Sharon Calhoun Norman and Crystal Pinkston at YogaSix Hyde Park, 1618 E. 53rd St.

Months delayed by the pandemic, two friends at the mid-stage of their careers, Crystal Pinkston and Sharon Calhoun Norman, have opened a YogaSix studio in East Hyde Park, 1618 E. 53rd St., offering the neighborhood a new boutique fitness option.

Other local businesses have been helping with outreach ahead of the launch, and they have more than 200 members so far.

"The response has been phenomenal," Calhoun Norman said. "I think people are ready to stop doing yoga and fitness in their living room. We took a leap of faith and continued on with the project, and it's paid off."

The two met 12 years ago on Meetup, the online service through which like-minded people meet for organized activities. (Their group was "The Real Girlfriends of Chicago," for women new to Chicago or otherwise wanting to expand their social circles.)

Pinkston is from Fort Worth, Texas, moved to Chicago in 2008 and lived here for 11 years; now she commutes back and forth between Illinois and Texas. Calhoun Norman is from Beverly and lives in North Kenwood.

"We've just been really good friends since we met, and one of the things that we really enjoyed doing was to go out and do boutique fitness together, whether it's yoga or Orangetheory," Calhoun Norman said. "This was the perfect marriage of our passions as well as a great business model."

"This is our first business venture, period," she continued. "We're both first-time business-owners." Calhoun Norman is an attorney by trade, working full-time in intellectual property, while Pinkston does marketing research in intellectual property. The YogaSix studio will be a side passion project; now that Calhoun Norman's children are older, she wants to build something for her family. The two have invested $500,000 into the business.

"Yoga has a special place in my heart, because as a young associate in a law firm, it was super stressful, and I always say that yoga saved me," Calhoun Norman said. "It was the one place where I could really come to completely clear my mind, meditate, focus and come out feeling completely refreshed and renewed. Even before this franchise, I believed in the mind-body benefits of yoga."

When Calhoun Norman is on her mat, she feels "crystal-clear" and can go within herself. "It's really a moving meditation," she said. "You're connecting your body movements with your breath, it's just very powerful. You have clarity of mind. I always joke, because I started with Bikram Yoga, that you have to be focused or you'll die, because it's 105 degrees in the room."

And that aspect is true about YogaSix, so named for its six different classes: it's hot. Classes start around 85 degrees and warm to over 100 degrees. And they range from a 101-level in difficulty to power-focused ones and a sculpt-and-flow class.

"You can pick and choose," Pinkston said. "If you want to do something more in the beginner or relaxation phase."

YogaSix "tries to provide more of the whole sensory experience," she said. Lighting in the studio changes as practitioners go through sequencing, and customers get a cold towel at the end of classes.

Pinkston praised yoga for being "a modality that I kind of flow in and out of," stretching out muscle groups when they need it and using the practice to clear her mind after long weeks.

YogaSix appealed to her as a business model because of its broad audience. "I think it's our class formats. It's in the teaching methodology and teaching from the ground up and using language where you don't have to know the postures to know what the instructor is guiding you to do," she said. YogaSix teachers also offer adjustments in class to make poses harder or more challenging as well.

YogaSix is a subsidiary of Xponential Fitness LLC, an Orange County, California-based private company reportedly planning a billion-dollar initial public offering. Calhoun Norman called it the largest boutique fitness company in the United States, with 1,600 studios — Pure Barre, with a location in Hyde Park, 5239 S. Harper Ave., is another of its subsidiaries.

From a business perspective, Pinkston said the company's "semi-absentee" franchise model appealed to them, as they both wanted to continue their full-time careers. (The studio has a full-time manager as well as nine part-time instructors.) And she praised the company's "broad reach in terms of the population that we could actually target to, bringing potential leads and prospects in."

Hyde Park already has boutique yoga studios, including CorePower Yoga, 1539 E. 53rd St., and the independent Chaturanga Holistic Fitness, 1525 E. 55th St. But Calhoun Norman recalled Hyde Park's status as the commercial hub of the mid-South Side, stressed her and Pinkston's determination to serve a diverse clientele and desire to join the 53rd Street business community, and rejected the notion that the neighborhood has already reached market saturation.

"Our core demographic is actually first-timers," she said. "Yoga is literally for everybody. … Our approach to the modality is different, and we think there's enough space here for everyone."

Pinkston said she wants their business to reflect the diversity of Hyde Park: "We want fellow Black women to come in and feel welcome. We want to have diverse teachers on our roster, so that whatever you're looking for you can find."

YogaSix Hyde Park has had its soft opening. There are other franchises in Chicagoland, including ones in the city in Lincoln Park, 2105 N. Southport Ave., the Gold Coast, 1150 N. State St., and the South Loop, 1136 S. Delano Court; unlimited membership for classes at all studios is $166 a month, and unlimited membership at a single studio is $156 a month, with 15% off that rate through the end of May. A four-class pass is $96, and a single class costs $30.

The studio also has a retail shop in the check-in space, selling national brands like Lululemon Athletica, Manduka and Noli; Calhoun Norman and Pinkston would like to start carrying local brands in the future as well. They would also like to establish a local scholarship for local teacher training.

Two hours of validated parking is available at the 5252 Apartments garage on Cornell Avenue.

Class sizes are limited to 15 participants to ensure social distancing, and everyone wears masks. The HVAC system sterilizes the air as it circulates.

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