A film industry refugee from Los Angeles, Ellie Burrows began her career as an assistant for the William Morris Agency and rose to the executive level at a film marketing and management firm. But after taking a break to travel the world as a "spiritual tourist," she settled in New York to become, as described on her Twitter account, a "storyteller / seeker / mystic / guide." But she hasn't lost her business sense. In late 2015, she opened MNDFL, a boutique meditation studio near Washington Square Park where you can "book a cushion" for a wide variety of meditation classes—"Energy," "Sleep," "Breath," and "Intention" are just a few—depending on your mood. Burrows meditated on her journey and business with us:
MNDFL has been open for nine months now. How's it going so far? Great! On a Sunday in the middle of July we saw our very first totally sold-out day, so that was an exciting milestone. And we've booked about 20,000 cushions since we opened our doors. Our youngest member is nine and our oldest is 90. Our community is wildly diverse—all ages, shapes, sizes, colors, genders, sexual orientations. We're here to serve all New Yorkers and help them learn how to relax and meditate and teach them how to build and maintain a meditation practice. It's been really lovely work so far, to be honest. Really fulfilling.
Have you always meditated? No. I was working in the film business and every moment that wasn't spent at my desk was spent in spiritual pursuit. But I'd been really struggling with a meditation practice for about five years. I tried to learn online and through apps. I would visit religious centers, but they never felt like home to me. I felt like I was running around the city trying to find the right style for me.
So how did you come up with the idea for MNDFL then? When I decided to quit my job and reevaluate [what I wanted to do], I started volunteering for Lodro Rinzler [at his nonprofit, the Institute for Compassionate Leadership]. Lodro had been teaching meditation for 15 years and written five books on the subject. One afternoon we were having tea and I was saying, "I have the cushion, I have the altar, the mood is totally right at my home, but I'm having a really hard time, as we say, getting my tush on the cush." I thought about what I was really diligent about, which was working out, and I thought about the accountability structure around my workout schedule and how can I recreate that around my practice. And I wondered why there were no secular and contemporary spots where I could explore all kinds of meditation. Lodro said, "Look, it's probably only a matter of time before there is [a place like that] on every corner." So I said, "Then let's do it ourselves, together." Sixteen months after that, we opened our doors. I wasn't expecting any of that to come out of the tea.
Did it ever feel oxymoronic creating a business out of a spiritual pursuit? No. We didn't choose a nonprofit model because we wanted to pay our teachers very well and create a beautiful space that would inspire people to return to their practice every day. We didn't want to struggle to pay the rent in order to provide this space for humans. It wasn't about creating a business model that would make us the most money, it was about creating a business that filled a deep personal need for ourselves and that might fulfill other people's needs, as well. This space is built out of love, to serve [the community].
So have you found a meditation style that clicks with you? Yes, when we were interviewing teachers for MNDFL, we met Emily Fletcher of Ziva Meditation. She specializes in Vedic meditation, which is an ancient, basic practice. I was drawn to her and decided to study under her, and it stuck. That's why we have 28 different teachers. We want to present our community members with lots of options. It's up to them to decide what teacher they want to go deep with. We say we're a little like meditation university. You try different classes before you pick a professor or a subject you want to major in.
How has your practice changed you? It has allowed me a lot of space in my life to just process and react. Our bodies are designed to run from tigers and sometimes, on a chemical level, your body doesn't know the difference between an angry email from your boss and an actual tiger. Meditation allows me the space to sit with and respond to the things that come up in my life. I'm less reactive and trigger-happy. Meditation has changed my relationship with time, too. I don't feel like I'm racing against the clock as much as I used to. And I feel that I'm living my life with a more open heart—a more compassionate and kind heart. It's a really special thing for me. I like to imagine what the world would be like if every single person meditated. Oof, wow. I get this warming sensation in my heart when I think about that.
10 E. 8th St between 5th Ave and University Pl
30-minute class $15, 45-minute class $25, monthly unlimited membership $150