FROM OUR FOUNDER | ONGOING WORK | MUSIC COMMITMENT | NEW COMMITMENTS | SCHEDULE | RESOURCES

FROM OUR FOUNDER

The violence, marginalization, and systemic oppression against Black lives in this country with no accountability is inhumane, and it is our responsibility to fight to break this system. 

Racism, prejudice and white privilege run deep. We believe true Diversity and Inclusion must represent the voices of all who have been marginalized – however, it is our Black community whose voices need to be heard and amplified right now.

Y7 was created for people who thought yoga wasn’t for them. Every element of the Y7 experience – the music, the infrared heat, the darkness, the absence of mirrors – aims to break down the traditional barriers of yoga, making it more accessible and inclusive for all to practice.

Our position as a music-driven studio and the relationship with hip hop music and Black culture, particularly in our earlier years, needs to be addressed. 

  • Music is what brought us to our yoga mats, allowing us to connect breath and movement in a different way
  • Hip hop music and culture has had a major influence on our marketing and retail 
  • We have benefited from Black culture
  • Now, we want to be more clear about what we stand for, provide insight into the work we have passionately been doing, and articulate the actionable commitments we’re making to not just break a system which has disenfranchised Black bodies for too long, but to also positively amplify Black voices. 

By 2018 we had grown to 200 employees, opened 10 studios, and formed a small leadership team – we quickly realized how important it is to lead with action given the reach of the business and our mission to change what yoga looks like.

Our relationship with hip hop was born out of a sincere love of the music, however we saw we needed to look more deeply not only at the role hip hop and Black culture had played in the business, but at diversity within our own team. We began intentional work within the Diversity, Equity + Inclusion space to align our impact as a business with our intent; to be a truly inclusive yoga space. We aimed to embed it into everything we do, rather than just checking a box or conducting a one-off unconscious bias training.

While there is much more work to do as long as racial injustice exists, we wanted to share the changes we have implemented over the last two years, as well as our commitments on the work to come – this is by no means for a pat on the back, but to provide transparency and accountability to our community on where we have been and where we are going.

Thank you, 
Sarah Larson Levey
Founder and CEO


ONGOING WORK SINCE 2018

DIVERSITY, EQUITY + INCLUSION (DEI)

In 2018, we brought on a phenomenal DEI partner Dr. Laura Quiros, and quickly learned that it is one thing to hire for diversity, but quite another to create truly inclusive spaces where people feel like their voices are heard and valued. This began with ongoing DEI workshops in all markets where we worked to more deeply understand our own identities, hear each other’s stories, identify gaps within the organization, and do the internal work of understanding how whiteness shows up. These sessions sparked change in perspective, new ideas, a commitment to this journey indefinitely.

The biggest takeaway so far? A DEI consultant cannot find and solve your problems. You all must show up to do the work, have tough conversations, break down the barriers within your own teams, and ensure that people within the organization are champions in order to implement authentic changes.

When we opened in Chicago, we did so with DEI at the forefront. It was powerful to see the impact and connection we were able to build with new team members in a short amount of time when these practices were embedded from day one.

It’s pretty hard to put into words what these workshops look like, so we are committing to sharing a roadmap of these DEI resources as accessible tools for all teams to adopt.

HIRING

We put an increased focus on diversity in hiring. We also began actively recruiting to reach diverse individuals beyond those who were applying, particularly within our instructor applicants. This meant a focus not just on racial diversity, but on gender, gender identity, body type, socio-economic background, and diversity of thought/experiences. Prior to COVID-19, we saw the intentional work over the last two years having a positive impact, and our natural applicant pool was also diversified. As we rebuild our team post-COVID, this focus will continue to be at the forefront of each decision to ensure diversity at every level of the company.

THE LEADERSHIP TEAM

Our Leadership Team goes beyond the traditional corporate structure to also include Studio Management and Teacher Management, in order to give the leaders on-the-ground a voice in the company-wide decisions. In hiring for Studio Management positions, we limited external hiring and focused on internal promotions and organic growth, with diversity at the forefront. We empowered Studio Management to create an additional role that focuses on an area of the business they’re passionate about (i.e. Retail, Diversity + Inclusion, Learning + Development) to offer opportunities for career development within the company. Our Teacher and Studio Management teams have played an invaluable role in DEI work, continuously challenging us to push boundaries, have the tough conversations, and identify areas where we are missing the mark.

MUSIC

We addressed the use of hip hop music in our classes, and expanded our music to play all genres for a true music-driven experience. We still hosted themed classes, including Hip Hop Wednesdays and Hip Hop Sundays, as well as other genres and categories. We involved our Teaching Manager and Diversity + Inclusion Lead in the selection of music themes to bring different perspectives to the table and broaden the artists we highlight. Specific examples of this including highlighting more female and queer artists.

BRAND REPRESENTATION

Y7 was created from a passion to make yoga accessible for all. This sincerity must be represented in everything we do – from ensuring the partners we align with share our core values, to working with influencers and casting models who are a part of the Y7 community.  Our branding features Y7 employees and clients of diverse races, ethnicities, body types, and gender identities.

Last year we released Y7’s Anthem to share our core beliefs that drive the ideals and culture of the Y7 community. This message brought to life Y7’s mission through a powerful video directed by J Williams, featuring actual members of this community.

Each month we highlight Y7 employees from diverse backgrounds to celebrate their identity and host a fundraiser class supporting a charity close to them – an initiative that will be continued and expanded upon post-COVID.

INSTRUCTOR INCLUSIVITY TRAINING

We revamped our instructor training to focus on cultivating a truly inclusive experience for people of all identities through changes in music, sequences, and language. This involved training instructors to only play music they felt a real connection to, to play artists that share the same core values as ours, addressing the class with gender-inclusive pronouns, and giving cues that are body positive and trauma-informed.


MUSIC COMMITMENT

The appropriation of hip hop culture and Black culture on our branding, the inadequate representation in leadership and clientele, and the for-profit use of hip hop music in the class experience when it’s not authentically played by instructors — we acknowledge this and take responsibility for this problematic co-opting that has continued for far too long.

We are deeply, empathetically sorry. We are sickened with anger and guilt that we’ve caused pain on the community we only admire and have genuine respect for. We are ashamed this was not addressed directly sooner. We know we need to regain your trust and are committed to making lasting changes by providing transparency and consistency in our actions.

WE MADE 5 COMMITMENTS TOWARDS RACIAL + SOCIAL EQUALITY.
OUR FIRST UPDATE TO YOU IS AROUND: MUSIC.

From the onset of our business we have been known as a hip hop yoga studio. From here on, we commit to being a music driven yoga studio. This means we play music of varied genres that is beat driven, still using the beat of the music to drive the breath and pace of class. We’ll be focusing on changes in 4 areas:

  1. BRANDING
  2. #HIPHOPWEDNESDAYS #HIPHOPSUNDAYS
  3. CLASS ACCESSIBILITY
  4. INSTRUCTOR REHIRING + RETRAINING

We began the shift to a music driven culture 2 years ago, but it’s clear that we missed the mark. The bottom line — this wasn’t acknowledged properly, nor made cohesive throughout the entire organization.

Our promise is to no longer profit off hip hop music, hip hop culture or Black culture. We will use our platform to amplify the work of Black artists, educate on the history and message of the music, and give back to Black communities and organizations.

To simply erase all brand ties to hip hop would be a lost opportunity to make amends for our wrongdoings, educate ourselves and others on lessons learned, and prevent appropriations in the future internally, by other brands, or individuals. We are committed to grasping this opportunity and we aim to share the process of the changes and the reasons why with our community along the way.

01. BRANDING

As we rebuild and reopen our studios, we will hire a Black brand representative to lead a refresh and update of Y7’s brand that reflects our position as a music driven experience and our mission to make yoga accessible and inclusive.

A TRIBE CALLED SWEAT: A play off the hip hop group, A Tribe Called Quest, this phrase will be removed from our studio walls, our merch, and no longer used.

TRIBE: This term has racially offensive connotations, particularly to African groups and indigenous people, and reinforces misinformed stereotypes that undermine the sovereignty of these groups. In further educating ourselves on its historical context, this term will no longer be used and immediately removed from our language.


IN-STUDIO BRANDING: Each Y7 location has different signage, branding and photography that decorate the studios. All in-studio elements will be collectively reassessed as we reopen under the new rebrand.

02. #HIPHOPWEDNESDAYS #HIPHOPSUNDAYS

Y7 will launch new ongoing class programming to replace #HipHopWednesdays and #HipHopSundays with charitable themed classes that spotlight both Black music artists of varied genres and different charitable organizations. All proceeds will be donated to a charity or cause aligned with the artist, and free spots will be reserved for BIPOC in order to increase the accessibility of yoga to communities that have had limited to no access to the practice.

For each class, Y7 instructors and employees will be able to select a Black artist and charity they wish to support, and use this platform to educate about the artist, amplify their music and talents, and give back directly.

By giving agency to our team in leading these decisions, they’ll have ownership in what artists and organizations we support, and will ensure an authentic connection between the instructor and the music, making for an overall enhanced client experience.

As a part of this new programming, we’ll also focus on partnerships with up-and-coming Black artists to help drive awareness to their work.

Classes will be regularly scheduled at all locations each month; we don’t know the exact number yet.

03. CLASS ACCESSIBILITY

The practice of yoga has not been made accessible to communities of BIPOC, not just on a socio-economic level, but with overall exposure to the practice. In order to increase this access, we’ll partner with groups and organizations that support BIPOC, offering free classes to their members.

Additionally, we are expanding Y7’s community outreach program, Freedom to Flow, which brings yoga + mindfulness to students in marginalized communities. We will share more on our Freedom to Flow Commitment in the coming weeks.

04. INSTRUCTOR REHIRING + RETRAINING

While COVID-19 has and will continue to have a harsh financial impact on the business, it also gives us an opportunity to rehire instructors who have a deep interest and connection with music and inclusive teaching, and also to retrain instructors on curating a music-driven experience.

All instructors will go through a required retraining around all teaching practices with a focus on music connectivity, understanding the content of the songs and history of the artist, and the impact this has on students. Instructors are to only play music that is authentic to them.

WHO WE ARE

Y7 IS STILL SWEAT DRIPPING, BEAT BUMPING, CANDLELIT YOGA.

OUR MISSION IS STILL TO BREAK DOWN THE BARRIERS OF TRADITIONAL YOGA.

WE ARE STILL A COMMUNITY.

As we rebuild post-COVID-19, there are many unknowns and truthfully, we don’t have all the info yet. We are committed to holding our promises, and keeping you a part of the process in what we learn, what we address, and what we change within each of our 5 Commitments.

We thank this community for the open and honest dialogue and holding us accountable, and hope you will continue to do so.


NEW COMMITMENTS

The work does not end here. We take responsibility for being a part of the problem, and we recognize our responsibility to be a leader in the change. Y7 is making the following commitments towards racial and social equality. We will share more detail on each of these individually.

TEACHER TRAINING SCHOLARSHIPS

While we hire with a focus on diversity, there is a gap in the applicant pool for yoga teachers of color. This is an example of systemic racism. To disrupt the gap in the applicant pool for non-white yoga teachers, we offer a partial scholarship towards our 200-Hour Teacher Training program. We are expanding this program to include full scholarship opportunities, with the understanding that an individual’s socio-economic status should not inhibit them from the practices of yoga. We know that representation matters and that the more diversity that exists within instructors, the more it will encourage students to come to the practice, and to become teachers themselves.

FREEDOM TO FLOW

To truly make yoga accessible, we must bring our mission beyond the studio walls. In 2018, we launched Y7’s Freedom to Flow program that brings yoga and mindfulness to youth in underserved and underprivileged communities. Sessions include a Q&A section that break down some of the misconceptions around yoga and provide students with tools to apply these practices in their everyday lives. Education is how you create change and open conversation, and it is where the majority of our community efforts have been focused. We are expanding this program to offer virtual classes in order to reach more students during COVID-19.

DIVERSITY, EQUITY + INCLUSION

The impact of the work with Dr. Laura Quiros on our team thus far is invaluable and should be a free, accessible resource for all teams to adopt. We will be sharing a roadmap on the workshops, sessions, and principles that were the most effective towards cultivating an inclusive and accountable culture that values and supports diversity. Our intent is for more teams to have access to this framework for doing the work internally.

While we currently do not have our full team of employees, we are identifying ways to connect and continue this work with interested individuals and embed it in the hiring process as we rebuild. It is our priority to focus on diversity within the leadership team as we have an opportunity to rebuild our organization.

LISTEN TO + AMPLIFY BLACK VOICES

We commit to using our platform to listen to and amplify voices of those who have been long silenced and abused, while also challenging the rest of our community to be allies, because this work should not fall on the Black community to solve. We are sharing all upcoming workshops, fundraiser classes, and ways to connect with the community on this page below.

This page exists to provide transparency into our internal practices, to keep you informed on our initiatives, and as a resource to join us in the fight against racial injustice and a systemic problem of racism.


EVENTS SCHEDULE

DIVINE FEMININE WORKSHOP: EMPOWERMENT, MOVEMENT AND INTERSECTIONALITY

MONDAY, JULY 20 | 7PM – 8:30PM EST

Combine your yogic practice with your anti-racism work, while embracing your divine feminine for personal empowerment.
Join Y7 instructor, Yemie Sonuga and Divine Feminine Empowerment Coach, Cara Kovacs on a journey through movement and identity. Explore soul opening postures and intersectionality (the way that identity impacts and intersects with our work on and off the mat). This workshop includes 30 minutes of movement, followed by an exploration of intersectional feminism, breakout rooms, group discussion and meditation. Taking place on the Second New Moon in Cancer, the sign of the Mother and Divine Feminine, the new moon represents new beginnings and a great time to manifest. We could collectively manifest for Black lives together. 
We desire to create a culture of calling in, not calling out. Please expect to be checked on your privilege.

We suggest coming prepared with a journal, pen, crystals, water and an open mind.

All proceeds support Black Feminist Project that enriches the lives of, restores agency, justice, joy and health to Black women, girls and non-men with an emphasis on mother-led families. Y7 will match all proceeds raised.

Led by Yemie Sonuga + Cara Kovacs
Online via Zoom
Workshop Price: $30


Yemie Sonuga has spent the last half decade expressing her love through yoga.  She is a 200-hour RYT yoga teacher, and a forever student. Yemie teachings are based in Vinyasa, Meditation, Dharma Yoga, and Visualization. Her approach to teaching is one of encouragement. Empowering you to believe in yourself, allowing the dismantling of fear, and the re-imagination of your true self. She has taught yoga across Canada and the US. Yemie offers a weekly Zoom class, as well as group Visualization sessions. She holds a Masters Degree from the Royal Scottish Conservatoire. Follow her @yemiesonuga.

Cara Kovacs is an intersectional feminist empowerment coach who radically transforms the lives of her clients through a powerful combination of Eastern and Western spiritual and clinical practices. With a background in psychotherapy, reiki, astrology, feminism, and Tantra, she specializes in uncovering and healing the unconscious blocks that keep people from claiming and living in their divine personal power. She facilitates workshops worldwide and coaches private clients who are powerful and passionate about being the change they wish to see in the world. Attend her monthly full moon club, Moon Crew, for monthly magic making and ritual. Follow her @carakovacs.


ALLY-FOCUSED GOAL SETTING WORKSHOP

Right now many of us are asking ourselves the question – how we are going beyond social media to work towards dismantling institutional racism? Rather than trying to step into a role that is commonly expected such as protesting on the front lines, this workshop will help you utilize your strengths to identify your individual role within the social change ecosystem. We’ll outline what you want to accomplish, work through a goal-setting learning plan to take action, and leave feeling more empowered on how to best use your voice as an ally.

All proceeds were donated to Loveland Therapy Fund. Thank you to all who donated. Y7 matched all funds raised.

Hosted on Instagram Live @y7studio
Led by Riv McCollum @rivyourbestlife
.

Riv is one of our Chicago founding teachers. She uses her voice to empower other women in the world of wellness, yoga, and strongly advocates for mental health.


YOGA FOR RUNNERS WORKSHOP

We will focus on creating stability and strength throughout the body, specifically targeting the muscle groups most activated during running. We will also spend time focusing on recovery of those same muscle groups with poses that promote release of tension and deep targeted stretching. This mix of strength and recovery will allow our bodies to feel more supported while running through increased balance, better posture, core stability, and injury prevention.
No prior yoga experience needed. All levels of runners welcome.

All proceeds will be donated to Race Forward. Race Forward brings systemic analysis and an innovative approach to complex race issues to help people take effective action toward racial equity. 

Led by Alison Whelan. New date to be announced.


FUNDRAISER FLOWS

Y7 is donating to Black Visions Collective, Color of Change, nationwide bail funds, and Loveland Therapy Fund.
We’ll also be hosting Fundraiser Flows where we’ll additionally match the proceeds raised for organizations selected by our instructors. For the upcoming schedule of fundraiser flows, check back here and stay connected with us on Instagram.


RESOURCES


This page exists to provide transparency into our internal practices, to keep you informed on our initiatives, and as a resource to join us in the fight against racial injustice and a systemic problem of racism.