thirties, I have stopped being over-occupied. I am slow, and I prefer it this way.”
“Building a habit is the most important part; once you do that, the other things become easy.”
Singh practices yoga on her own by watching videos on YouTube. Her suggestion to those who want to follow suit, but have no clue how to begin is,
“For people who want to start doing yoga, I have a very simple idea: Everyday, just spread your mat, and sit there, quietly, for 15 minutes; everyday, same time, same place. I believe in the 21-day rule to develop a habit. During this time, I know whether this thing is working for me or not, and if it is not I move on. But, generally, this has helped me build a habit.
Building a habit is the most important part; once you do that, the other things become easy. For me, yoga today is a habit. I fall back on it. If I don’t practice for a day, I know I am missing something. If I don’t do it for three days, then I am miserable. (Laughs)”
“I think that acceptance is body positivity. That is where it starts.”
Before bidding adieu, we asked our inspirational and vivacious yogi, about where she sees her crusade for body positivity going in the next few years, as more people become self-aware.
“I think the concept of body positivity has a huge potential, because no human is happy with their body. Nobody thinks that they are ‘good enough’ in the conventional way. You either don’t have the ‘perfect skin’ or the ‘perfect figure’… And since these are nothing, but self-created imageries for ourselves, which is being fueled by so many out there, I think the body positivity crusade is going to grow. As more and more people become aware of themselves, they become aware of how being obsessed with ourselves in a superficial way is causing us to be left behind in so many other things. For me, body positivity is a part of feminism. If I don’t concentrate on the cover, then I can focus all my attention on what lies inside. I have learnt this, and I believe in this.
I have become so open to learning new things, trying new things, even failing at it. I have learnt how to fail, which is amazing. The fact that I can take my failures better than my successes, is a huge thing for me. Today, I am somewhat popular, people want to talk to me, they want to know my story, but few years down the line, I might not get all this attention, I might become an old story, and that is absolutely okay. I am not doing all of this to become a celebrity. By god’s grace I have got more than what I think I deserve. I think that acceptance is body positivity. That is where it starts. When you are not okay with yourself and are discontent with yourself all the time, you cannot hope to achieve your goals. It doesn’t work like that. (Smiles).”
If you are not already following Dolly Singh @yogaforallmumbai, then do that now! See you again next week with another crusader, another trendsetter! Until then goodbye.
Featured image source: Instagram/yogaforallmumbai