Co-founder and CEO of Y7 Yoga Sarah Larson Levey On Multiple Miscarriages & Maternity Leave
Having disrupted the yoga experience as an entrepreneur and co-founder of Y7 (a 300+ company!), Sarah is about to add mom to her impressive resume. With a bubbling personality and can-do attitude, this thought-leader and fitness proponent shares her journey to motherhood from multiple miscarriages to preparing for baby, plus how she built her thriving brand, pregnancy workouts, tuna melts, and learning to let go. And, if her pregnancy were a song, it would be Push It by Salt-N-Pepper, of course. @sarah_ayako
State of mind?
I think I went through a growth spurt this weekend because my hips were killing me, but other than that, I have been feeling excellent lately. I was very sick, my first trimester — like vomit, vomit, vomit everywhere! I was one of those pregnant girls puking on the street; it was super cute. Past 15 weeks, I’ve been OK, a little more tired than usual, but completely manageable.
Boy or girl?
Now that I’m feeling good again, I’ve been working out as possible. Consistent body conditioning and getting my heart rate up every day makes a huge difference. I think it will help get me through the delivery and recovery to hit the ground running with baby. People train for a marathon, and much in the same way, you have to prepare for this too. I’ve been working with a pregnancy certified fitness instructor to focus on moves specifically geared toward childbirth and childrearing.
Interestingly, I have been doing more weight training with 8-10 pound weights (which is about what the baby will weigh) coupled with a lot of squatting, lifting, and shoulder work. For the first six months, it will be all about picking him up, holding him with one arm, or trying to stand up without disturbing him when he falls asleep on me. Many things that seem simple are difficult when you’re holding a single 10 lb weight and off-balance.
Have you modified your yoga practice while pregnant?
My pregnancy practice has become more focused on holding poses for more extended periods and less on rigorous vinyasas. I’m mentally approaching these long uncomfortable poses as though I’m preparing for labor. The chair-pose, for example, is super challenging for me, but knowing it’s temporary and learning to breathe through it, provides a huge lesson. I have been trying to bring that mindset into my practice a lot these days and teach myself to move through intense moments, which hopefully will help me during labor — perhaps motherhood too!
Do you have a birth plan or plan to breastfeed?
Many of my “mom friends” have recommended I have a birth plan, but I’m airing on the side of not. I had two miscarriages before this pregnancy and learned that I don’t have much control when it comes to anything on the journey of having a child. My only plan is to get him out safely; however, that looks. I’m trying to be open and relax about it.
Also, I would love to breastfeed (if possible), however, if I’m not able to for some reason, that’s OK. This is my mentality going into everything these days.
How did you process two miscarriages?
The first one was really, really hard. I was on birth control for 16 years, and I thought it was going to take at least a year to get pregnant after being on birth control for that long. However, sadly, it didn’t work out. At the time, not only was I the first of my friends in NYC to get pregnant, I also didn’t know anyone who had a miscarriage. It was very lonely and isolating; I was a mess.
On top of that, after you miscarry, your body doesn’t “go back” to its natural rhythm. Instead, I had to have a heart-wrenching D&C, which is major 45-minute surgery. Plus, two weeks of aftercare, that included cramping, inflammation, and a ton of meds, serving as a constant reminder. Lastly, your period doesn’t come back for 8-10 weeks. The recovery was a whole thing that I was not mentally or emotionally ready to handle.
With the second one, I was more prepared and a little more stable because I had been through it before. One of the hardest parts both times was the lack of information. I’m someone that likes to understand why something fails to fix it for the next time. But when you miscarry, there’s nothing. They couldn’t tell me why or what happened. I had zero information. I have good fertility and no genetic mutations, so there was no rhyme, reason, or way I could have prevented it. As difficult as this was to process, it’s led me to have an open mind when it comes to what I can and can’t control and has made me extra grateful for what I have now.
Will you take maternity leave?
We offer 12 weeks as a company, but I plan to take eight. Overall I feel excellent about it and trust my team entirely. We’re in a really good place, and I don’t feel anxiety about pulling back a little to be with the baby. We’re about to open our 14th location in Chicago and have about 300 employees — light years different from two years ago when I was still running to staff the front desk if someone was out sick. I’m going to do my best to disconnect fully during this time, but knowing me, I’ll likely still be checking my phone ;).
Wow, 300! How did you decide to start Y7?
Seven years ago, I was working in fashion and randomly pinched my sciatic nerve walking on the beach. To recover, I had rest and stop all fitness outside of yoga for a long time. So, naturally, I tried nearly every yoga studio in the city and wasn’t excited by any of the experiences. It was a multitude of things from the variety of classes that left me confused about what level I was to the 90-minute sessions, which felt SO LONG. Plus, the arbitrary rules I encountered, one studio even required attendees to be vegan (say what?)! None of it felt right and was much too restrictive.
Y7 is everything I wanted from a yoga experience — dark and candlelit, with loud music and no mirrors, which can be distracting. The beautiful thing about Y7 is that you have the music as your motivator to push yourself. No one is going to tell you to get back up or turn the resistance up — it’s up to you. Plus, the darkroom gives you the freedom to explore new poses because if you fall, no one sees you. Before Y7, it took me years to try simple balancing poses because I was too embarrassed to fail — it’s liberating not to shed the fear of being judged. We focus on bringing the practice back to the individual and motivate from an internal place.
So, you had this idea…how did you open the first studio?
I credit my husband with that, he’s a serial entrepreneur and has started eight businesses in the time we’ve been together — mind you six have failed, but that’s how these things go. It’s really inspiring and very cool.
After trialing all of the studios in the city and feeling unsatisfied, he suggested we do our own. At first, it was something we did as a side hustle on the weekends, and then we opened a pop-up, added weekday classes, and Y7 began to grow. In September of 2013, we took the plunge and officially opened our first location. The space we found allowed us to pay month to month, and we kept the buildout simple. We bootstrapped the first six locations, and I continued to work my full-time day job until the Spring of 2015, when we opened our 3rd location in Flatiron. That same year we began three more locations; it was aggressive and total insanity. Then, out of the blue, one of our instructors, sent me an email asking if we’d ever thought about taking funding and if we were interested, she was hoping to introduce us to her boyfriend, who worked in private equity.
While we had thought about raising, we hadn’t pursued it because we were doing OK, even though it was tough at times. We ended up taking the meeting with her boyfriend’s firm, and to this day, they’re still our single private equity partner! It was totally out of left field and completely serendipitous; I feel very fortunate to have partnered with them in this way because everyone at the firm has takes class and understands what we’re doing. Ultimately, they’re true believers and have been so integral in setting up our internal structure while allowing us to stay true to what we do as a company and the experience. They have never tried to influence that in a way that I didn’t feel comfortable.
What have you been eating?
Carbs for my entire first trimester! I was SO sick. I lived on baguettes and croissants. Now that I’m feeling good, I’m focused on eating as many veggies as I can throughout the day. Typically I have oatmeal with fruit in the AM and a salad with egg or avocado for lunch. If I have a snack, I go for fruit or a green juice from BluePrint. Dinner tends to be a little more significant with protein, starch, and roasted veggies. Overall, I’m trying to eat intuitively and surround myself with clean whole food options so I don’t grab chips on the reg, which I definitely would!
That said, on Friday and Saturday, anything goes! I eat whatever I want from pizza to burgers to sandwiches and dessert.
The one odd thing that I’m craving is tuna melts! It’s funny because I haven’t had one since I was in high school, but I can’t get enough of them these days — seems silly but feels so right. Must be the salt and toasted buttery bread.
Also, I’ve never had a sweet tooth, and now I do! A number of my friends got gestational diabetes while they were pregnant because of sugar so I’m trying to stay conscientious of this and curb my massive sugar cravings as much as possible.
As a business owner, there’s never going to be the perfect time to get pregnant. You can always find a reason to put it off, whether its studio openings or whatever, there’s always going to be something. Plus, you can prepare all you want, but I don’t think any of us are ever ready until it actually happens.
In terms of the loneliness I experienced with miscarriage, I encourage others to talk about what they’re feeling and be open with a few people. You don’t have to shout from the rooftops, but it’s essential to have trusted people that you can share your anger or sadness with, holding it in is never the right thing to do.