When I think of yoga, 50 Cent and Nelly don’t exactly come to mind. (Though interesting side note: Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson reportedly tried yoga once—and found it way harder than he anticipated it’d be).
Yet “50 Cent vs. Nelly” was the theme of the Hip Hop Wednesday class I recently took at one of Y7 Studio’s newest and largest studios in New York City’s Meatpacking District—and the founder of this fast-growing yoga studio chain told me their music offerings are a big reason why Y7 has gone from a pop-up to a 10-studio business in just five years. (They’re also slated to open one more studio in NYC this fall, and have plans to expand the brand nationally to new markets, including Chicago and San Francisco.)
“Music is such a powerful motivator, and we utilize that to get through the more challenging parts of class, says Y7 Founder/CEO Sarah Larson Levey, 31, a former fashion executive. “Our clients are able to lose themselves in the music and clear their minds of negative thoughts associated with the physical challenge of the asana,” she says. “We play everything from instrumentals to hip-hop to pop to EDM to electronic music. Each instructor has their own style, and we want them to showcase the music they love.”
Hip-Hop, Selfies, and Candlelight: What Makes Y7 a Unique Yoga Studio
Non-traditional music isn’t the only thing that sets Y7 apart. Billed as the yoga studio for millennials by some media outlets, Y7 also features yoga selfie booths (at some locations), candlelight, and infrared heating, as well as a trending apparel line. More importantly, it strives to make yoga less intimidating and more accessible for all, with fun classes like their signature WeFlowHard™ vinyasa class, which is choreographed to music ranging from Cardi B to A Tribe Called Quest.
“Y7 was born from my dissatisfaction in the yoga offerings around me,” says Levey. “I was always really intimidated and self-conscious when practicing in a classroom filled with mirrors and bright light. I wanted somewhere I could sweat, have a consistent experience, and feel empowered to take my practice in the direction I wanted.”
At Y7, the room is dark and candlelit in order to eliminate the distraction of physical comparison. What’s more, teachers are instructed to allow space in each class for modifications, rest, and free-form flow. “Sweat dripping” classes are also a key part of Y7’s brand. In the studios, you’ll notice the pun-ny phrase “A Tribe Called Sweat” inscribed on the walls; Y7 uses infrared heating to get temps up to 90 degrees (Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” was a fitting song choice on the day I visited, even if it’s been stuck in my head ever since).
Classes are also a bit shorter than traditional yoga classes at 60 minutes (50-minute “express” classes are also offered), with the goal being to work through the seven chakras within the hour. Hence the brand name: Y for yoga and 7 for the seven chakras.
Business Is Booming: The Secret to Y7’s Success
Since opening their first pop-up yoga studio in Brooklyn in 2013, Y7 has grown to consist of 10 locations across two markets (New York and Los Angeles). Four of these new studios opened in 2018 alone, including the West Coast flagship in Silver Lake, Calif., and three studios in New York City.
Y7 also debuted their own clothing line in 2016, which has helped to grow their e-commerce 330% from 2016 to 2017, and their top-line revenue grew 52% in 2017 vs. 2016, with more growth anticipated in 2018, according to their marketing department.
So, how did Y7 go from a humble pop-up to a flourishing business in such a short period of time? Levey says there’s no secret to her success. “I created a yoga experience that I was craving and couldn’t find,” she says. “I feel passionate about how we practice, and I’m grateful other people feel the same way.”
YJ Tried It: Hip Hop Wednesday at Y7
The Hip Hop Wednesday class I took at Y7 was my first yoga class since I gave birth to my son 7 months ago, and I felt free and encouraged to flow at my own pace and to take as much rest as I needed. It was fun to tap my foot in Down Dog to “old-school” hits like “In da Club,” even if the music was a little loud and distracting at times. When I asked Levey whether yoga purists take issue with Y7’s unconventional tunes, she told me she doesn’t really pay attention to haters.
“I try not to listen to the criticism of how we have chosen to practice,” says Levey. “The beautiful thing about yoga is that it is for everybody. Everyone should feel welcome to be a part of it and not feel as if there are prerequisites or a certain way they must practice. I like to steer clear of judgment of those who don't know us or understand why we do what we do.”
Want a taste of a Y7 yoga class playlist? Here’s one they created to celebrate hiring their 100th teacher in June 2018.
About the Author
Jennifer D’Angelo Friedman is a freelance writer and editor based in NYC. She has been a contributor to YogaJournal.com since 2013.