New York City has a heartbeat unlike any other. You can hear the taxis honking their horns, the chatter of tourists and feel the rush of the subway at any given hour in the city that never sleeps.
If you listen carefully, you can also hear the beat of a Snoop Dogg jam ringing out across the city. But the source isn’t a concert venue or a nightclub; it’s a yoga studio. Y7 Studio to be exact, a studio driven completely by the beat of hip-hop music.
The conductor of this beat-bumping studio is its founder Sarah Levey, who moved to New York City right out of college in 2010. Having visited dozens of studios in the city, Levey never felt completely at home anywhere. Between the different teaching styles and class offerings, she never found a style and consistency that gave her the workout she was looking for.
Started From The Bottom
Levey wanted a yoga style that would push her to get a good workout, but since yoga is completely controlled by the body, she couldn’t turn up resistance or have someone count her reps. What she could control, however, was the music.
“For me, personally, I found it really difficult to push myself in a typical yoga class,” said Levey. “But when that banger of a Migos song would come on and I was in plank for a minute, it was a lot easier to hold when I could sing lyrics in my head. It makes it more fun. It doesn’t have to be so serious. It can be a bit lighter.”
Thus, Y7 Studio was born in a rented out music studio space in Brooklyn, led by instructors found through a Craigslist ad. Levey and her husband would pass out fliers encouraging people to join their free classes for two weekends. What they didn’t anticipate happening at the end of their pop-up studio was to have someone inquire about purchasing a package of classes.
That’s when Levey realized she could actually turn this passion into a business, and she rented Y7’s first space, a 300-square-foot artist loft that fit about eight mats in the entire area.
“I would go in before work and check people in or take the class, then go to my day job, then go back to the studio on the way home for the other two classes,” said Levey. “My husband and I still had to work and this became a side project for us because we were really passionate about it and having fun with it. About a year and a half into the business, we had opened three studios and I realized I should probably quit my day job.”
That’s What I Like
Now, Y7 has five locations in New York and one studio in Los Angeles. Throughout the process of growing to this size, Levey wanted to make sure there was one thing in common with all the studios besides the love of hip-hop music: consistency.
“I wanted to make sure we were giving our students something to rely on no matter what time of the day, what day of the week or what location they are going to; everything is aimed to be consistent,” said Levey. “We want to make sure that everyone, no matter the circumstances, can have a great experience.”
The majority of that consistency is attributed to the work Hillary Wright does as the director of teacher training and head of continuing education. While teachers don’t have to be trained from this program to teach at Y7, a large majority of them have been.
“Our teachers need to understand what we are doing,” said Wright. “A lot of our teachers were students before who came in and knew what we were offering. That is really what we are about; a community of people who understand and want to be a part of what we are doing and understand why we are doing it.”
A major key aspect of creating an amazing teaching staff at Y7 is their feedback system. Wright explained that if a teacher has worked for them for less than 90 days, someone from the teaching support staff takes their class once a week and provides feedback. For the teachers that have worked there more than 90 days, someone takes their class once a month.
“We ask so much of our newer teachers in terms of music and sequencing, essentially we are asking them to be a DJ and a yoga teacher to facilitate an experience, so feedback is really nice for them,” said Wright. “It’s also great for seasoned teachers because they don’t have to wonder, ‘Am I out here on an island? Is anyone paying attention to me or am I still in line with the expectation?’ The feedback system brings a sense of community and shows we are all working toward the same goal.”
The same consistency found in the programming takes place on the operations side as well. Director of operations Alexandra Seijo explained the Y7 team has been working on streamlining processes at the studio to create a better experience for everyone involved.
“We are reworking our front desk, our customer service and how our staff handles situations,” said Seijo. “We really work hard on custom tailoring our experience for our clients to be the same no matter where they go. They should always be getting that same Y7 experience. It’s positive and warm and welcoming.”
The design of the Y7 studios is a little out of the ordinary for a typical yoga studio. All the classes are held in dark, candlelit rooms with no mirrors. This design concept came from Levey, who saw a mirror as a tool too many people used to be negative to themselves.
“I’m not all muscle, I have fat in some places, and I would just look at that mirror in front of me and would be so hard on myself,” said Levey. “I was worried to try inversions because I didn’t want people to see me fall and stare at me. So what I love so much about the community we have created is that a teacher will call out an inversion and every single person in the room is trying it. I wanted a place where people could let loose and try new things while feeling really good about themselves.”
Since the studio is designed like this, it has created a unique clientele. While the majority of people that participate in yoga classes are female, Y7 has a large population of male students as well. “I attribute that to the music and the fact that we practice in a dark candlelit room with no mirrors,” said Levey. “For them, it’s not embarrassing if they can’t touch their toes, because no one can see them.”
No Sleep Till Brooklyn
More growth is on the horizon for Y7 Studio, as they have plans to expand into additional markets, aside from New York and Los Angeles. Alongside this expansion of the studio, Levey has had to grow her team as well.
“We started our corporate team in August of 2016,” said Levey. “We have a director of operations, an HR coordinator, a director of retail, we just hired a data and analytics person, and then marketing and PR. They are helping us grow the business so that I can stay focused on the parts that I love and am good at.”
The team Levey has assembled has taken on a family and community-like quality to them, all working together to create the best hip-hop yoga experience for each student walking in their doors.
“One thing that is cool to see is when you have a group of people sitting around a table discussing one area of the business, you find out that other people who might not be directly related to that area of business have ideas that might be helpful,” said Seijo. “I think it’s important that your upper management staff is eager to be of help to all the other areas. We have such a great team here that nothing ever seems impossible. Everything feels achievable.”
The phrase “A Tribe Called Sweat” has been branded on many of Y7’s clothing pieces sold in their shops. However, it can be used to describe the staff who lead that tribe as well.
“A Tribe Called Sweat has this music alliteration, but it’s also really true,” said Levey. “When you walk out of that room, it’s just a tribe of sweaty people that have formed a community of sorts. We aren’t in this for the followers — we are just trying to be exactly who we are.”