The wellness industry in NYC is rapidly expanding, but the group of insiders is extremely tight knit. Ellie Burrows, CEO and co-founder of MNDFL, a NYC based meditation studio, stands out as a walking reminder to meditate. She opened MNDFL almost two years ago in the West Village and already expanded to the Upper East Side and Williamsburg, proving the demand for the practice. Here, she talks about her inspiration for the first-of-it’s-kind studio, her personal practice and what she thinks will be the next big thing in wellness.
How many years have you been practicing meditation and what brought you to it?
I’ve been practicing meditation for 7 years. I had a little health scare, which landed me in the office of Dr. Frank Lipman, a wonderful functional medicine doctor in the city. That visit was the first day of an almost ten year journey of self-exploration and study. That same year, I was introduced to a practice called Ecstatic Breath-work, and that was the first time I really ‘met’ my breath. While it has its benefits, it was neither meditation nor practical for everyday usage (you don’t want to drive a car or write an important email after hours of doing that), so I started exploring and struggling with meditation. I struggled with my consistency around my mindfulness practice for 5 years before finding Vedic meditation. I’ve been practicing the latter for a little over two years. The practice is twice a day for 30 minutes and it’s stuck like glue.
The opening of MNDFL two years ago in NYC was groundbreaking. What inspired you to create the space?
I can’t believe it’s been almost two years! I worked in the independent film business for seven years and over the course of that career, I would listen to the way my colleagues would talk about film and realized that the only things I felt equally as passionate about were spirituality and the pursuit of consciousness. I knew I was looking at an unhappy future if I didn’t own that and listen to it. Couple that with the fact that all my free time was spent exploring, studying and learning about those things and I decided to quit my job in 2013 and travel around the world as a spiritual tourist to pursue mindfulness in a more meaningful way. When I returned, still unsure of what lay ahead in terms of my career, I enrolled in a New York University program to receive a certificate in personal coaching while picking up a few writing gigs on the side. During that time, I was struggling with my meditation practice and finding it incredibly hard to meditate in my own home. MNDFL arose from a deep personal need. I wanted to meditate in a space that wasn’t religious and didn’t involve a weekend-long commitment. I wanted a space where I could drop in and be with a community interested in exploring meditation in a contemporary context. Basically, I was searching for a contemporary accountability structure around my practice. I loved the feeling of group meditation and I personally liked the format of boutique fitness studios — reserving a spot online or dropping in and joining class. I was also volunteering for Lodro’s non-profit, the Institute for Compassionate Leadership; we had become friends and I approached him because I knew I couldn’t build this special space on my own. I needed his expertise to support the integrity of the studio.
Fast forward to today and you have three locations! What does that tell you about New Yorkers or society in general?
We live in a fast-paced dynamic city and I think people are looking for help when it comes to managing their stress and navigating the demands of contemporary city living. That, and of course we’re all looking for ways to disconnect. I think science is just now proving what some spiritual traditions have been saying for thousands of years, so people are finally listening. But, people are looking for a way to practice that is modern, accessible and suits the demands of their everyday life. People will practice as long as they feel it is relevant to their life and once one witnesses the benefit, well, that is the best incentive to keep practicing.
How has a regular meditation practice helped you personally?
In terms of its personal benefits, it’s introduced deep relaxation into my life and created space to make decisions with clarity, calm and an open heart. It’s made me a less reactive person (I have a lot more space between my reaction and the thing that’s triggering me), which means I’m a better partner, coworker and human. It’s also changed my relationship to time. I don’t feel like I’m racing against a clock anymore. It’s also made me less fearful in general. My meditation practice is very relevant to my modern life, what I practice on the cushion joins me off the cushion. I’m so grateful for that.
Who in the wellness space would you consider role models and why?
SO MANY PEOPLE. I’ll try to keep it short. Both old and new friends: Simone De La Rue, I’ve been a client of hers for a long time and she really helped me feel comfortable and commit to opening a brick and mortar business. She also brings a lot of joy to what she does and I like that so much. Frank Lipman because he walks the line between east and west so effortlessly. Emily Fletcher, she taught me the type of meditation I practice and I’ll be forever grateful to her for that. Sara Auster, not only has she become a close friend and confidant, but she really put Sound on the map in New York and created a whole new avenue for people access the profound benefits of sound healing. Latham Thomas – she is a light and it’s inspiring the way she supports and uplifts other women while they’re bringing humans into the world. Lauren Bille – for making reproductive health information accessible in thought-provoking way through CYCLES + SEX. She’s a fierce community organizer. And, I recently met Deesha Dyer, the former White House Social Secretary to the Obamas. Deesha launched a Philly based organization called Be Girl World which empowers teen girls who are facing hardship via global education & travel. bGw challenges girls to think beyond their neighborhood, dream bigger than their city limits, and create possibilities outside their country borders. Access to education and travel was a big part of the path that ultimately led to MNDFL. Deesha is out there creating opportunities for young girls who don’t have the kind of access to opportunities that I had. You can donate here. Do it!
What was the best wellness advice you ever received and who did it come from?
There’s been so many amazing pieces of advice along the way so I’m going to try to distill it to this: It’s taken me awhile to learn that with great discipline comes great freedom.
Meaning that if I prioritize sleep, meditation, exercise and a healthy diet, that I can show up more fully for myself and the humans around me. And, it’s important to note, that I don’t take for granted that I am in a position to prioritize these things.
For most of us, our earliest experience on the planet involves a caregiver meeting all of our needs without us needing to even speak them out loud. I think we often forget that when there is careful attention paid to something it thrives and grows. I try to be soft, gentle and forgiving with myself. I know that the nurtured Ellie is the best Ellie.
If you were to give one piece wellness of advice to Curos readers, what would that be and why?
Meditate. It helps us live life with a more open heart, which in turn helps us be better versions of ourselves.
As a thought leader in the space, what do you think the next big wellness trend will be?
Not calling anything a “wellness” trend. That word seems to be getting a bad rap lately and it’s been rather fascinating to watch a dialogue unfold around the word wellness, what it means, what it includes, what it omits. I’m getting emails in which people point out that they feel uncomfortable using the world “wellness” as a way to label or describe the sector MNDFL is in. It’s such an amorphus word. MNDFL is trying to address the underlying suffering people are encountering; meditation is a bit different than other elements in the industry in that way.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to train to become a meditation teacher it feels like the most natural next step on my journey.