by Karen Derr
Photo by Sofía van der Dys
At a time when gyms and fitness bootcamps are opening in warehouses without air conditioning, Define Body & Mind has a different approach. Opening their ninth location at 3209 Montrose in mid-August, the fitness studio’s philosophy includes surrounding those seeking fitness with sights, sounds, and materials that enhance their energy to inspire and facilitate results. Founder Henry Richardson, who became LEED AP certified because of his interest in developing spaces that are healthy and sustainable, is involved in the opening of each Define Body & Mind studio, including franchise locations in Sugar Land, The Woodlands, Midland, and Cincinnati, Ohio. About his newest location, Richardson adds, “We’re so excited to open up on Montrose. Honestly, Montrose is an area I’ve wanted to open in for so long.”
A teacher by nature, Richardson began his teaching career with Teach for America in New York City, teaching sixth grade while also leading Pilates and yoga classes. He had started practicing yoga and Pilates because of a back injury while attending the University of Florida on a diving scholarship. After traveling and living throughout the country, opening studios for a New York-based fitness company, the native Houstonian returned here in 2007 and began his MBA at Rice University. In a course called New Enterprise, Richardson recalls that a professor lectured that you must define your own role in this world. He took the words to heart and began developing his passion for health and wellness. He soon registered his Define Body & Mind business name and spent his last semester of business school working on Define as part of his graduate studies.
Richardson graduated in 2009, which he says was a very odd time to launch a new business as Houston was in the throes of the recession. However, since many of his peers were struggling to find jobs, there was no real peer pressure. Describing the uncertain economy as somewhat freeing, he signed the lease for his first studio space in the upscale Tanglewood area and opened in October of 2009. A second location on West Gray near River Oaks was a natural direction for expansion, Richardson says, because the demand was there. The West University and Energy Corridor locations followed. The West University studio includes a commercial kitchen where Define staff and guest chefs demonstrate healthy cuisine, host fun happy hours, and create content for the Define Body & Mind blog.
Despite all of Richardson’s responsibilities developing new facilities for his expanding business, he continues to teach at several of the Define Body & Mind locations. “My role is now as an innovator, manager, and instructor. Because of my back injury, I feel a responsibility to help clients keep their long-term health. Our classes incorporate a lot of physical therapy. I still teach all over, and I’ll be teaching a lot at our Montrose location,” he says. “A core base of our clients are super-moms. We also have a huge base of young professionals. We offer them the best of the fitness world and the best of the yoga world.”
It wasn’t until Richardson opened his West University location that he started offering a cycling class he developed, called Define Revolution. The class is an innovative take on spinning. “It’s very mindful, rhythm based, dance-on-a-bike—fun and uplifting. Most people go to a spinning class and literally after 10 minutes they’re looking at their watch and thinking ‘When is this going to be done?’ The comment we get most often is that the class flies by because it’s fun.”
Describing his new studio on Montrose Blvd., located just south of the busy Westheimer intersection, Richardson admits, “It’s one of those buildings that you never notice, but we’re going to turn it into something really cool. It’s an amazing location. I wanted to do something that was beneficial to the community, and not destroy an old building. I love this building. Eventually we’ll have a deck to do outdoor classes right on Montrose. It has to be social, it has to be fun, and it has to fit into the everyday living of our clients.”
Richardson’s personal life is just as busy as his business. “I met my partner when he had already adopted his son. We started dating, and it was me literally falling into a relationship with him as well as with his son, very, very quickly. His son was very little at the time, so he’s known me his whole life. I cannot imagine life without him. Truly, being a parent . . . it gives me more meaning, even with my job. [My professor’s] idea of ‘define your role’ is still so applicable, because being healthy has even more meaning. My role as a parent and as a role model makes it so important that we are being our best and feeling our best for him.” His partner, Monsour Taghdisi, who is a luxury home builder primarily in the Tanglewood area, is helping with the development of the Montrose studio. Taking a short break, Richardson and Taghdisi are vacationing in Ireland this summer, along with their 3½-year-old son. “We try to travel with our son wherever we go,” Richardson says.
The couple demonstrates a commitment to giving back in both their personal and business lives. In July, Define Body & Mind held a Donation Revolution Ride benefitting Texas Children’s Hospital NICU. Regarding being a part of Houston’s social and charitable scene, Richardson says that it has taken a back seat to being dads these days. “We still go to our fair share of events, and we’re actually chairing the ballet ball this year. I’m excited about that. With my background in diving, I did a lot of ballet training. I understand the discipline.”
Growing up in the Memorial area of Houston, Richardson describes his own family as conservative. “I have the most loving family. I truly, truly do. They’ve always supported me, no matter what. My dad was a big-time football player in college, so when it came to the sport of diving, my dad was like ‘What? What is this?’ But he definitely got into it. We had our struggles, [like when he would see] his little boy wearing a Speedo, running around with other little boys wearing Speedos,” Richardson laughs. “He became highly supportive—that dad that went to all my meets. He was always proud of me. One of the highlights of my career was when I won state when I was in high school and nationals when I was in college. To this day, they are still so proud and so supportive, and I feel it. We spend a lot of time with them. We’ve definitely had our moments of trial and overcoming obstacles, but it’s been fruitful because they are on board with me and on board with my family. In fact, I’ve never seen my mom express so much openness and love as she has to Monsour. It’s been really great.”
To find out more about the grand opening of the Montrose Define Body & Mind location, or to see the schedule of classes and workshops at their other Houston locations, go to definebody.com.
Karen Derr is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine and a broker associate at Boulevard Realty.