We tried it: Hip-hop yoga

Courtesy of Lisa Nicole Wilkerson

Lisa Nicole Wilkerson (right) with Sarah Larson Levey, Y7's founder and owner, inside the studio.

I guess you could say my yoga journey had been guiding me toward this type of class all along. When I discovered yoga, I had an instant aversion to it. As a dancer and lifelong athlete, I understood and was passionate about the fundamentals, drills, eight-counts, progressions and routines with varying degrees of difficulty. I questioned if yoga would feel like an effective workout.

But I put aside my reservations and tried it. I discovered that I enjoyed how it opened up my body and energized me differently than other forms of exercise, and it was a nice complement to my regimen. Recently, a friend sent me a link for a Drake yoga class. My first thought was, 'How in the world would I be able to zen out when Drake is always a turn up?' My head said no, but I researched it anyway. What I found sounded like a turn up, yes, and also a turn away from the conventional idea of yoga. It was hip-hop yoga, and I decided to check it out.

What it is

I went to a studio named Y7 in New York City. To keep things fresh, the studio highlights an artist of the week and features that person's music during classes.

Prices range from $25 for a single class to unlimited yearly packages at $1,899, with many price variations based on your participation frequency. You can also rent a mat ($2) and towel ($3) if you don't want to bring your own, and this perk is free with the unlimited memberships.

The experience

The studio was housed in a space on the third floor of an old building with a front door that exuded a typical grungy NYC charm, and was just uninviting enough that I nearly walked past it. But after climbing the stairs and opening the door to Y7, the atmosphere was the opposite -- inviting and full of light with a pristine, heavily white and minimalist decor. And, yes, hip-hop music was pumping. The receptionist was helpful and full of smiles.

I was excited and curious, all at once. Would there be music pumping the entire class? Would I be able to focus? Would I feel inclined to "drop it like it's hot" instead of doing downward-facing dogs?

Once in the studio I immediately noticed and smiled at the circular black mural painted on the front wall that read, "A Tribe Called Sweat," an homage to the iconic rap group A Tribe Called Quest. The room was dark, only lit by candles in glass jars lining the perimeter. I didn't know the room would be heated, but it was a welcome surprise on this chilly day. The warmth and soft lighting immediately helped me feel relaxed.

Soon, the teacher entered, closed the door behind her and changed the music to a soft, non hip-hop selection. She reminded us that this was our time to conduct our practice as we saw fit, and encouraged us to set an intention and dedicate our practice to something we wished to make reality in our lives. With soft music still playing in the background, the teacher guided the class through a light warm-up.

Then, step by step, she taught the first set of standing yoga moves, or flow, as they are collectively called. As we repeated this flow at a faster pace with her guidance, she changed the music to something more upbeat, but it wasn't hip-hop. I found myself wondering when she would drop the beat. After a couple of rounds, she informed us that for the next two minutes we would flow at our own paces without her guidance. For that two-minute segment, she played Future.

The transition from the upbeat music to Future's felt disjointed. One song didn't really flow into the next evenly, so I had to put forth conscious effort to remain present in executing the flow, and not get too caught up in the tunes. And that particular trap music beat felt a bit cacophonous and didn't seem to fully complement or propel the flow. To be fair, some could argue that Future's music has to grow on you. I appreciate his style, but hadn't heard his new albums, yet. If I had, perhaps I would have been able to vibe with it better.

After two minutes, soft music was put on again, and we went through a new flow once again, step by step. She repeated this pattern -- soft music with instruction, faster music with faster flow, Future with free flow -- one more time for a total of three flows. This type of progression felt similar to a dance class, though I learned later that there was no intentional correlation.

As the class progressed, I started to sweat fairly heavily from both the heat and the vinyasa work. I was happy that I had my bottle of water because I needed it.

After the three standing flows there was no further Future or hip-hop music played. The remaining portion of the class included nonstanding exercises and poses on the mat, and a time of stillness and reflection, with soft music playing in the background.

Was it worth it?

I appreciated this exposure to a new way of approaching yoga, and would definitely take more Y7 classes. I left feeling really good. I enjoyed the practice, the sweat, the endorphins I generated, and the teacher's positive energy and quiet confidence. It was not a rigorous class for me, but my understanding is that the "We Flow Hard" classes are more advanced.

On the flip side, I was disappointed that there wasn't more hip-hop music played. I specifically picked a class labeled hip-hop to get a full experience, so hearing only three song fragments was a bit of a letdown. That said, each teacher is responsible for their playlist, so other classes may incorporate more hip-hop selections.

After class, Sarah Larson Levey, Y7's founder and owner, told me that she started the business because she had always been interested in exploring yoga's mind-body connection, but could never find a class she enjoyed. "Nothing felt right," she said. Though at the time she was no yogi herself, she set out to solve her own problem by creating a space where she hoped people of all shapes and sizes could feel their most comfortable while in practice, which is why the rooms are dark and have no mirrors.

Why hip-hop? She loves the music genre and declared, "Music is a huge motivator." She's right about that, at least for me.

This experience reminded me that people get into their zones in different ways, and often that includes music. Who's to say that hip-hop is less meditative than any other music form? It's all relative to one's preference. Turn down? For what?

Lisa Nicole Wilkerson is a NYC-based actor, host, speaker and freelance editor and writer whose areas of interest are fitness, sports and entertainment, drawing from her experience performing on Broadway and in theaters from coast to coast.

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