When life starts to overwhelm us, it can feel like there's nowhere to turn. Stress and anxiety comes in all shapes, sizes, and emotions. But what if we learned to turn inward and start to heal our minds from the inside out? Suze Yalof Schwartz founded Unplug Meditation to help you find the meditation that clicks with your personality and neurology. When that magic match is made, meditation meets you where you are and helps you reengage with the world around you with clarity and energy.
Jeff: Can you remember the first time that you meditated?
Suze Yalof S.: Yes.
Jeff: And why?
Suze Yalof S.: Yeah, I was so stressed out and my mother-in-law was like, "You need to breathe," and I'm like, "You're right, I actually do." So, she did this little three minute exercise with me and afterwards I said, "Wow, what was that," and she said, "It's called meditation, you really should do it," and then I was like-
Jeff: This is your mother-in-law?
Suze Yalof S.: Yeah, my mother-in-law.
Jeff: Yeah, mother-in-laws are not the typical archetype for teaching meditation.
Suze Yalof S.: She's a psychotherapist and she used this technique with her patients. So, when I went back to LA and I googled places to meditate, I realized that it was... You know, I'm a new Yorker.
Jeff: Yeah, me too.
Suze Yalof S.: So, I don't have patience, actually that is my biggest challenge. Patience is my biggest challenge. So, I went to go search places to go to learn to meditate and everything was really long and that turned me off. I mean, it was also expensive. Four days in some guy's apartment learning Vedic Meditation, six week program at UCLA, the 21 day meditation series with Deepak Chopra, those were the ones that were available at that time, and so I decided to just try them all. So, I started doing all of them and I said to my husband, I'm like, "I'm going to quit fashion," because I was a fashion editor before that, "And I'm going to open up a meditation studio that's kind of like a quick place to go where you can go in, go out and feel better in 30 minutes or under."
Jeff: And so fashion must've been very stressful. It stresses me out as you can tell, I have none. That's why I've forsaken it.
Suze Yalof S.: I loved it. I have to say like I loved the fashion industry. So, it's kind of like similar to this industry, it's similar to the movie industry in that you travel with the same people from one location to the next location to the next location. So, for me, you know, I was lucky enough to go to Paris and Milan and New York covering fashion shows backstage and the front of the house and it was exciting and fun. I loved it.
Jeff: And now you can go all those places with meditation.
Suze Yalof S.: Now I can reaccessorize the meditation instructors, are you going to wear that? No, I'm kidding.
Jeff: So then you opened a studio, how was that? What was that experience like, do you have any retail experience that way?
Suze Yalof S.: You know, the truth is, as I always say, I had no business opening up a business. This was the idea. I'm one of those founders that it's the big idea and I'm excited and I'm passionate, but the logistics, I had no idea what I was doing. So, I said to my husband, "I'm opening up this studio," and he said, "Okay, this is how much money we can lose." He went in with full confidence that way and so I-
Jeff: That's not exactly manifesting from the end, but sure it's an approach.
Suze Yalof S.: Right, right, and I had this vision that everybody would want to do this. Who wouldn't want to feel better? So-
Jeff: We're very comfortable in our discomfort. It's like a place we like to go to, that pain, suffering, it's very familiar.
Suze Yalof S.: I'm the opposite of that. I'm very uncomfortable in discomfort and I'm constantly seeking comfort. So, I found this spot on Wilshire Boulevard and I literally just took a lease, five years. This guy believed in my concept. He let me do it and I opened it up and I had this huge launch party. Everybody always said, you know, "You open this, I'll be there every day," day two, crickets. I'm by myself with the meditation instructor. First one, second class, third class, it was me and this tree hugger name, Ari. The two of us were together alone in the room for a lot of the classes. Fortunately, he's still a member. Ari is my man. When Ari goes, I know that we're done.
Jeff: Yeah. I had such a similar experience opening Wanderlust. Well, you know, we opened in Hollywood, big amazing release party or a launch party with all sorts of luminaries and whatnot. You know, everyone is like, "Yeah, this is the place," you know, and then, yeah, day, maybe not day two, but day three was like Whoa, reality, but you stuck with it.
Suze Yalof S.: Yeah, I knew it was going to happen and I always said to my husband, I'm like, "Either this is going to be the most expensive private meditation studio or people will come," and I was lucky people came, but I had to switch the formula a little bit. Like, it went from being straight up mindfulness, which not a lot of people wanted to do, to sprinkling on sound Basque. I did imagery, aroma therapy. Some girl walked in, she's like, "I do tapping," I'm like, "What's that, okay, let's do that." So, I started doing that. So, we tried all, even though I love myself now, but we did all that stuff.
Jeff: Now you've opened another location and what's the vision? I mean, is there an Imperial conquest to take Unplug Meditation across the country in brick and mortar centers near you, or is that enough for you?
Suze Yalof S.: Well, it started off, I remember I was sitting in my son's room and there was a map of the world and I'm like, "Unplug is going to be like Starbucks, they'll be one on every corner," then I opened up a location number two and then what happened was I pivoted and I pivoted because this guy named [Myuran 00:07:04] who worked at ESPN, who was a member at Unplug, said he hated leaving Unplug because he missed the teachers, and could I record Lauren Ekstrom and a couple of his favorite teachers and he said, "I'll help you do it. You really should like put these people on video," you should stream live actually is what he said. So I said, "You know what, let's try it." So, we filmed them upstairs in our loft area and I loved it too because then I put it on this templated app and every morning I would wake up, click a button, and then I'd meditate with my teachers.
Suze Yalof S.: Then I thought, Oh my gosh, we should do this. So, people were like, can you do one for divorce? Can you do one for PTSD? Can you do one for anxiety? Can you do... So, I started collecting all of the people who worked with me or were members at Unplug, all of their desires, needs, and questions and started having these teachers do these things, and someone said, "What's a sound bath?" I'm like, "Oh, we'll put it on the app for you." So, basically there's nothing on the app that you can't think of and click a button and shift it. So, once I built the Unplug app and then we took it off that template and built it out ourselves, that became like the passion play because now all of a sudden we're in 92 countries. We went from a little studio where all the sudden it was exploding because a lot of people were coming to being able to hit the entire country and the world.
Jeff: Yeah, I mean, for me, I think the combination is important. Even though I run a largely digital media business right now, I do think being able to create container for physical in real life experiences is probably more important than ever because for me that's the deep real commitment and also where community forms and bonds. What's the relationship with the app in the physical locations? Do you find that there is that synergy there or how do you see it?
Suze Yalof S.: I always say we're phygital, we're physical studio and we're a digital brand. Just like you are actually, the physical going to the studio, handing over your phone, going into a room for 45 minutes with like a teacher and feeling the energy of 75 people in the room, there is nothing better than that. That's like the big moment. How we tried to make it very personal on the app is, it's video based unlike most meditation apps where you hear a voice in your head and you don't know who's speaking to you, you can look them in the eyes and they're looking directly at you as if they're connecting with you and teaching you specifically and you feel connected.
Suze Yalof S.: So, when I click Heather Hayward, feeling overwhelmed, I see Heather in my face, and I look in her eyes, and it's almost like she's speaking directly to me and that's how we filmed everything, but it's not the same. Just like, I mean, for people who are just listening to this who've never been to commune, coming here is like, Oh my God, it's a moment that's bigger than life. So, to be able to do that, come to this physical space, and really be unplugged and see what you've done here, you can't capture them even on video. You can't capture that feeling anywhere.
Jeff: So much of the kind of current meditation marketing, or commercialism if you will, is like based around optimal performance and focus, and those things are like totally important, but sometimes I like play those out in my brain a little bit of like, well, I'm going to be more focused at work so I can accumulate more material objects, so I can heighten my sort of stress and anxiety. So, then I essentially need meditation and I wonder where you fall
Jeff: ... kind of on the spectrum of, is meditation a tool for higher consciousness? Or is meditation a tool for reality or modern life?
Suze Yalof S.: Well, just like at commune, how you're trying to strip away all the things that are bad for the earth, I kind of feel that way with meditation. So for me, I want more and more of less and less. And Maria Abramovich, basically she's the one who coined that phrase, but I feel that way. I just want more of less. So it's almost like I want to think less. I want less stuff. I want to just, I want to keep it simple. And I think we're plugged in 24/7. There's so much coming at us with social, and just merchandise, and every ... And I think people are like, "It's too much." So it's a way of kind of clearing everything out of my brain and allowing myself to stay clear, and actually being able to choose how I want to live my life.
Suze Yalof S.: And that for me, yeah, for work, maybe it's helping me crush it. But for friendships, it's helping me have deeper conversations with people. For my personal, family life, it's helping me be more present with my husband and my children. And that's something that I lacked before. I was not present. I was checking the boxes before, but I wasn't actually there. There was no there, there.
Jeff: And do you have that awareness now of kind of that chattering voice in your head, being sort of the witness to it and not being it? Have you cultivated that for yourself?
Suze Yalof S.: So much so that I don't even have that voice anymore.
Jeff: Oh shit. Really?
Suze Yalof S.: So I fired.
Jeff: [crosstalk 00:17:00] fired your imaginary friend.
Suze Yalof S.: There's been ... I fired my imaginary friend who said not nice things to me. That voice is no longer there, because I don't need it anymore. I'm able to see it, and it doesn't keep coming back. So I actually feel more confident because I'm not allowing those negative thought patterns in. I'm aware of them quickly when they do come, and they're quickly released.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, when we ... Obviously, one of the most pressing and salient problems in our culture right now is stress and anxiety. I mean, in every survey that we do to our audience, it's always number one, anxiety.
Suze Yalof S.: Sleep.
Jeff: Sleep is up there too. And they're very, they're correlated. And play that out, if you're looking at chronic disease in this country, or globally, it's absolutely 100% correlated to inflammation, which is 100% correlated, amongst other things, to stress and anxiety. So there would obviously be a tremendous place for any tools that relieved and addressed stress and anxiety within our healthcare system, because they're so linked to chronic disease. Are you finding ... Are we making any progress there?
Suze Yalof S.: Yes. So Tamara Horwich, who's a cardiologist at UCLA, says that stress can kill you, and meditation can save your life. And the reason why is because meditation is factually proven to lessen stress. You're stressing less when you meditate. And you're able to, instead of notice yourself when you're getting activated and let the cortisol run free for a long time, you're able to pause it and come back to your breath, slow it down. And that actually sends a signal to your brain, "Everything's okay," and then you can actually reset your body. So you're self-soothing.
Jeff: So I mean, I've read different things about sort of the history of meditation. It seems like it's open for debate. But there's some, even in the Torah ... I think in Genesis there's a little bit of, some passage with Isaac going out in the field and meditating or something. But certainly it's 3,500 years old, maybe 2,500 years old, depending on kind of where you look at it. Why do you think people are rediscovering this ancient practice right now? Why is it so important right now?
Suze Yalof S.: Well, I think because we're repackaging it. So people feel so disconnected from themselves and from others, and they want to reconnect with themselves and know their why. "Why am I here?" And if you don't ever stop and ask, you're never going to know the answer to the question. So I think, well, for Unplug Meditation, we make it really simple for people to feel comfortable, to just stop, take a breath, observe the present moment, and move on with their life. We make it light, and then they can go deeper with us.
Suze Yalof S.: And we don't make it ... Here's another thing. I think the way it was packaged before, felt a little hippy to some people. There were people who they couldn't relate to, who were teaching it. They talked really slow. They didn't look the same. They were wearing robes-
Jeff: Yeah. [Crosstalk 00:26:09] this mawkish, somewhat gauzey, galactical, crystally depiction of your aunt in a field meditating, yeah.
Suze Yalof S.: Right. But when you say, "This is just a technique." I love David G., I know you know him, but he talks a lot about thoughts. And some people will say, "I see purple lights. I hear dead people when I stop and meditate." And he's like, "Thought, thought. Everything that's not you connecting with your breath, letting it go, everything else that happens in your mind, or whatever happens to you, thought." And so, by making it palatable and simple, you're able to bring in the people who would never do this.
Jeff: No, I mean, it is interesting. I've done, you know, corporate rounds of ... I've raised numbers of Series A capital from private equity and whatever. I'll go do the dog and pony show, and some folks would be like, "Well, that's great. But you don't fit our investment profile. But tell me a little bit more about this meditation thing." And it is amazing, I mean, these are generally men in their 50s and 60s, even my dad, who's in his 70s, I mean, meditation become a very prevalent practice. I mean, last week I was in every, essentially Showtime, FX, Comedy Central, HBO, whatever, I did the rounds, and in every single meeting, people were talking about meditating, they're meditating, their spouse is ... So this is, it's not this fringe thing. It's become a very mainstream practice.
Suze Yalof S.: Right. And that's great. The more people doing this, the better the world will be.
Jeff: I agree with you. I agree with you. But the world is pretty fucked up. Really fucked up right now.
Suze Yalof S.: That's why everybody needs to be doing this.
Jeff: Yeah. I mean, do you think ... What's going to be the inflection point? I mean, do we need ... And we don't have to become a hyper-political conversation, but as I've kind of been looking at kind of this ... I mean I'm a Democrat all my life, I certainly would prefer Elizabeth Warren to be president than the current president, or whoever the Democratic nominee might be, but there's part of me that says, "Nah, I'm not sure it's really going to change anything on a consciousness level." We're kind of over here with Fox News, and maybe over here with MSNBC, but it's still kind of ... I mean, we had Barack Obama for eight years, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. I'm not sure anyone within the political spectrum is going to change the human condition. And what I believe is that what you need is a change of consciousness in the world, and then all of those things will change. What do we need to spread this technique? Is it a messenger? Is it technology? What is it?
Suze Yalof S.: Okay. I genuinely believe that 10 years from now, Unplug and all the apps that are out there will be obsolete, because we are going to get meditation into the schools. And I believe that we need
Suze Yalof S.: ... start with. We need to play the long game and have the kindergartners, the first graders, the second graders, the elementary schools all doing this. And it's not a religious practice, it's a breathing technique. The cops are doing it, you know, the military is now in on this whole thing. But to have kids start that way with self-awareness, understanding the power of their ripple in the world and with other people, I think that'll really help make America nice again.
Suze Yalof S.: And civil.
Suze Yalof S.: It's lost its civility.
Suze Yalof S.: I think that would be the way to change. It's not going to be through older people helping older people. They're kind of already set.
Jeff: So really get it inside the institutions that have scale, especially with our children. It was a Dalai Lama quote, he said, "Teach every child to meditate and we'll eliminate world war in one generation."
Suze Yalof S.: I'm on board with that 100%. and we are right now doing stuff with this school called 107, and it's really effective. So the principal there, Catherine Sullivan, when kids go into her office, she has them do a time in for 10 minutes, and then they talk. On our app, actually. And we have also sent teachers into the school and it's been very helpful. And I feel like that needs to just be... all the teachers need to teach the kids, not meditation teachers going in. It needs to be circle time in the morning.
Suze Yalof S.: And circle time maybe should never stop.
Jeff: Right. So in some ways you have to teach the teachers.
Suze Yalof S.: Yeah.
Suze Yalof S.: I'd like to do that.
Jeff: Yeah. Is that the big vision. I mean how old are you now?
Suze Yalof S.: Me, 53.
Jeff: Not you, sorry I didn't meant you.
Suze Yalof S.: Actually 52.
Jeff: I mean Unplug.
Suze Yalof S.: Unplug is five.
Jeff: You're five.
Suze Yalof S.: We're five.
Jeff: Yeah, and so, I mean that's the hardest time, the first couple years. And then you know, in your mind's eye you must have a big vision, or a vision for you where you want this to go. Is that what it is? Bring it to the kids?
Suze Yalof S.: I would love every kid to do this. I would love it to be part of every company in the culture. I mean I worked at Conde Nast, which is a very stressful company. And I loved it, as I said, but it was... fashion is stressful. To be able to have a place or a turn key wellness system so that people can have mental wellness at their fingertips when they need it most, whether it's in the middle of the night at two o'clock in the morning when they can't stop thinking, first thing in the morning before they go into the office, at work, after work. I think my vision is to be able to help people when they need it. And that would be right now what I would like to do in the world. And I feel like we're doing that with our app even though nobody knows it exists.
Jeff: That's not true.
Suze Yalof S.: Well, very few. And then kids, that would be part of the... What's the word that I'm searching for? Like the passion piece, the passion play. No money. Totally free. Get every kid to do this, and train the teachers to train the kids.
Jeff: Yeah, totally true. I mean, it's funny, you know, I have three daughters, a 15 year old who is experiencing the stress of being a teenager. But being an teenager in the modern world with Instagram and social media, constantly being judged, constantly essentially projecting her identity of herself through the eyes of others, all the things. And also with a very, very short attention span because essentially she's getting like pinged in ding from all sorts of different directions and marketed to all the time nonstop. And she will have these essentially these little panic attacks around that. I don't think she's alone. And she's a very successful kid, very well liked and does well in school, for some God forsaken reason, I don't know, it's definitely not her parents.
Jeff: And you know, when she has these moments of difficulty, I'll try to be supportive dad and I'll be like, "Hey Phoebe, I have plenty of anxiety myself, and I just have accrued more tools to be able to deal with that anxiety." And she'll look me right in the eye and she'll say, "Dad, don't you dare fucking say meditation." So there's a marketing piece to this, too, where we have to, like you say, demystify some of the stigma around meditation. So how would you get... I mean, I share your vision. I believe that's a great way to go. Let's bring this practice into every public school. But how do you kind of demystify some of that woo-woo-ness around it?
Suze Yalof S.: Well, I have to quote David G. again. I feel like sometimes I'm his publicist or his spokesperson, but he put it so eloquently when he said that when he goes into the military or works with cops, he calls it tactical breathing. When he goes into the schools, he calls it mindfulness. And when he goes into the studios or the [inaudible 00:05:25], he calls it meditation. And in essence he is teaching the exact same thing. It is the exact same thing because I have to say, having studied, maybe not every single meditation, but I would probably say I've hit at least 90% of all the meditations that are out there. They're all the exact same thing. Step one, you focus on one thing, whether it's a mantra, the smell or sensory experience, or your breath. Step two, you let it slip away. I'm here, it's now, I'm present, I feel good.
Suze Yalof S.: And then your mind starts wandering, and then you go back to step one. That's it. I've never met anyone who can contradict that it's anything other than that. And when I said to Steve Ross, who was one of the great teachers of all time, "What's the secret to going deeper?" He said, "You know what the secret is? You just do it longer." And I said, "Well, if we had an advanced meditation class, what would it look like?" He said, "It would be me coming in, telling everybody to close their eyes, going out for dinner for an hour and a half and coming back and having them open it." And I always thought that was so funny, but it's true. Like sitting alone with yourself, people have a hard time.
Suze Yalof S.: And if you can't sit alone with yourself, how can you expect other people will want to hang out with you?
Jeff: Yeah, I mean there's that quote, "All man's problems stem from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone." Do you think it's okay to sort of secularize the practice? And I mean this because I have certain misgivings around the secularization.
Jeff: Sometimes, I worry about the kind of secularization of wellness practices, of stripping the religion out of yoga, or stripping the religion out of meditation, that it becomes just sort of another secular piece of something in a world somewhat governed by commercialism, romanticism and post enlightenment rationalism something. That essentially it's just like that we're not doing it. That essentially we're packaging up meditation as a way to be functioning in this world, but we're not doing it for the reasons of essentially helping to invoke a change of consciousness, more compassion in the world, more empathy, more forgiveness, more charity. Is there a place for God? In the discussion of meditation?
Suze Yalof S.: Here's the deal. We meet people where they are. So one person might be really into God. Another person might not believe in God. The way that we dispense, shall we say, meditation is we will have them all have their own experience. So one person will walk away saying, "I think I just saw God." And another person will walk away saying, "I really walked away feeling grateful for just myself or my breath." You know? They will both have powerful experiences, but it's an internal thing. And each individual brings whatever they wanted to the practice. So when I say secular, yeah, I'm not planting the seeds of suffering. I'm not planting the seeds of sadness. I'm not planting the seeds of religion. But you can bring what you want into it. So how do we do this?
Suze Yalof S.: Basically, when we guide a meditation, we won't say, "Notice if you're feeling uncomfortable. Notice if you're feeling sad." We'll never say that. We'll just say, "Notice how you're feeling." 50% of the room feels like crap, the other 50% of the room feels amazing. But we're not bringing attention to the ones who feel good all the stuff that doesn't feel good. So I think it's very important to be able to strip out things so that people can have the most powerful experience that's their own. And I think that actually is one of the problems with, in my opinion, some of the meditation practices, is they go heavy on the darkness and then they wonder why nobody wants to do it anymore.
Suze Yalof S.: Okay? Whereas our philosophy at Unplug is very simple. People come to us because they want to feel better. So if they don't feel five times better on the way out than they did on the way in, then we didn't do our job.
Suze Yalof S.: Our job is to make you feel better than you did before you started. Some people are hysterically crying in the room at the breath work classes, but at the end they're like, "I feel so much better because I was able to release and let go." And they have these huge, powerful experiences. And it's beautiful, and they're sitting next to a person who's like, "I just did 360s around the globe out of my body." And another person is like, "I just sat here and felt good enjoying the music." But it's because we didn't bring any triggers in there. They were bringing them in themselves. So that's my answer to that. I'm a firm believer in a secular practice because I think you can appeal to more people and they can have their own personal experience.
Jeff: Yeah. God as they understand it. Just being a part of being able to witness that every day, those kind of what you just described, kind of people having different levels of epiphany. That must be a very wonderful way to spend time.
Suze Yalof S.: I love it. Every day I get hugs, tears, people who come up with these genius ideas and they said, "I came up with it in the room." People who write screenplays and books, and they're having these powerful experiences in the room. They say it's the room where it happens, like Hamilton. They're like, "That's the room where it happens." We even have people from the Ray Donovan show come in because the writer wrote an episode in there, and it's cool. I mean, I love it. I love what it does for people. It does so many different things for so many different people. It's constantly surprising me. I had no idea.
Jeff: Yeah. Well it's a great service. Thank you so much for doing what you do. And I'm 100% with you about trying to get this to more children. I have three children, and I think you're absolutely right that if we can make a difference early on in people's lives, then we can really have a tremendous amount of impact. So thank you for doing everything that you're doing. I'm a big supporter.
Suze Yalof S.: Thank you. I appreciate that, Jeff. This was fun, and I'm a huge supporter of Commune because I think what you're doing is amazing. This was a really special experience, so thank you.
Jeff: Yeah, we'll do it again.