It’s a Friday night in Silver Lake, LA, and I join a queue of lithe, tanned men and women, all wearing the standard uniform round these parts of black slouchy trousers, cashmere beanies and tattoos. The line snakes around the block and everyone plays with their phones, waiting to see if we’ll be allowed inside a black box with the words 'We Flow Hard' graffitied on the side in white letters.
Inside the building I’m hit by a wall of intense, sauna-like heat, the smell of bodies and almost-total darkness. Candles flicker under a mural reading ‘A Tribe Called Sweat’. Kanye West’s "All of the Lights" thrums out over huge speakers. We each hand over $25 and when it reaches capacity the rest of the queue gets turned away. But this isn’t Hollywood’s hot new club – it’s Y7 Yoga, a hip-hop yoga studio with a cult following in LA and New York, including Meghan Markle. Girls star Zosia Mamet and Ashley Olsen are also fans.
In December 2016, Meghan Markle told Women’s Health: “I love an intense vinyasa class – and even better if it’s blasting hip-hop and done in a dark room with candlelight. The best! I’ll do yoga a couple of times a week – hot yoga specifically.” She also used to post photos of herself at Y7 on her (now-deleted) Instagram. Sarah Levey, owner of Y7, says: “Meghan is really sweet. Our staff love her, she is really great. Always super kind and gracious."
I’ve done a lot of novelty yoga in my time (SUP, Acro, Goat – you name it, I’ve chaturanga-ed in it) but a class at Y7 is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Instead of chanting, people harmonise along to Ginuwine. It’s so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face (or your foot if you’re particularly flexible). There are no mirrors, no lights and just three ‘flows’ which you do three times, and on the third time you’re encouraged to ‘freestyle’ – which in my class means hardbodies flipping up into headstands. I can’t see them do this, I just feel a rush of slightly less hot air whoosh up next to me. The infra-red heat of around 30 degrees is palpable (think Bikram levels of balmy) and combined with the darkness and the hip-hop beats, the whole experience feels distinctly trippy. I’ve also never seen so many attractive men in a yoga class, which at least brings new meaning to hot yoga.
If you’re used to namaste-ing to a soundtrack of plinky whale music or Tibetan gongs, then having rap blaring out obviously feels a bit disconcerting. But if you’re a hip-hop fan, the music is so well choreographed that just when you think you can’t possibly hold plank pose any longer, the next uplifting tune comes on. Classes come in two types – vinyasa flow and a more restorative ‘Slow Burn’ – and some are themed around particular artists (I’m gutted to discover I missed a Cardi B vs. Nicki Minaj class).
If you were a total beginner, you’d struggle to keep up here as the instructor doesn’t demo poses; she walks around with a Britney-style mic calling out instructions. Plus it’s so dark you can’t even copy the person next to you. But the upside of this is that you don’t have to worry about anyone judging the fact that you can’t touch your toes. If – like me – you sometimes find yoga a bit boring, listening to Drake while you Warrior One is a revelation. Pumping beats become strangely meditative in their own way.
Unlike some yoga studios or styles of practice (cough, cough, Kundalini), no one at Y7 is taking things too seriously. Posters in the changing rooms proclaim ‘I’ve got 99 problems but a bridge ain’t one’. There are T-shirts for sale emblazoned with ‘Asap Yogi’ and ‘Snoop Downward Dogg’. Y7 has been called the ‘SoulCycle of Yoga’ and I can see why.
At the end of the class I am bright red, so soaked in sweat that I’m practically sticking to the seats of my Uber home (no five-star rating for me), and feel as wired as if I’ve had a triple espresso. But, in the words of Drake, I’ve started from the bottom.