A conversation with Ellie Burrows, founder of MNDFL18 July 2017 - interviews
Above: Ellie Burrows of MNDFL. Photo credit to Joshua Simpson.
Often described as an urban oasis, MNDFL is New York City’s premier meditation studio. Like your regular drop-in fitness studios, you book 30- to 60-minute themed group meditation classes, and if you need a quiet moment in the middle of a busy workday, you can drop by to meditate by yourself.
This accessible concept effortlessly reinserts contemplation into everyday life and is what Ellie Burrows, MNDFL’s co-founder and CEO, believes helps people feel good. “We help people discover their innate goodness,” she says. “Meditation allows us not only to be more present, but helps us ride the waves of our strong emotions and live life with a more open heart. Basically, it makes us kinder humans overall.”
Ellie’s journey towards starting MNDFL wasn’t all that straightforward. For 7 years, she worked in the film industry but didn’t quite feel the same passion her colleagues did. Rather, she felt most at home exploring spirituality and self-consciousness.
In 2013, she quit her job and travelled the world as a spiritual tourist. But when she returned to New York, she struggled with her meditation practice as she found it difficult to meditate in her own home. She liked group meditation but there wasn’t a non-religious place that didn’t require days-long commitment. MNDFL was thus born out of her personal needs and as it turns out, many others wanted the same things.
We speak to her about the lessons starting MNDFL has taught her and how meditation helps her deal with everyday life and emotions.
The Mindful Company (TMC): What did you want to be when you were a child?
Ellie Burrows (EB): A witch.
TMC: If you came with a label, what would it say?
EB: Work in progress.
TMC: What gives you energy?
EB: Meditation, exercise, nourishing foods, 8 hours of sleep and my loved ones.
TMC: How do you overcome self-doubt?
EB: At its core, self-doubt is fear and if I can learn to sit with a strong emotion like that and ride its wave rather than act out, then I can learn a whole lot about myself. I look at strong emotions as a golden opportunity for self-inquiry and learning.
TMC: What does success mean to you?
EB: It's a word that our culture reveres. I just want to feel like I'm offering the best version of myself to the world when I get up every day. Always a work in progress.
TMC: What would you tell your 20-year-old self that you wish you knew then?
EB: Did you know that a 24-year-old brain is still considered adolescent? The 20s are so much harder than people make them out to be. You don’t have to have it all figured out in your 20s. It took me a decade to figure out a genuine passion. I’d always heard stories about people who dramatically and successfully changed directions in their 30s after they devoted their 20s to a specific track. When I heard those stories, I thought of those people as unicorns, but it turns out they’re totally human. Use it as a time to really explore yourself. And if you begin to show yourself compassion and patience during those years, there will be much ripening to be had.
Photo credit to Natalie Baxter and Ellie Burrows.
TMC: Share a quote that gives you strength or peace.
EB: "True control comes from doing nothing.”
I repeat this like a mantra when my emotions are heightened in my personal or professional life. From an evolutionary perspective, our body doesn’t know the difference between a bear that’s attacking us and an angry email from a boss or client. When our bodies fill with adrenaline, we want to act out in various ways by fighting or flying. We do whatever we can to try and get a handle on our emotions and gain control of the situation.
But in states like that, we end up making decisions with a total lack of clarity. Sometimes if we just sit with ourselves in the discomfort and let it move through us instead of acting out or responding right away, we start to feel empowered instead of powerless.
TMC: What are 3 things you do to lead a meaningful life?
EB: 1. Meditate.
2. Have eye contact. It signifies to people that I am actively listening and allows for a much deeper connection.
3. Be of service. Being human can be challenging and if there is someone in front of me, they likely could use help with something. I like to find out what that is and see if I can support them. It could be as simple as opening a door or something more involved, like helping them face a challenge that seems overwhelming.
TMC: Name a book that changed your life.
EB: I've read many books along the way that changed my life. From Osho to David Deida, from Pema Chödrön to Anaïs Nin. A book changing one's life has so much to do with the moment they are in at the time they are reading it (some of the books no longer feel relevant in the same way). The last book I read that left a big impression was The Course of Love by Alain de Botton.
TMC: At what point in your life did you first learn about meditation? What called you to it?
EB: I had a little health scare in 2008, which landed me in the office of Dr. Frank Lipman, a wonderful functional medicine doctor. 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 Breathwork and that was the first time I really ‘met’ my breath. While it has its benefits, it was neither not practical for everyday usage, so I started exploring and struggling with meditation. I saw the benefits firsthand so I kept at it.
TMC: What's the best advice you received when you were starting MNDFL?
EB: Someone reminded me that it's impossible to create something that is "one size fits all." There will be people who come to MNDFL and it might not be for them. That's okay. Try not to take it personally but rather see what you can learn from their feedback.
TMC: What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in your career?
EB: Time with loved ones.
TMC: What’s the biggest overall lesson you’ve learned in your career?
EB: One of the most important things about running a business, or any type of leadership, is understanding what your strengths and weaknesses are, and not being afraid to ask for support or help.
TMC: What are the top 3 things someone should consider if they’re thinking of pursuing a similar path to you?
EB: 1. Meditate.
2. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
3. Do your best not to make decisions motivated by fear, come from a place of love and generosity always. (I remind myself of this one regularly—it's not easy!)
If you’re not based in New York, MNDFL offers online meditation sessions.