The Health Scare That Led Ellie Burrows to Start NYC’s First Drop-In Meditation Studio

Ellie Burrows had a health scare in 2008 that landed her in the office of functional and integrative medicine expert Dr. Frank Lipman. He introduced her to meditation to manage emotional aspects of her health issue and having that de-stressing practice became her anchor. She realized meditation was like going to the gym— if you go consistently, you’ll see the benefits. That’s when she came to the idea for MNDFL, New York City’s first drop-in meditation studio.
Bonus: Use the code WellBe for a free 30-minute MNDFL class (first-time community members only, any location)!
*This is a short clip from Burrows’s full interview— click here to watch the whole thing.*
Burrows had been practicing ecstatic breathwork, a dynamic practice where you breathe deeply in a certain cycle, but the practice left her so euphoric she wasn’t sure she could even drive afterwards. Not practical, right? She started working with mindfulness meditation instead, but found that, even with a cushion at home, she wasn’t being consistent. (BTW, mindfulness meditation is the act of bringing your mind to your breath.)
“I noticed that I was showing up for my workout, in between jobs, 2 hours a day, 6 days a week, but I could barely show up for the cushion and the altar in my own home,” she told WellBe.
She turned to meditation teacher Lodro Rinzler and asked why it was so hard finding a place to meditate in NYC that was un-intimidating and didn’t require a long time commitment. That’s how they came up with MNDFL and opened the doors to the first studio in November 2015, with Burrows as the CEO and Rinzler as the Chief Spiritual Officer. Now, with three locations in NYC and an online video platform, they’re reaching meditation practitioners novice and experienced.
When it comes to meditation, Burrows likes to reference the “four Cs”:  commitment, consistency, cumulative benefits, and choice. Burrows says that many people feel overwhelmed at the idea of starting a meditation practice. They don’t know where to start, or will begin a practice and now notice any changes and feel like they must be doing it “wrong.” According to Burrows, the key to implementing a meditation practice and reaping the benefits lies in the four C’s, which are:
  • Commitment to practice
  • Consistency with which you practice
  • Cumulative benefits
  • Choice
Let’s break down what each of these means:
Commitment. In order for meditation to “work” for you, you need to be willing to stick with it. You also need to be willing to prioritize it over other things, and make time and space for it in your life. You can’t do any of this without a solid commitment to your practice.
Consistency. “If you really want to see the benefits of practicing meditation,” says Burrows, “you have to practice for a consistent amount of time.” She defines this as setting aside a specific amount of time in your day, every day, to practice. That might start off at five minutes a day, then build to ten minutes, then 20. But, says Burrows, even if it never gets to 20, “just that consistency of setting aside time and practicing, you’ll begin to see benefits from your practice.”
Cumulative Benefits: Once you make the commitment to meditate consistently, the cumulative benefits will start to add up. You’ll find that these benefits build on one another — maybe the meditation helps you sleep better, which leads to you beginning your day in a calmer and more restful state; or maybe your new ability to quell your own anxiety makes those around you feel more at ease, which creates a cycle of peacefulness. Either way, the first two C’s are essential to reap these cumulative benefits.
Choice: She explains that when you practice, your mind goes down a rabbithole of thoughts, and it’s your job to gently and without judgment dismiss those thoughts and return to your breath. This very cycle — noticing that your mind has wandered, and bringing it back — builds an awareness between you and your consciousness, says Burrows. This awareness, in turn, seeps into different aspects of your life.
(BTW, the Spark Health Program includes group meditation challenges to help you get started with a meditation practice. Get on the waitlist for the next session!)
When something happens that triggers an angry or upset response, like an irritating email or your spouse forgetting to do a household chore, “your body is feeling the chemical reaction as if a tiger were attacking you.” Meditation, and the increased awareness that it builds, allows you to understand that you’re not, in fact, being attacked by a tiger. You can see that your mind is going all over the place, and this recognition gives you the power to make a choice about how to respond, rather than entering into a state of fight-or-flight where you just react or lash out.
“I can feel my choice, that I can be more open-hearted in this situation,” says Burrows. “I can show myself more compassion, the human in front of me more compassion, and maybe choose a kinder way forward.”
Burrows practices Vedic Meditation, a mantra-based practice, twice a day for 20 minutes. If she misses a day, she feels it.
“It feels really similar to how I used to want coffee every day at 4:00 pm. By then I’m sluggish, my body is craving it. It’s so used to the release of bliss chemicals that happen during practice that it will miss and crave those chemicals when I’m not practicing,” she said.
Watch our full interview with Burrows, where she discussed the benefits of meditation, how meditation helps build consciousness, why meditation teaches you about yourself, how tech takes away from our relationships, and the upside of having a meditation community.

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