How One Studio Is Using Hip-Hop To Change What People Expect From Yoga

Courtesy of Y7

For most people, hip-hop and yoga sit on opposite ends of a wide divide. The former invokes bass-rattling beats and fiery rhymes from street-raised MCs, the latter is focused on achieving a sense of quiet zen — accented by flute music and skinny girls in tight-fitting leggings.

But these two extremes don’t actually need to be as far away from each other as that spectrum dictates. At least, not according to Sarah and Mason Levey. The married couple founded Y7 — a hip hop yoga studio — after they moved to Brooklyn, NY. Sarah was at a loss for a place to practice yoga that hewed closer to her preferences for a darkened room, loud music, and fast, aerobic flows. Unable to find anything that fit, the pair decided to start offering classes themselves.

It was a hit and, as demand kept growing, they launched more studios in New York, eventually expanding the company to LA. In the years since, they’ve only continued growing — recently adding a new studio in Silver Lake, just down the block from my apartment. If packed out classes on the weekend and a full house on a recent press day are any indications, it feels like they picked the right location.

Back in 2015 when the couple was just opening their second New York studio, I spoke with them for Brooklyn Magazine after a friend coaxed me into trying yoga by promising that Drake would be involved. It was a strong selling point. Always skeptical of the cult of thin bodies and what I then perceived to be gratingly serene music, yoga never felt like a place I could safely express myself. But with Drake… that I could manage.

It was the familiarity of music I knew and loved — first Drake, then other rap and upbeat R&B playlists that the teachers make each week — that helped make the foreign, timeworn poses feel like something attainable.

Yes, yoga is an ancient Eastern practice and hip-hop originated as the roiling cry of disenfranchised Black communities in the Bronx and beyond, but both forms have arguably become so popular they’ve grown beyond their origins — becoming useful tools for people the world over to use in service of self-expression and self-care. On a recent Sunday morning, as a queer Black teacher led us through a vinyasa flow sequence he created and soundtracked with “Ric Flair Drip,” the best song off 21 Savage, Metro Boomin, and Offset’s joint album Without Warning, this all seemed epically clear.

For those of us who aren’t currently rocking the rail-thin yoga body — or the muscled male equivalent — Y7 offers another added element of comfort: there are absolutely no mirrors. Instead, the studios are kept dim and candlelit, so you can focus on your practice instead of an increasing anxiety about how your body looks compared to those around you. Because of this, after doing Y7 for several months, I actually did feel empowered to go to a different studio and face down the mirrors, increase my knowledge, and expand the way I practice.

Still, I always return to Y7’s dark, hip-hop infused studio to reconnect with what initially drew me to take up the practice — a sense of freedom and expansion beyond the preconceived notions that held me back from feeling “at home” in yoga studios before. Maybe I would’ve gotten over my own fears and judgments about it and found a home in this practice at some point without Y7, but honestly, I’m not sure. It was only the familiarity of hip-hop that gave me the confidence to dive into the unknown of vinyasa.

Based on the experiences of other people I’ve spoken to in class, I’m not alone in that.

As the studio establishes itself across LA, they’ve already begun to hold special weekly classes that donate the proceeds to charity and proactively hired a staff that emphasizes diversity in body type, race, and gender. During their opening press day, a group of women and men of all sizes and ages gathered to check out the new space, watch a panel of women speak on the role yoga plays in their lives, and sample local juices and other health-related goodies. For some of them, I realized, yoga was the familiar element and hip-hop was the thing they’d been unfamiliar with, for others it was the opposite.

At its essence, the studio works to bring these two ends of the spectrum together. With Drake — a man who fits in both spaces — remaining the unifying force right smack dab in the middle.

In parting bags for media guests, complimentary cards for two free classes at the new studio were included.