City life is stressing us out. If your coffee-scalded mouth ulcers and square-jawed teeth grinding aren’t painful reminders enough, just look to the numerous studies that find mood and anxiety disorder rates to be significantly higher amongst urbanites when compared to our friends on the farm. Or, ask Ellie Burrows. “City life can be quite chaotic,” says the 31-year old co-founder and CEO of Manhattan’s newly opened MNDFL meditation studio, where even the most cynical New York City stress-heads are sinking into (very) comfortable cushions and finding calm in their choice of meditative class.
“Perhaps you’re agitated because you’re running late and stuck in traffic, hastily eating your lunch at your desk in order to make a deadline, or walking by someone sleeping on the street and feel a tightness in your chest,” suggests Ellie, who’s found that the remedy for these city-born stressors is mindfulness (as has a mounting body of scientific research). “Mindfulness allows us to become aware of and notice the sensations we are experiencing in any given moment,” she says. “If we are able to become aware of how we are showing up in any given moment, we can learn a lot about ourselves. Maybe we can even surrender to the traffic, take 15 minutes to eat our lunch by a window free from distraction, or allow that feeling of sadness to wash over us when we see another human being suffering.”
Ellie shares the motivation behind her MNDFL movement and shows us how to find a moment (or 10) of peace in the mayhem of city life.
Where does your interest in mindfulness stem from?
I think I’ve always been interested in peeling away the layers of my proverbial onion, meaning I’ve always had an interest in offering up my best self to the world. To know your best self, you have to know your whole self – maybe even the parts that might be challenging to look at. When one is interested in self-reflection and self-discovery, mindfulness is often a natural step along the away. It’s allowed me to become more familiar with who I am, be more present with my own feelings, and become aware of how my external environment might be affecting me at any given moment. I’d call it a super power, but it undermines the humanity required to experience it.
MNDFL caters to everyone from devotees to cynics. What do you say to non-believers?
It’s not particularly mindful to judge something one has never experienced. Try it out and then let’s talk. A gentle reminder though that consistency is key – you wouldn’t expect to go to the gym once and lose 10 pounds. Meditation is similar – it takes some time before you see the full fruits of your labour.
Sadly, we don’t all have a MNDFL studio to escape to. What about those who find it hard to get away from their desk… what methods can they use to meditate during the day?
We just launched MNDFL Video and it currently has about 60 videos featuring our expert staff and class offerings. Meditations range from two minutes to 30 minutes.
How often should a city worker meditate to experience the benefits of mindfulness?
That depends on the person and the style they practice. I practice twice a day for 30 minutes with a mantra. Consistency is the most important piece of the meditation pie: consistent style, consistent time of day, consistent amount of time, consistent environment.
Are there ways to meditate on your commute that you’d recommend?
Headspace and Insight Timer are great go-to apps when you’re in transit. Here’s an analogue tip from my co-founder, Lodro Rinzler: “Feel the weight of your body on the earth. Lift up gently through your spine. Relax the muscles in your neck, shoulders and back. Close your eyes or rest your gaze around three feet ahead of you on the ground. Connect fully with the natural cycle of your breath. When you drift off into thought, simply acknowledge that by gently and silently saying, ‘thinking’ to yourself. Then return your attention to your breath, allowing it to anchor you in the present moment.”
What techniques would you advise people use when they struggle to quieten their thoughts?
Good news, you’re not alone. I’ve never had a thoughtless meditation in my whole life. Without judgement, effortlessly and simply return to your breath, mantra or contemplation.