When Henry Richardson, the founder of Define Body and Mind looks back on this spring, his first thought, he tells CultureMap, is: "It's been a constant transition."
Like virtually every other business in Houston, Richardson's chic gym shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He closed his 17 studios on March 16. And then, he and his team transitioned fitness into an online space.
"We learned to be masters of Zoom," he says, about how he and the Define staff checked in with each other, determined what fitness content to offer online, and how to keep themselves and their clients connected. "And now we're transitioning to our new studio."
A massive new space
That new studio, which opened May 18, is a relocation for the brand's flagship River Oaks location. It's a massive, two-story 7,800-square-foot building, located between River Oaks and Montrose at 2515 Morse St. And, Richardson says, even as he made the decision to go forward with the launch, he knows there are still more transitions to come.
"The first week has been great," he says. "The space is really quite large, so it allows us to use all the proper protocols. We're able to have more than six feet between mats, the ceilings are high — they're just gigantic — which is great, giving us a lot of open air. We have markers on the floor, we're sanitizing clients' shoes as they come in. We're definitely being cautious, but with an intention that we want to bring more joy into the lives of our clientele."
An infusion of joy
That infusion of joy is important to Richardson, who completed a master's degree in applied positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. His studies allowed him to see the connections between positive thinking and human's individual biology. Looking at the human body and brain as interconnected systems gave him an understanding that goes beyond meme-worthy positive phrases, and look at how the way people think, and then act, can lead to a better lifestyle.
"It's everything," he says. "It's nutrition, it's fitness, it's how you react to situations. One of my professors said, 'you have to define your role in this,' and I knew then that even though I wasn't 100 percent sure I was going to open this business, if I did, I was calling it Define. I want people to define who they are, and take that to use it to be a better parent, a better spouse, a better worker, whatever that looks like in their life."
That philosophy informs Define's individual approach to fitness and well-being. With strength, cardio and yoga classes, the studios meet clients where they are in their fitness journey, and help them achieve individual goals.
For Richardson, that's a lot more important than simply going to a gym to burn calories. The lessons in focus you learn in yoga can translate to how someone approaches problem solving on a work project. The endurance someone gets through strength training can be applied to taking the long view on challenges happening at home.
"In fitness, there is this idea that you have to be perfect," he notes. "But what we want to show people is that we'll help you find out what is right for you, without it having to be some societal notion of perfect."
That concept is embodied in the new River Oaks spot. In making it be a perfect representation of how he and his team approach wellness, the location offers meals to-go by Define Foods, an Infrared Sauna to boost health and immunity, and one-on-one training sessions led by personal training expert Dr. Tina Hill.
A safe, new approach
Class schedules are still limited and members will have to sign up online, as well as having to wash their hands and feet upon entry to the studio. However, with the advent of the new studio, Richardson has developed a new partnership with Dr. Nashat Latib, a board-certified emergency medicine physician, who will offer functional medicine sessions as part of the new Define Health concept.
Richardson is excited about the move. He says that he gets purpose from his clients, and he knows their support is a big part of his own success. As they've slowly started to come back, emerging from stay-at-home existences, he's looking to inspire them not only in terms of fitness, but also in how the lessons of the pandemic can be part of daily life.
"It's no longer a challenge to transition," he says. "That's one thing I think we've learned from COVID-19. We've sort of normalized this idea that we have to think differently and adapt. It's like when you add resistance to a bike, right? It makes you work harder, and that makes you stronger. Resistance isn't always bad."