December 18, 2018

Y7 yoga is less meditation, more rhythm nation

Tucked between the organic pressed juiceries and high-end fashionista boutiques of West Hollywood, Y7 Studio puts swagger into stretching, offering hip-hop-themed yoga classes where instructors double as disc jockeys. 

During one recent class on a Wednesday evening, the instructor told the packed room of about 20 people, “Tonight’s theme is Beyoncé.” The quaint studio was pitch-dark, except for the flickering light emanating from a row of candles strategically lining the floor. And it was hot — set to a toasty 80 to 90 degrees via infrared heating technology (but much less intense than Bikram).

All the yogis faced toward a black wall branded with “A Tribe Called Sweat” in bold, white letters. Forget about a soundtrack of waterfalls and Buddhist chants; the mantra tonight came care of Queen Bey: “I got hot sauce in my bag, swag.” 

Y7 Studio in West Hollywood. Photo courtesy of Y7 Studio via Instagram

The class of yoga practitioners went through their traditional vinyasa sequences: downward dogs, crows and half-moon poses. There were no mirrors, no artificial lights; it was just the yogis, their mats, and Beyoncé supplying the tunes. 

“We aren’t a peaceful, typical yoga experience. It’s like the furthest thing from it,” Mason Levey, Y7 co-founder, said. 

When he moved from Michigan to Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2009, he started looking for a studio to fill his yogic void. There had been one in suburban Detroit run by a dear friend, who has since passed away, that really jived with him — low lighting, heated room, a badass soundtrack — but he couldn’t find anything like it in the Big Apple.

So Levey, 28, who was raised in a Reform household and has a background in digital advertising, started one in 2013 with his wife, Sarah, 29, whose background is in fashion. Through the studio, he said he keeps his friend’s memory alive. “I think about that all the time. Tons of inspiration from him,” Levey said.

At first, the couple rented a quaint eight-person pop-up space down the block from their apartment. That filled up quickly, so they upgraded to a 20-person space.

“And it just kept growing and growing and growing,” Levey said during a phone interview. 

Y7 now has three locations in New York: Williamsburg in Brooklyn, SoHo and the Flatiron District. Last summer, Y7 did a pop-up in Los Angeles, at retailer Rebecca Minkoff’s new Melrose Avenue location, where they converted her store into a studio. 

“We had an awesome time,” Levey said. Six months later, they opened their first West Coast studio a block away from Minkoff’s store. And soon, they’ll open another location in New York’s Union Square. 

As a result of these expansions, they have become bicoastal, hopscotching between the two major cities every two weeks on a whim. “I buy my tickets last minute,” Levey said.

The world of downward dogs is a dog-eat-dog business, but Y7 appears to be more than persevering. The studio’s clothing line featuring its slogans flies off the shelves, its classes ($25 each) are filled, and celebrities like model Gigi Hadid and actress Jessica Alba are among its patrons.

A typical class has three sequences, each performed in three different flows. The first flow is slow, the second one is faster and the third is free-flow, up to the practitioner to move at his or her own pace, adding or removing steps at her own leisure.

At this particular class, a medley of Beyoncé singles assisted the yogis in their practice, a repertoire that spanned the superstar’s whole career, from Destiny’s Child jams to Sasha Fierce alter egos to Black Lives Matter anthems. Other Y7-worthy artists who get a class dedicated to them include the likes of Drake and Rihanna, holla! 

Despite such heart-pumping energy, the class doesn’t forget what yoga’s all about. During the final moments of the class, the yogis slow down, stretch and prepare for savasana, or corpse pose. Beyoncé sings “Halo” in the background and it’s kind of perfect as yogis settle into their mats, letting their hourlong practice soak in.

“Everyone is super happy and we’re on this rollercoaster,” Levey said, reveling in the unexpected success of a booming yoga studio chain. “We want to go to every major city, so we’re just getting started.”

Minutes after the completion of the recent L.A. class, students filtered out as another class of yogis patiently waited to enter the single-room studio. With drenched shirts stuck to their backs, a group congregated on Melrose, energized from their practice, discussing where to grab drinks — “because we deserve it, dammit” — sauntering down the crowded street, their yoga mats strapped to their backs.