I’ve always struggled with meditation. As an avid yoga practitioner since I was 16, I’ve certainly brushed up against it quite a bit, as the two practices go hand in hand. However, I have never successfully meditated. I’ve usually spent the entire time worrying about how my mind is not quieting down, and how much longer I have to sit here, and then making my to-do list, or figuring out what I want to cook for dinner that night, and wondering if that dude texted me back yet, and how much I can’t wait to check my phone. Needless to say, I’ve never walked away from my attempts at meditating with that calm, centered feeling that I know is the desired outcome.
I’ve also read enough scientific literature to know how very good meditation is for our health, both in mind and body. Consistently practicing meditation can actually change the neural pathways associated with emotion, easing anxiety and high blood pressure. MRI scans show that, over time, meditation practitioners' brains actually rewire. Their brains show less connectivity to the amygdala (our fight-or-flight brain region) and higher connectivity to the regions of the brain associated with attention and concentration. Even crazier, the brain scans of expert meditators (those with over 40,000 hours of meditation experience) show that their resting, non meditating brains looks similar to that of an average person when they're meditating. This means that, with enough meditation, you literally restructure your brain for a lasting, constant calm. Never has there been a more necessary exercise for us neurotic New Yorkers.
New York, Meet MNDFL
Living in New York is stressful. It doesn’t matter how much money you're making or where you live; it is always a hustle. There are many wonderful things that come with that hustle, but there are times when we all crave a break from the intensity. Thankfully, there is now an oasis in the form of a new West Village Meditation studio, MNDFL.
I first heard about MDNFL through one of The ANY Mag's favorite wellness podcasts, That’s so Retrograde, and hearing creators Lodro Rinzler and Ellie Burrows' description of the space, and their reason for creating it, I was intrigued. New York, with its constant moving energy, has never had a meditation only drop-in space, and there is certainly something oxy-moronic about the whole idea.
Rinzler and Burrows came to meditation through different routes. Burrows, a former film executive, had began practicing a form of meditation called Breathwork. "But that kind of breathwork feels more like a special event rather than an every day thing. I wanted an every day practice... I always struggled with consistency in my own practice."
Rinzler is a lifetime meditator. Raised as a Shambhala Buddhist, he started meditating at six years old, and by 17 he was living in a monastery as a monk. He soon realized that that life wasn't for him, and returned to life as a "layperson," as he says, but began teaching meditation and has continued to teach for the past 15 years. He's also written five books focused on meditation, including the popular The Buddha Walks into A Bar.
MNDFL came together when Rinzler, who met Burrows working at his non profit, The Institute for Compassionate Leadership, asked why there wasn't a "non religious drop in studio similar to a boutique gym. Think: a gym for the mind, if you will."
A Gym For The Mind
And that's what MDNFL essentially is. Throughout the day, MNDFL offers 30-45 minute meditation classes, which you can sign up for in advance, online, or simply drop in to take. There are many different types of meditation classes offered, including Breath, Sound, Mantra, Energy, Heart and more.
"Each of our classes revolve around a theme - something you might want to work on in a given day. ..We think of it as meditation university - you can take a wide variety of classes, see what you most connect with, and go deep with that," explained Lodro.
So who better to test out MNDFL's meditation university than me, a neurotic, unsuccessful meditator, and fellow newbie, ANY Mag editor and Alder New York co-founder David J. Krause? Between the two of us, we have more stress and neurosis than a room full of Los Angelenos.
Due to a series of train delays and poor planning, I managed to arrive as stressed-out, harried, and scatter-brained as I possibly could on the day we decided to give MNDFL a try. With minutes to spare before the start of class, I ran the three blocks from the train stop to MNDFL and burst through the door, where my coat immediately caught on a series of picture frames, crashing them to the floor.
The entire class, apparently waiting for me in the lounge area so we could all enter the meditation room together, did not blink an eye, though David, as the exception, did stand there laughing. Burrows, who was managing the front space, was also as cool as humanly possible, saying that this happens all the time, and not to worry about it.
Enter The Oasis
Even though MNDFL is directly off a busy NYC street, the minute you enter the space, you feel a sense of calm emanate. Impeccably designed by interior design firm HomePolish, light gently hits the wood floors and grey and white cushioned couches, where students and practitioners are encouraged to spend time drinking tea, reading any of the various meditation books on offer, and speaking with other meditators about their experiences. The most decorative parts of the space are the living walls: lush, sculptural pieces of natural art. It's noticeably quite, which Burrows later explained is due to the sound blocking white-washed exposed brick walls.
As soon as I removed my coat and shoes, the class was ushered from the lounge area to the meditation room, when we all sat on our assigned cushion, with optional meditation back supports (my new favorite accessory), and/or blankets, as we so desired. Kathy Cherry, our MNDFL Breath guide, introduced herself, and explained that she would be guiding us through our session, checking in every three minutes or so throughout the practice. She warned us that as first timers, 45 minutes might feel a little long, which caused me some unwarranted trepidation.
Learning To Tune In
As I began to focus on my breath, I realized that having Cherry there to guide me was incredibly helpful. Knowing that there was someone else there to keep track of time allowed the control freak in me to take a backseat and focus on my breath. Additionally, knowing that Cherry was checking in every three minutes helped my wandering mind to get back on track. Her words were very instructive. She explained, as we breathed, that it's normal for our minds to wander. It's natural, the same way our lungs inhale and exhale breath, and we can't expect the brain to do anything else. Therefore, meditation is a series of stops and restarts, where we get into a meditative state, and then may come back down to our thoughts. We simply need to begin focusing on our breath again. This allowed me to stop placing judgment on my process, which is never helpful.
As I breathed more deeply, I stopped feeling like a part of my own body. My hands felt like they were throbbing, and soon the tingling had reached the tip of my head, until I no longer felt a part of my body. I felt myself become lost pleasurably in space, and my brain felt outside of myself, part of a larger world.
After what felt like mere minutes, Cherry guided us back to ourselves. I felt a deep feeling of trepidation, like being shuddered back into my body. I didn't want to come back. But then, as I regained sense of myself in my body, I felt that deep sense of calm that I've always heard about enviously. I felt energized and ready for the day ahead.
I checked in with David post class, and he felt parallel. We both had felt nervous when Cherry had made her "newbie" warning, and agreed that it had been unnecessary; it had felt like five minutes past. I hesitate to use the word blissful- there's something so inherently uncool about feeling that happy- but we truly felt blissed out.
We're both committed to coming back as much as possible. As a first timer, a month of unlimited sessions is the extremely un-New York price of $50. After that it's $200/month, and drop ins vary between $10 for the first time to $15-$25 after.
David pointed out that, especially as a beginner, it's really challenging to meditate in your own space. You're too emerged in your stuff, in your to-do list, and it's hard to stay focused and present. There is something to be said for a beautiful serene space, and an experienced teacher there to guide you through meditation. Thanks to MNDFL, if you live in New York, now that space is here.