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It's All Happiness and Relaxation at The Yoga Shack

By Jake Levin

Everyone seems to have different reasons for partaking in yoga and its various subgenres. Some may desire to get in better shape, some may simply want to relax, to become more focused, or perhaps even all of the above.

Courtenay Hitchon said that her inspiration for opening the Yoga Shack in Sarasota, Fla., came from her extreme passion for practicing and teaching yoga, as well as the happiness it brought to her life.

"Yoga became my therapy, helping me heal from past experiences," she said. "So I quickly found that I wanted to share it with everyone I knew."

Hitchon partnered with Alli Koski in 2012 and opened the downtown location, a process which happened very organically, she recalled.

"We began holding small yoga classes at the downtown location, where we could only fit about eight people," Hitchon said. "We found that people were attracted to what we offered in our vinyasa style yoga, mentally, spiritually and physically."

The space was expanded on two separate locations to meet the demands of the market.

When Koski moved to California in 2015, she sold her portion of the business to Hitchon. This prompted Hitchon to take over full force; she left her job at Lululemon that October.

Around the same time, Hitchon met Nikka Colorado. The two became close friends and ultimately, business partners. They opened up a second Yoga Shack location in nearby Lakewood Ranch, which each partner knew would be a great place to expand the brand.

There is no shortage of offerings at the Yoga Shack, with perhaps Moonlight Shanti yoga being its signature activity. Geared towards yoga practitioners of all abilities, the Yoga Shack hosts Shanti Flow Under the Stars once a month. It is a hot yoga class, with rooms heated between 85-90 degrees, but different from Bikram yoga, which features rooms as hot as 107 degrees.

"Even more than the heat factor, I think the biggest thing that sets our style of yoga apart from other styles is that it is a Power Vinyasa style that involves upward dogs, downward dogs, chaturangas (push-ups), planks, warrior poses and core work," Hitchon said. "We keep the flow moving at a steady pace, to upbeat, inspiring music that helps the practitioner stay motivated throughout the class."

The sequence of events in a class will change, Hitchon said, so that each class will offer a different flow and keep students on their toes. The Yoga Shack offers many other styles of yoga, including yin, restorative, Chakra activation and meditation.

"There really is something for everyone at our studios," Hitchon said.

Hitchon and Colorado will partner with local businesses for special events throughout the community that merge yoga with other activities. They have held a Follow the Yoga class on a local rooftop over Morton's Market, as well as a Bottoms Up class at Mandeville Beer Garden.

Hitchon views yoga as a moving meditation, which gels well with these classes that move outside the walls of the Yoga Shack.

"[It's] a test for the mind and a challenge for the body to push through amidst difficulties," she said. "You can take your practice off of your mat and use the tools you learn in yoga to help you in life."

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