Fellow Squirrel Erin Henshaw: Why I believe in The Mind Body Project

My On-Paper Story:
My name is Erin Lee Henshaw and I grew up in Vienna, Virginia.  From a young age I was a creator, running my first business in 3rd grade out of my parent’s basement. I excelled in sports and in the classroom.  I went to the University of Virginia (UVA), where I studied Spanish and Sociology and worked at the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer immediately after college.  After nearly three years of working in DC, I moved to Beijing, where I became a freelance start-up consultant and created my own company, The Mind Body Project (TMBP), to bring balanced health programs to expats. After five years in China, I returned home to the US, was introduced to the concept of mindfulness, and began incubating TMBP at the UVA iLab to adapt our China programs to the US market. I run a wellness studio in Belmont called The Yellow Door and work as a freelance consultant for marketing and corporate training programs.

My REAL story:
My real story is that my name is Erin Lee Henshaw and from a young age I liked to push myself mentally and physically.  I liked to please adults, and I liked to feel like a leader. When I wasn’t good at something, I pushed tirelessly to become perfect at it, or walked away. My first brush with severe anxiety came when I arrived at UVA and noticed that I had to pee all the time.  I got checked out at the doctor, and nothing seemed to be wrong.  I went to counseling, and they told me to take fish oil and read a book called “Feeling Good.”  I did.  I found it dry, and I didn’t do the exercises.  I gained 20 pounds, and began to drink a lot of beer to numb how uncomfortable I felt around so many new people.

By my third year I wasn’t sleeping, so I went on sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication. I had my first panic attack on the airplane on my way to study abroad in Spain, but it took me seven more years to learn about panic disorders, attachment disorders and trauma.

My first weeks at the Avon Walk, I would walk home after a 10-hour day and think about how my parents both had the same jobs since college and say to myself, “This cannot be the rest of my life.” Sitting in an office felt like prison. I had always loved languages and was intrigued by US-China relations, so I decided that I would move to China, teach English, and figure out how to change jobs when I got there.  I had the most intense nightmares of my life when I arrived in Tangshan, China, but went off my medications cold turkey, and decided that if I survived moving to a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, I could basically do anything, and maybe my fear would go away.

It didn’t.  By the end of my time in China I was working 7 days a week at a start-up, having nightly panic attacks and flashbacks to my childhood.  Something had to give.  I quit my job, took a mental health holiday in Australia and wrote in my journal, “I give up.”  It was the most relief I had ever felt.  Knowing what I know now, I would have written,  “I’m letting go,” but at the time I didn’t realize the difference.

There are a textbook amount of factors that led me to nightly panic attacks in China, but I will say this; throughout my years in therapy, reaching out to friends and my own reading, no one told me about basic brain science, and how I could develop control over my emotions with breath, movement and intention.  My “Feeling Good,” Cognitive Behavioral Therapy book told me how to change my thoughts, but what I really needed was a mind body tool that integrated what I was thinking AND feeling in my body.

I found that tool in yoga and neuroscience.  When I went to Hatha yoga in Beijing and Australia, I started to pay attention to my thoughts and feelings, and even though they were mostly out of control, sometimes, in final relaxation, I was able to find relief.

· When I learned about Dan Siegal’s hand as a brain model and how our thoughts can be hijacked by our memories and emotions, I got it.  We can use breath and movement to keep our frontal lobes “online”, and access our higher wisdom.

· Reading that Buddhist monk Matthieu Richard’s brain had be scientifically proven to be “happy and healthy,” I believed that if my brain could be broken, it could also be healed.  

Einstein was right, “You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it…” but he didn’t mention just how much sleep, time, discomfort, practice, patience and community it takes to re-wire our brains!

I started The Mind Body Project so that humans in a high pressure world of expectations, with real families and real life challenges know that there is relief, and it comes in the form of accessing the wisdom of our bodies. If we are compassionately guided through learning how to listen, we can heal. In fact, we can use these tools to move from not only surviving but, to thriving.

A short while ago, I received an email from UVA Career Services Center entitled, “Yoga + Strategic Planning.”  It was from a woman named Jenn Harvey, who wanted TMBP to run a mindfulness program for her team at UVA.  After struggling to find my place in Charlottesville, it was a true blessing to been seen by Jenn and her team.  A few weeks after, I received another email from Becky at Mindful Mornings, and (pushing through fear and trepidation), I decided it was time to tell my story.

It’s an honor to be surrounded by women, companies, and people who allow me to share mindfulness tools that have lead me to believe that “I don’t have ducks; they aren’t in a row. I have squirrels at a rave; and I’m ok with that on most days.”




LIVE mindful movements video

with Co-Founder, Erin Henshaw