With fast-paced music and infrared technology, Y7 yoga classes focus on connecting movements to emotions and practices.
By Ashley Zlatopolsky
Featured photo of Sarah Larson Levey by Griffin Lipson
Born out of a desire to shift yoga closer to the mind-body connection, which is the idea of connecting movements in your body to emotions and practices, boutique yoga studio Y7 focuses on accessibility, consistency and inclusivity.
“I was always trying to get into yoga and disliked every experience I had,” says Y7 co-founder and Bloomfield Hills native Sarah Larson Levey, who now lives in New York City and operates the 11 studios and event programming space from New York. “I felt that every time I went, I was comparing myself to other people or staring at myself in the mirror. The music was never motivating, and I always left feeling discouraged.”
Levey, graduated in 2009 from the University of Wisconsin in consumer science. Unable to find a position in this field, she moved back to Michigan to reflect on her future. With her eyes set on New York City, she lined up six interviews and secured a job in the Big Apple, relocating there in 2010.
She continued to practice yoga in her spare time. “I really like what yoga stands for,” Levey explains. But classes were missing something. Y7 filled that gap, and she decided to follow her passion.
The first studio opened in Williamsburg in 2013, followed by a second in Soho and third in Flat Iron. The first two years of Y7, Levey continued to work full time in consumer science. It wasn’t until the third studio that Y7 became her sole focus.
“It was never intended to be a business,” Levey says. “It’s been an amazing and pleasant surprise that people took to it and resonated with what we were doing. When we had the opportunity to open the third studio, it became clear that if I wanted the brand to go anywhere, I needed to focus on it full time.”
Y7 now has a staff of 350 employees, including teachers, front desk receptionists, studio managers and more. The company is led by an all-female leadership team of nine, including Levey, something she is proud of.
The boutique studio made a name for itself in the New York area, giving yoga a new look, feel and attitude. “Y7 is a nod to all the things I wanted within a yoga practice,” Levey describes. “The room has no mirrors, it is candle-lit and dark. We move to the beat of the music, and we use infrared heating technology.”
Hillary Wright, director of continuing education and Y7 Instructor, says Y7 is “like no other yoga class.”
“In the darkness students are forced to focus only on themselves, on their practice and on their experience,” she says. “You can feel the energy from the room, but in the darkness, it’s just you and your breath.”
With an open-level format designed to feel safe, inclusive and free of judgment, Y7 classes are made for all types of abilities. “I wanted to make sure that whoever walked into the door, whatever their relationship to fitness was, that it didn’t play a factor,” Levey says. “They were free to create their own experience.”
Y7 members are encouraged to set their own goals, and they can expect consistency — something Levey knew was a factor that would set her studio apart. “I think if you go to a lot of yoga studios, you’ll find a schedule with different kinds of yoga,” Levey says. “There will be everything from vinyasa to meditation to sound bowl.”
With Y7, there’s one type of class — the signature “We Flow Hard” class, which focuses on the individual and the moving practice. There are no weights, props or other distractions. Each one-hour class, which caps at 32 people, begins with a welcoming introduction. There are three flows (groups of poses): a warmup flow, a second flow and a third final flow, which is the peak of the class. “At that point, you should be out of breath and dripping sweat,” Levey says. The intensity is then brought down to finish the class with a slow-breath portion meant to burn out muscles. This incorporates ab or plank exercises.
“No matter what time of day or day of the week they come in, (clients) know what they are getting,” Levey says.
Clients can also expect more than a yoga studio. Y7 offers a 200-hour training program open to anyone. They also offer a 300-hour continuing education program broken into smaller modules of yoga, such as alignment, chakras and meditation. Newer teachers can take part in a mentorship program to get real class experience, too. A program called “Dive Higher” offers group coaching, where participants spend eight weeks focusing on topics such as money, sleep, work-life balance, self-care, relationships, food, fitness and more.
“We Flow Hard: The Y7 Guide to Crafting Your Yoga Practice” was also released in early 2018. The book is a holistic view that dives into the Y7 practice and how to best understand what’s right for you and your body by incorporating the ancient principles of yoga and transitioning them into your everyday life.
There’s a clothing element to the Y7 brand as well: Y7 launches new collections roughly seven times a year, partnering with brands such as Nike and Alala.
With education, a successful book and clothing partnerships, there’s even more on the horizon for Y7. They’ve recently launched a nonprofit, Freedom to Flow, which partners with schools and shelters to help bring yoga to communities with limited-to-no options for boutique fitness. Plans for Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and the West Coast are in the works.
“2019 will be a big year of growth for us,” Levey says. While Detroit isn’t on the radar yet, it’s high up on her list. “I’d love to be able to bring Y7 back home.”