These days, mindfulness is, for lack of a better phrase, all the rage. But that hasn’t always been the case, which is a fact that nobody knows better than Jen Kluczkowski, the co-founder and CEO of Mindfresh, a meditation experience aimed at people who spend most of their days at work – and who aren’t exactly keen on the idea of getting their om on in the middle of a busy day, no matter what supposed benefits they could reap. As somebody who reluctantly tackled her own fatigue via mindfulness before believing just how valuable the practice could be in her day-to-day life, Kluczkowski is now making it her mission to bring yoga and meditation to those who could use it most, but tend to tap into its powers least.
What was kind of your “backstory” before starting Mindfresh?
I spent a lot of time working in digital media and a startup environment, and it’s really stressful. I didn’t experience anything that any other New Yorker isn’t currently going through, or has gone through, like insomnia, anxiety, back pain – all of that. I went and sought out help from a doctor to see if I could get surgery to help out with my back and medication to help me sleep, but he suggested I try yoga and meditation first. I never really thought either of those things would be for me because like a lot of New Yorkers, I’m a big hustler and that stuff just seems so slow. But I reluctantly went, and, long story short, it completely changed my body. It reduced my pain, it helped me sleep, and it really just made me a better human being.
So how did that experience eventually get the wheels in your head turning and getting you to think that there was an opportunity to start something here?
Well, everyone around me started to see a change – especially my coworkers because I spend the most time with them, and they wanted to know how to get the same benefits. But when I started telling them that it was going to involve taking the time to actually go to a yoga studio or a meditation teacher, everyone was like, “Yeah, no. I’m interested in the benefits and the results, but I don’t really have time for that.” So I kind of kept listening and realizing that the traditional studio model or method of actually going out and going somewhere might not be working for people.
Enter Mindfresh, where people can actually reap the benefits of yoga and meditation right in the comfort of their office spaces. So how did you guys go about it at the onset?
We started off by actually training people who are already certified yoga and meditation teachers in the Mindfresh approach and sending them to offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles for live, in-person sessions. And we’ve taken feedback and surveys and have also created videos and audio assets that basically make up what we’re calling Mindfresh TV. So now we have the in-person sessions as well as the virtual. For the Mindfresh TV exercises, they’re all under five minutes. They’re meant to be really quick little resets when you hit the wall at work; moments to just kind of open it up and get yourself re-connected. And then our on-site sessions are always 30 minutes long, and they all encompass three main components: movement, breath work, and meditation.
You guys also do sessions made specifically for different roles within companies, like programmers. What are some of the big differences here?
We’re building out content based on profiles within companies, yeah. The idea is that people in different roles have different stressors and needs. We’re kind of trying to take that into account. For example, the Executives package is more for people who spend a lot of time doing a lot of human interaction; they have a profile where body language is more important than anything to them. So that program has a lot of posture tuning, and some breathing techniques that can help gain composure before a big presentation or something. Then for programmers, these are people who have a ton of screen time, so a focus there is releasing the wrists after a long day of coding, for example, or reducing lower back pain. And creatives, it’s all about letting go of the whirling thoughts that make it hard for new ideas to pop up.
What has it been like for your instructors to adapt to this very different approach? I imagine it feels significantly different than working in a studio or something like that?
For sure! People who have to go outside of what they already know about teaching yoga in a studio and think about things like, “Okay, if I were to do these postures in a studio to get people to lengthen their bodies, how can I do it with them in their work clothes, while they’re sitting at a desk?” So it kind of requires teachers to be a little more inventive and quick on their feet. But it’s been incredible, and I’ve heard kind of the same sentiment that when you teach a class at a studio, whether it’s a meditation or yoga studio, you’re almost sometimes preaching to the choir a little bit, because the people who come in there already have these practices. They’re of course appreciative and grateful, but not really in the same way that someone who has never had access to these practices is. Seeing someone all of the sudden take their first conscious breath in a long time, or seeing them really get into their body in a way that they never have before – that gratitude from those people can be super gratifying for these teachers.
What are some of the things that you guys are planning, or hope to plan, for Mindfresh in the future that you’re excited to see in the works?
We’re going to be creating a virtual teacher training. We have tons of teachers globally who are interested in learning what we’re doing and interested in changing the corporate space where they are, so we’re going to make it possible for anyone, anywhere – so long as they meet certain qualifications – can actually get certified in Mindfresh to teach.
And then another thing that we’re really excited about is that we’re offering Mindfresh and Mindfresh TV to social workers through Brooklyn Community Services. The idea is to get them familiar with the practice and to get them doing it on their own so that they can then meet and work with families. There’s often a lot of tension with the families, so if these social workers could start off sessions with something like a breathing technique or help families focus on body language to keep the room from feeling confrontational, that would be amazing. This is something I would love to build out into a bigger initiative once we get some learnings from this.
That’s incredible! Has it been cool to kind of see how people are responding to Mindfresh?
Totally. We do get love letters, whether it’s an on-site session or just a video, from people telling us how this has just transformed their day. And that’s pretty big! It definitely gives purpose to our work.
How else do you hope that Mindfresh can change how people incorporate meditation and mindfulness into their days regularly?
My goal is to be an entry point for people and to offer that support whenever they need it. There’s a lot of preconceived notions about yoga and meditation – just like I had – so we’re trying to make it feel more approachable, and to let people know that this is really a performance tool. I really think that people these days so desperately need a moment without screen time to just breathe. And those benefits really do trickle into everything that they do, and every relationship that they have. If we can start making people who work within companies just a little more mindful, the ripple effect that that has – especially in a place like New York with a big corporate culture – is huge.