To celebrate our Anxiety Issue, we’ve teamed up with Y7 Yoga for an anxiety-themed workshop. Taught by Dina Smirnova, one of Y7 Yoga’s founding teachers, the 60-minute session will guide participants through a slow Vinyasa flow, easing their tension and refocusing their energy. We chatted with Dina and Y7 Yoga owner Sarah Levey about how yoga has shaped their lives and alleviated their own anxieties.
Tell us a little bit about your backgrounds. How did you get involved with yoga as both a lifestyle and a career?
Sarah Levey: I was born and raised in Michigan and went to school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. After graduation, I moved to New York to pursue a career in fashion. When we first moved to New York, my husband and I tried countless studios and classes at gyms. No matter what type of class I took, I always left feeling like something was missing, that I needed to go to the gym or take another, more cardio-based class. To be honest, I really felt like I was wasting time and money, and as a result, I stopped practicing altogether. My husband was always a consistent yogi and after feeling the same frustrations time after time, we decided to do something about it and created Y7 Yoga.
Dina Smirnova: I was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, although I mostly grew up in San Diego. I am a founding teacher at Y7 Yoga and became part of the team before we opened our first pop-up space. I initially moved to New York to start a dance company, to pursue my passion for movement, and to challenge myself and grow as an individual. I definitely have both an entrepreneurial mindset and I enjoy sharing what I love to do. In my world, the two go hand in hand.
What does Y7 Yoga stand for? The website describes it as “a tribe of strong yogis.” What kind of yoga do you focus on, what’s your philosophy?
Sarah Levey: We wanted a practice with music we wanted to listen to, music that inspired us. We wanted to sweat and move. We wanted a place where people could practice and not be worried about what the person next to them looked like, to fall and not care, to be ourselves and get deeper into our own individual practice. We saw a void in the market and decided to fill it. The bottom line is people are busy—we wanted to provide a yoga experience that would make you sweat, really work your muscles and give you a good workout, but we also wanted to maintain the basic teachings and spiritual aspect of the practice. To me, Y7 Yoga has become a family. I absolutely love every single one of our teachers. We definitely have our differences, but when it comes down to it, we all want the same thing. We have built up this tribe of yogis who support and challenge each other. I am just trying to get stronger everyday—my focus lately has been on getting deeper into the postures, taking myself to the place of restlessness, then using the breath to get through it.
Dina Smirnova: To me, Y7 Yoga stands for community and pushing boundaries in a creative, safe, space. Our practice is a vigorous Vinyasa flow set to new, cutting-edge music, which is designed to motivate students and encourage them to move past their perceived limitations. Part of our philosophy is to create a space for students to explore, and we definitely have achieved that.
To celebrate our second issue, you’re doing an anxiety workshop with us on Saturday, March 14 in Y7 Yoga’s Soho studio. Is anxiety a theme that you come across quite often?
Dina Smirnova: As human beings, our minds are oftentimes programmed to become anxious and worry. With our pasts and life experiences, we build habits and ways of being which, in some cases, cause us to be out of the present moment. By definition, anxiety is rooted in worry and fear. Most of the time, these worries and fears are over things that actually do not exist in the present moment. When I first started practicing yoga, it was originally to alleviate chronic physical pain. However, as I continued my practice, I found I received the added bonus of becoming significantly calmer and less anxious. In fact, I found that I slept better at night, was less reactive to internal and external stress, and completely eliminated my panic attacks (which I experienced on a consistent basis for a period of time). I find when I teach my classes, I focus a lot on emphasizing the breath, which helps us stay present (in our bodies) and out of our overly-analytical heads. When I develop any sort of class or workshop, I often set an intention for myself and for the class. Once I am in front of the students, I read the energy of the room and allow that to ultimately dictate the direction of my teaching.
What’s your personal mindset to deal with stress?
Dina Smirnova: My personal mindset is to stay present and in the moment by practicing letting go of the past and the future. I have found the best way to do this is through meditation. The asanas (the physical postures and practice of yoga) are only one of the eight limbs of yoga. These postures were originally designed for the student to get to a deeper place of inner peace and stillness, and to condition the student to be physically able enough to sit in stillness for elongated periods of time. I use my time on the mat to find a moving meditation, and for conditioning of both the mind and body.
Sarah Levey: When I am stressed out, I try to remind myself that life really isn’t that serious—our thoughts tend to make it hard and to complicate the process. Take a moment and breathe, knowing that everything is temporary and that the moment of anxiety will pass.
Photo courtesy: Dina Smirnova