Meet Sarah Levey, Founder of Hip Hop Yoga Studio Y7

“When I first moved to the city, I was 22 and trying out all these different yoga studios. There was nothing wrong with them—it’s just every time I went, I got something different. One class we’d work on Dolphin or Warrior III, and then the next time, it would be something completely different. Sometimes there were blocks, sometimes there weren’t, sometimes there were straps, sometimes there was chanting… I just really wanted to find somewhere consistent where I could grow my practice. My husband, who also practices yoga, couldn’t find anywhere that he really liked either. So one day, we were like, ‘Fuck it, let’s do this.’

We started Y7 as a pop-up. It was free and it was just something really fun that we wanted to do. It was in Williamsburg in Brooklyn above the Roebling Tea Room on the fourth floor. It was just on the weekends, two classes a day. That was it. One of our friends taught the classes at first, but once people actually started wanting to come regularly, we put an ad out on Craig’s List for instructors. Two of our instructors that we found that way are still with us—they’re our main instructors, so that’s really cool.


Y7 is sweat-dripping, beat-bumping, candlelit yoga. We’re not the traditional studio. We really aim to bring the practice back to the individual. So it’s dark, it’s really intimate, we limit the amount of people in classes so that you have room to put your arms out to the side, or do a Warrior III without worrying about kicking somebody in the face. There’s no mirrors, there’s no judgement—it’s all about being aware of your own body and keeping yourself centered in your own space. You shouldn’t be worried about, ‘Do I look like the person next to me? Is my leg high enough?’ It’s not really about that, because everyone’s body is built differently. It’s dark and literally no one’s watching you, so you can just let it flow.


It’s so funny, because I’m not someone who enjoys working out. I’m not like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to go on a run!’ No, thank you. I’d rather sit on my couch. So for me, music is a huge motivator. And I think that yoga is one of the hardest things to do, because you’re really relying on your own strength the entire time. It’s up to you how long you hold the plank. It’s up to you how deep you bend your knee in a high lunge. It really is so much of your mental perseverance as much as it is physical. I think having music that people like to listen to just really helps you get through it, you know? You’re holding that plank for a minute and you’re like, ‘All I hear is water droplets. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m tired. Now I have to pee.’ [Laughs] So the music helps you get through it—when you can sing along with something in your head, you’re like, ‘All right, I got this.’


In our Flatiron location, we’re on the fourth floor of a walk-up, and some people were not very happy that they had to walk upstairs to go to a workout class—so we decided to make it sort of funny. When you almost reach the top, when you’re panting and you’re like, ‘fuck, one more staircase!’ because you don’t see that one ‘till you’re around the corner—it’s like, ‘all right, started from the bottom, now you’re here.’ And now, you are here.


I really like mixing everything up. I just think it’s good for your body. I try to do yoga at least four times a week at Y7. I just go in at times that aren’t as busy, like the 10:30 a.m. or noon class that’s a little bit slower. I also SoulCycle twice a week. I need to feel exhausted and sweaty after a workout, or else I’ll feel like I didn’t do anything. When I’m in town, I go to S10 Training twice a week, sometimes three. It’s amazing—it’s made me so much more aware of my body, and I’m sore in places that I didn’t even realize I could be. I travel a lot, so when I’m in L.A. at our West Hollywood studio, I go to Y7 and SoulCycle. And I also try to go to pilates—I go to Carrie’s there. I go to New York Pilates here. I also love ModelFIT. I do the cardio sculpt, so it’s like half dance-cardio, half sculpt, and it’s just really fun.


I’m not someone who eats super healthy or strict. I kind of eat whatever I want, but within reason—I won’t have donuts everyday, but I’ll have one, once in a while. I try to never really deprive myself of anything, because then I’m just really sad. I do try and eat a lot of vegetables. And if I can’t eat them, I drink them. I like the fruity drinks obviously, but that’s not good for you, so I basically drink the ones that are all vegetables—I drink the salad.

When I had a normal schedule, I used to cook every single night, five nights a week. Yes, you’re welcome, husband. I literally would make anything. But I actually cooked for the first time in weeks on Tuesday. I got Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook because I’m 100% that girl. I made her chicken lettuce wraps and the coconut sticky rice—delicious. I love cooking. It’s nice to have something methodical to do and I find it pretty calming. And since I cook, my husband cleans. [Laughs]


One of my favorite places to eat is By Chloe. I mean, who knew that vegan food could taste like that? Like, ohh, okay. Really into it. I also love The Butcher’s Daughter—they’re so close to the Soho studio. I’m there all the time, and I always get their to-go stuff. I like their spicy kale salad, and I get it with two fried eggs. They just opened in L.A. as well, so I go there too.


I really try to meditate for 12 minutes a day. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but I try. I find the mornings work best for me. It helps me start my day a little bit better, but if I need it in the afternoon or if I miss my morning session, because I’m constantly running late, I’ll do it in the afternoon too. It’s a nice reset. I use Insight Timer—it’s an app that just has like a gong to start you off. The way that I learned is to just sit with yourself and thoughts will arise, and you work to be an observer with those thoughts. You start thinking, ‘Oh, what am I going to have for dinner tonight?’ Just realize that you thought that and let it go.


One of our instructors told me this and one of her teachers told it to her. It really stuck with me and it’s just—‘It’s like this now.’ Every moment is different, and things aren’t like they were five minutes ago. And right now, it’s like this. That’s it. I think that’s a lovely way to remind yourself that you can’t have anything back that happened two years ago. People change—a friend, a boyfriend, it doesn’t matter—they’re not the same person they were a year ago, so you either need to adapt and move forward with them or move forward without them. It’s the same with any other situation—work or anything else. It’s like this now.”



As told to Stephanie Park, April 2016.

Photographs by Frances F. Denny.

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