Lifestyle: Living Well

Finding Focus

The meditation experts behind MNDFL help us
put the “full” in mindfulness, and share how the practice
can decrease distraction and increase focus.

As you begin reading this article, how many tabs in your browser do you currently have open? How many apps are you circulating between on your phone? We live in a world of constant distraction. Even if you consider Instagram your outlet for zoning out, you likely have zillions of thoughts racing through your mind as you scroll. It’s almost impossible to be where you are when you’re constantly getting signals from someplace else. Working for Estée Lauder, we consider ourselves some of the biggest beauty junkies in the world, but we can’t even focus on our beauty routines without our attention going elsewhere.

So when we heard of MNDFL, a collection of three meditation studios in New York, we were inspired to better understand what the concept of mindfulness actually means. The myth, we learned, is that meditation is often associated with the idea of “emptying” the mind of distracting thoughts. But the reality is more about expanding both heart and mind. In pursuit of a better approach to feeling our best, we sat down with Ellie Burrows, CEO and Co-Founder of MNDFL, and Megan Mook, a senior meditation instructor, to help us focus.

What is the one thing you wish everyone understood about meditation?

Ellie Burrows: That the point is not to turn off your mind. It’s a dynamic practice that uses the mind—you need your mind in order to practice. The mind involuntarily thinks like the heart involuntarily beats, so thoughts are going to come up throughout your sit. That’s totally normal and OK. (FYI, I’ve never had a thoughtless meditation in my life!) When you become aware that your mind has wandered, gently, and without judgment, come back to the breath. That last part takes practice, which is one of the many reasons “practice” is such a wonderful word for the act of meditation.
Megan Mook: It’s more about expanding the heart and mind, not narrowing our focus.

How did you personally discover mediation?
Can you describe the impact it has had on your life?

MM: My first experience was basically initiation by fire! I went to live at a Zen Monastery in college as part of an independent study project. It was a drastic lifestyle shift, but I loved it. Over the years, meditation has given me a whole new perspective. I now see everything and everyone as participants in a gradual journey toward love and connection.
EB: Looking back, I can see with total clarity the profound impact meditation has had on my life. Consistency is key, and that’s ultimately how you begin to see benefits, which are cumulative. Meditation has 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 and coworker. It’s also changed my relationship to time. I don't feel like I'm racing against a clock anymore.

What inspired you to start MNDFL?

EB: Honestly, I was struggling with my practice and I was finding it incredibly hard to meditate in my own home. The studio 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 loved the feeling of group meditations and I personally liked the format of boutique fitness studios—reserving a spot online or dropping in and joining class. At that time, I was volunteering for [MNDFL co-founder] Lodro Rinzler’s non-profit, the Institute for Compassionate Leadership. We had become friends, and I approached him because I knew that I couldn’t build this special space on my own. We have complimentary skillsets and MNDFL is like our kid who inherited all of our best traits.

Meditation has helped me be more open-hearted toward myself and others, and it’s also helped me redefine beauty in my own life.

How hard is it to maintain your practice and continue to carve out space for it? Do you meditate every day?

EB: I practice twice a day for 30 minutes, and I know firsthand the challenges associated with maintaining a daily meditation practice—“But I just need to send one more email before I practice,” which actually turns into 35 emails. Once I experienced the benefits firsthand, it was much easier to set aside the time and prioritize it.
MM: I do meditate every day, but sometimes I give it more time than others. In such a fast-paced life, it can be hard to fit meditation in, but the truth is, it’s because we live such a fast-paced life that we need to be sure to carve out the time.

What other must-haves are part of your daily routine?

MM: A long, hot shower! It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 degrees outside, I absolutely have to have a hot bath or shower—and the longer the better! That, and some quiet time.
EB: My self-care routine has four pillars: meditation, sleep (I need eight hours to be 100% friendly), exercise (the more regular the better) and nourishing foods (it’s important to put quality fuel in the gas tank). I’m currently in the process of reducing my caffeine intake by 80%, but I absolutely adore black tea with steamed milk, so I’m a bit sad to see it go. It was my second favorite ritual of my day (meditation is the first, of course). Oh, and flossing. Wow, I used to be so lazy about that, and it’s a complete revelation.

What is your beauty routine like?

EB: In my experience, meditation changed my perspective on beauty in general. One of the Tibetan words for meditation is “gom,” which also means to “become familiar with.” Meditation helps us become familiar with all of who we are, even the parts of ourselves that might elicit a negative emotion. Meditation has helped me be more open-hearted toward myself and others, and it’s also helped me redefine beauty in my own life. Beauty is less about pleasing aesthetics and more about inclusivity. Building on that, I like to approach beauty from the inside out. In the mornings, I’m mostly a wash-and-go human. I try to keep it simple. Brushing/flossing my teeth, washing my face and moisturizing twice a day. I get facials once a month. And I love a manicure/pedicure.
MM: My beauty routine is intimately tied to wellness. I take a lot of salt and clay baths. They make my skin feel lovely, but they are also deeply detoxifying and restorative. I also use gobs of untoasted, organic sesame oil all over. It makes quite a mess, but it feels absolutely divine! Sesame oil is also an Ayurvedic remedy for anxiety, and I find it really helps me unwind and sleep well.

Fill in the blank: Mindfulness is…

EB: The act of purposely bringing your full attention to the present moment and whatever is occurring in it.
MM: Loving attention. Sometimes the love gets left out, but that’s the most important part.

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