“My parents own a big training facility for watersports and wakeskating in Florida. My dad is the top coach in the world for wakeboarding and people came from all over just to train with him in Orlando. I grew up with that,” she tells The Local.
“My undergraduate was in accounting in the US, then when I moved here I was transferred with the company I was working for as an auditor. I also did my Masters in accounting here in Lund as well. After that I decided – nope, no more accounting, and opened a yoga studio.”
But let's rewind a little: Henderson didn't quite go from ditching accounting to opening a studio overnight. Originally, yoga was something she took up to help with her wakeskating, over ten years ago.
“I still do wakeskating for fun, as a hobby, but competing was really hard on the body. I travelled around and competed professionally in international competitions, but you can only do it for so long. You get a lot of injuries, which is how I got into yoga, because it was really great cross-training while I was competing,” she explains.
“When I started working corporate, yoga was really a safe haven for me, being able to make it to yoga class no matter how long I had been working balance my mind, and got my body moving after sitting for so long.”
What started out as a way to help with her sport and escape her day job gradually evolved into something Henderson would share with her family and friends. After moving to Sweden, she started to teach them, and the positive feedback sparked something of a eureka moment.
“While I was studying for my Masters I was teaching on the side as a hobby for friends and family. I got a lot of positive feedback, so from that I decided to do my 200 hours' training, which for yoga is what you need to elevate yourself as a teacher.”
“I came back and sat down and decided, 'OK, I can do this full time'. I started with another company which I still have, beYoga Sweden. I started teaching at Lund University, founding a program there collaborating with Erasmus.”
Teaching students in Sweden. Photo: Bethany Henderson
The ball was rolling, and it soon picked up some momentum.
“After about half a year Malmö University recruited me to do the same program there, and I still work with them today. My ambition was to make yoga available for students and also international students, because when I first started teaching there were no classes in English,” she recounts.
“They were also quite expensive. So my goal was to make it accessible, with the language, and affordable for students. I still teach cheap classes for students at the university to help develop the community there.”
There was evidently a market for accessible, English-language yoga in Malmö, but it wasn't all straightforward in the early days. In hindsight, the American regrets not taking all of the help available to her in Sweden when she first started her company – even if the information sometimes wasn't obvious.
“With my original company, it was quite tricky in the beginning because at that point I didn't speak any Swedish. In principle filling in the paperwork is simple, but you have to know where to go and who to talk to, and someone to help you fill it out, because it has to be done in Swedish,” she notes.
“I knew for example that Arbetsförmedlingen (Sweden's employment agency) existed, but in the US an employment agency is a different thing. It's obviously not a negative place here, they're so helpful, but I didn't go for so long. Then when I did, the line was so long, and I thought 'OK, I have a Masters degree, I can do this on my own'.”
“That's something I regret because they can give you a lot of help with your business. So if anyone reads this – I would really want them to know, go there, get the advice, because they can be so helpful, and do it before you do anything else.”
We're pretty sure we'd be unable to smile while doing that. Photo: Bethany Henderson
In 2016, an unexpected development occurred when Henderson was offered the chance to get into a partnership with a friend in charge of a yoga studio in the centre of Malmö. By September of that year, she and Tess Kestere were running Yoga Roots, the first English-language yoga studio in the Swedish city.
“With the studio, I wasn't looking to start my own physical studio space, but my friend Tess, who I first worked with creating a lot of events together with in the city, got an opportunity for the space. She thought of me to go in and create the business together,” she says.
“We're right in the centre of the city, it's amazing. We describe it as a hidden oasis, because you can't really see it from the street, it's more word of mouth. We're working to develop it that way. We're so lucky.”
The reaction to the studio has been overwhelmingly positive. Some of the good feedback from internationals in Malmö is particularly satisfying for Henderson, given her own experience when she first moved there.
“I just had coffee with an American woman who moved last week, and she said 'wow, it's amazing to have classes in English, it feels just like coming home to me'. Which is really nice, so that's the goal.”
“For me, when I moved to Sweden I wanted to find a studio here, but I couldn't find a space that felt just right. As an English speaker in a Swedish class it isn't the same experience. You need to listen a lot deeper, it's not just move your hand here or there, there are different layers. So when I had the opportunity to start something solely in English and give people what I didn't have, it was a really special thing,” she observes.
Not one for the amateurs. Photo: Bethany Henderson.
Along with the language side of things, another unique selling point for the studio is having the first barre classes in the city (an increasingly trendy ballet-inspired exercise concept). It's perhaps no surprise to learn that plenty of Swedes are coming along too.
“We're open to everyone. We have a few people who will come and speak to me in Swedish rather than English – I do one on one adjustments in Swedish, so I can do that too, because we both speak the language. We have a lot of Swedish students from before coming to the studio too. The idea is to just be an open space: so you don't have to be Swedish to be comfortable, but if you are, you're welcome too,” Henderson emphasizes.
“People have been very enthusiastic. We premiered barre two weeks ago, I joined the class, we were booked wall-to-wall. It's a tough workout. A lot of people when they think of barre think of ballet, which of course is tough, but Tess also plays exciting music, and it's a more up-beat, modern workout than even I expected. I was sweating by the end of the class,” she laughs.
And if that's not enough to pull people in, the studio also has something of a mascot in the form of a cute dog, Leo, which no doubt helps.
“My yoga dog, Leo!” she laughs. “He's eight months old so he stays home a lot now, but in the beginning he used to come to the studio when he was younger, so hopefully he can come back – he is missed by many of the students!”
Beyond the return of Leo, the yoga instructor has bigger plans for the future. At the top of the list is to travel more with her work.
“For me, my goal is to be more international, so I'll be travelling a lot this year, to teach throughout Europe and the US. So on a personal level, I'm expanding. I'm going to start doing online classes and expanding outwards like that. Which of course will promote the studio as well.”
As for the wakeskating, that's temporarily on hold, at least while the Florida native is in colder climes.
“Coming from Florida, the cold is rough! You can go out in a full suit and train, but it's not as enjoyable in my opinion. I haven't done it yet here, I'm too chicken. I went to the kallbad (a Swedish cold water bathhouse) for the first time last weekend because cold water isn't my thing. But when I go back the US I still do it for fun.”
And her parting advice for any other internationals considering starting a company in Sweden? Dive in.
“There's really nothing to lose. Why not try it? Go to Arbetsförmedlingen, talk to them, have a plan. As long as you're passionate about something, I truly believe you can make it work. I live my day to day on my ideas and passions, to make things happen, and in the last few years I've really seen such growth in my ideas and projects. The sky is the limit, right?”