Henry Winslow, International Yoga Champion
By: Mary Von Ahnen, Co-Owner Horizon Hot Yoga in Frisco
Henry Winslow is a dedicated yoga practitioner of 9 years, whose teaching is rooted in the Ghosh, Ashtanga, and Dharma Yoga traditions. In 2018, Henry took first place in the International Yoga Sport Federation’s world championships. Although strength and flexibility initially attracted him to the mat and remain a focal point of his teaching, his appreciation for the practice has since expanded beyond the physical. To Henry, yoga is above all else a tool for cultivating clarity.
The introductory paragraph was taken from Henry’s website www.henrywins.com. Since Henry is leading workshops at Horizon Hot Yoga from September 27th – 29th, I wanted to know more than a few sentences about this man who is loved by many and who has captured the International title in a short 9 years of practice. So, I spent an hour talking to him and here is what I learned about this Harvard-educated corporate advertising executive turned yoga champion.
Henry was a spring-board diver through college. When he moved to New York to start his career in advertising for pharmaceuticals, he had no access to diving. A friend suggested yoga, and he fell in love with the experience on the mat, claiming it felt familiar, like “I’ve done this before.” Bikram yoga was the format that really hooked him.
Henry’s yoga practice began to spill off his mat and into his life. The advertising profession was a challenge and Henry, a self-described Type A personality, always had a goal…the next thing. Henry said he realized something significant… “there is no use postponing happiness until a future date that might not arrive”. Yoga helped him understand his truth, and he realized in this process that his values and his career were not lining up. He had always had an aversion to medication and yet here he was, working for the pharma industry. He left his corporate job and created his profession around yoga. He came to see teaching yoga as a different kind of healing service he could offer to others, and the work he had carved out made sense to him.
I wanted to know more about Henry’s belief that yoga is a tool for cultivating clarity. For Henry, there are levels of clarity. There is clarity at an external level…yoga removes blockages and gives you a connection to your body. But as you deepen your practice, you start to extend your awareness outside your physical form. Henry believes the end goal of yoga is to understand who you are, beyond the body and mind. Who you are does not change. Through the depth of your practice, you become empathetic and compassionate, and you start to recognize everyone’s unlimited power.
Our conversation shifted from generalities into Henry’s yoga practice. He practices yoga through living the yogi code of yamas and niyamas (ethical guidelines laid out in the first two limbs of Patanjali’s eightfold path). The yamas are restraints (like do no harm) while the niyamas are observances (like self-discipline). Henry meditates first thing in the morning. His focus is on being grounded and intentional. He then practices pranayama to bring his focus inward. He does a series of sun salutations and then practices forward folds, back bends, and twists designed to “hit every inch”. A huge part of Henry’s practice is teaching. He also considers his dietary choices to be an important part of his yoga practice. He is a vegan and strives to eat nourishing foods that cause minimal harm to others and the planet.
As a business person myself, I was interested in how Henry balances his commitment to his own yoga practice and also makes time to grow the yoga business that supports him. Henry says it is tempting for some teachers to get drawn into the hustle and grind of making ends meet, but he has learned that without a practice, it just doesn’t work. I love the words Henry uses, “The minute you lose the desire to learn, you lose the spark that helps your students.” He also quotes one of his mentors, Jared McCann. “Your practice is your business card.”
An important aspect of the yoga business Henry has built is his Dharma Talk podcast. On Henry’s website, he states that “the purpose of life, our Maha Dharma, is two-fold: first, to find connection to our source and second, to participate in the collective spiritual evolution of mankind. Yoga is one path to the former, and it is my privilege to share the wisdom of yoga as a means toward the latter.” When I asked him what Dharma meant to him, Henry said Dharma is a paradox. In a sense, everyone has the same dharma to connect to God, or Source or the Universe, and participate in each other’s healing and return to truth. But it’s also personal in that we all find our own unique role to play in that collective evolution.
One of the things I had been told by people who know Henry is that he is always happy. I asked him how he achieves this. He tells me that in fact, he is not always happy and believes it would be unhealthy to repress natural emotions; however, he does strive to be optimistic. One of the things he says is a key to his optimism is to remain in gratitude. He lays out the chapters of his life for me to illustrate his acceptance of the ups and downs. He was in advertising…this was a stressful field, but he had money. Now he works in yoga and wellness…the field is less stressful, but there is less money, and that in and of itself is stressful. In his words, “There will always be challenges. It’s your choice which ones you want to confront. If you accept that, then you can design your life accordingly.” Henry also talks about yoga making people happier, and he has dedicated his life to his practice and sharing yoga with others.
I asked Henry whom he admires. He started with his wife Veronica, saying that she completes him. Henry is analytical and full of masculine energy. Veronica brings an intuitive quality to their marriage and is good at seeing the big picture. Henry also cites a few yoga masters who he admires and has learned from. Jared McCann taught Henry how to cue and sequence a yoga class. He credits Rose Erin Vaughan with showing him new ways of understanding how energy (also called prana or qi) moves through the body. Kino MacGregor inspired Henry to use teaching to not only move students’ bodies but also move their hearts into righteous action. Finally, Henry counts a couple of business people in his most-admired list. He describes Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, as someone who shows the importance of taking risks, and Tim Ferriss (author of The 4-Hour Work Week) as someone who shows that you don’t need to fall in line with the conventional path.
In addition to learning from people whom he admires, Henry takes many trainings to deepen his practice. He is currently in training for Meridian Yoga Therapy, which deals with Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupressure, and yoga. Henry has also worked with teachers who are not specifically yogis. As an example, to get better at hand-balancing, Henry has worked with an acrobat.
I asked Henry how he balances the study of yoga and the practice of yoga. He answers that they become the same thing. The founder of ashtanga yoga stated that Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory. So, in order to learn (study) you have to do.
I talked to Henry about winning the International Yoga Sport Federation’s world championship. He says in his humble way this accomplishment has not changed him; however, the process of going through competition circuit really advanced his practice. Henry enjoyed seeing where his practice was at each point in the journey. He does not believe in comparing himself to other people, but he does compare himself to yesterday. Henry believes that growth and development are keys to fulfillment in life. The influence of judges and being on stage brought a new facet to his development.
I asked Henry if he had any final advice for our readers, and he responded, “If you can get interested in the process, you can have anything you want. Enjoy what is happening now. Perfection is in the pursuit.”
I had one last question for Henry. I had heard he was a big fan of vegan ice cream, so I asked him what his favorite flavor was. He answered promptly, “Cookie dough!” He was excited to recommend a new vegan ice cream available at Whole Foods called Koku Ice Cream (for now only in the Northeast but coming soon everywhere). “The best plant based ice cream I’ve ever had!” That is high praise coming from a vegan ice cream connoisseur.
Meet Henry and work with him personally at Horizon Hot Yoga in Frisco. He will be teaching the following at Horizon Hot Yoga September 27 – 29th.
Register today at www.horizonhotyoga.com
- Hatha Vinyasa class
- Mantra and Pranayama class
- Gratitude Practice workshop
- Locks and Keys to Arm Balancing and Floating workshop
About the Author:
Mary Von Ahnen has been in corporate leadership positions for more than 25 years. She is currently serving as the CIO at Fossil. She has also held leadership roles on many non-profit Boards. Mary and her husband Mike own Horizon Hot Yoga in Frisco, which offers Ashtanga, Rocket Yoga, Vinyasa, Hot 26, and other types of yoga.