Q + A : Jason Wachob from Mind Body Green
We recently had the chance to sit down with a real pioneer of healthy living in DUMBO, Mind Body Green Founder & CEO Jason Wachob. Read on to hear about his hugely successful online lifestyle media brand, www.mindbodygreen.com, and his new book, Wellth:
How did Mind Body Green come to be?
So, I’ll give you the whole story. I’m 41, I went to Columbia, played basketball, I went to work on Wall Street as a trader. And this was 1998, so back then, people either went to Wall Street, became lawyers, or became doctors. That’s what people did. So I became a trader, and shortly after, I left. I had this experience realizing money did not buy happiness, so I left to become an entrepreneur. Fast-forward to 2008-2009, I was running another start-up. I flew 150,000 miles domestic in a year- and I’m six-foot-seven- in a coach seat. I had an old basketball injury that was exacerbated by flying and stress, and the company wasn’t doing well, it was tough raising money. So, I had two extruded disks in my lower back pressing on my Sciatic Nerve, L4 L5 S1, and my right leg was in excruciating pain. It was like a lightning rod. Went to a doctor, he said, ‘you need back surgery’, non-negotiable. I sought a second opinion, and he said the same thing, but in what was almost like an afterthought, he said, you know, maybe yoga could help. And so I was like, okay, I’ll try yoga. So I started doing some yoga, and started looking at things like stress, sleep, nutrition, the environment. I made a lot of changes in my life- yoga was a big part of that at the time- and I completely healed. So, I’m fine, I never got back surgery. So I was like, holy cow.
How did that experience inspire your work?
I was always a guy who was always in shape, but my idea of a diet was steak-and-martini, which is inflammatory, and so pretty much, I healed, I’m fine, so I was like holy cow, everyone’s got health wrong. Every print magazine believes it’s about vanity and weight loss, and I looked good but I was falling apart. And I was like, they all have it wrong. You know, health is more nuanced, it’s this lifestyle, it’s a little more holistic, it’s East meets West, it’s “Mind Body Green”. Like, no one’s talking about this. And so I launched the site out of our apartment on Jay Street, and so I found my two co-founders, Tim and Carver, and started doing like one post a day. My wife would help on the weekends, and at night, and then the site grew and grew, and today we have 12 million unique visitors a month, and are the leading media company in the category. We do more than content, we do classes, we do events. So yeah, that’s how it started.
What brought you here to DUMBO?
I love Dumbo. So, my wife and I, we got engaged, we were in San Francisco, and then moved here in February of ’09, lived in 100 Jay. We got married here, in the park, had our reception at Smack Mellon. The company started here, and then we just bought an apartment at 51 Jay. All our offices have been here, we’re at Gran Electrica like twice a week, so we love DUMBO. Being here is a big part of our culture at MindBodyGreen. Like it’s already on our wall, we have our values, and the last one is “We are changing the world from right here in Brooklyn”. So like, we’re a DUMBO company. My wife always jokes, like, if there was a mayor of DUMBO, I’d probably run for that, when I’m done with this.
What stands out about this area?
We just loved, you know, my wife had lived in CA, and I’m a native New Yorker, I grew up in Long Island, and through Columbia, I spent most of my life in the city. A couple things, one is , I think, DUMBO’s sort of the best of both worlds, in that, architecturally it’s beautiful. You’ve got this mix of cobblestone streets and warehouses and railroad tracks, you have the park, and then you have the two bridges, so you’ve got water- I like nature and water- but then you’ve also got the gritty, industrial, and artsy, and it’s got that, so it’s sort of got everything, and it’s also quiet. On the weekends you can walk in the middle of the street in Vinegar Hill; you can’t do that in the city. And I mean, it’s so close to Manhattan, Manhattan’s right there. You’ve got two bridges, I often walk over the bridge if I have a meeting, I’ll get there faster if it’s downtown. So it’s like, you’re so close, but you’re so far away, so I love that.
So you're really enjoying living here?
When I brought my wife back to California, DUMBO seemed, to her, a little bit more like California, because it was a little more open, you have the river, you have the park, and so I always loved DUMBO, but my wife sort of fell in love with it too. We love the juxtaposition of the cobblestone streets, with the gritty industrial, the arts, and the park, the bridges and the water. To us it’s the most beautiful part of Brooklyn. We joke about Williamsburg-like we love Williamsburg and there’s a lot to do here, but it’s so ugly. You just can’t compete with the architecture here, and the culture. It’s great.
Do you see DUMBO and what it offers as congruent with the values of MBG?
Yeah, absolutely. We believe in a culture of creativity, which is in the DNA of DUMBO, and it’s this mix of urban and at the same time, there’s an element of nature. You know, with the park, with the East River, so it feels, of all the neighborhoods in NY, it actually feels more “Mind Body Green” than anywhere else, because the park is lush and beautiful, and you’ve got the river right there. And it’s more airy here, if that makes sense.
What wellness advice would you have for people working and living in DUMBO?
First of all, they should all read Mind, Body, Green. And read my book. I think the biggest thing, there are a couple of things. One is, find what works for you. I believe in a lifestyle, I don’t believe in quick fixes. I believe in finding a practice that works for you in your life. A lot of people in DUMBO are very busy, they commute or what have you, they have families, they’re short on time. So I think it’s best to find what works for you. In terms of diet, in your life, in working out. I don’t believe in rigidity unless you have a personal condition where you’re like, I have to be rigid, you know, and so for me, that’s meditation. So for me, yoga played such a big role in my journey, and after I healed I was going to yoga like every day, everywhere, like public classes, and then as MBG started to grow, every day became three days a week, and then twice a week, and then twice a month, and then I was like, oh my god, like, what happened to my yoga practice? But I also came to the conclusion, like listen, the company is growing, I just don’t have the time, so I need to find out what works for me, and so my yoga practice evolved from going to public classes in Manhattan to, ‘I’m going to do yoga at home on the weekend, for 15-20 minutes, and I’m going to meditate every day.’ So now I meditate every day, we have a little meditation room in our office, I don’t miss it, I was in there today, and so that fits into my life. I know I’m really busy, but I can find fifteen minutes. So that’s my biggest piece of advice, find what works for you. And also, it is so critical to find a stress management tool, because what I’ve learned is, stress never goes away, it just changes. So for me, it’s meditation, but I would encourage anyone to find some sort of practice that helps them deal with stress, because it never goes away, it just changes. You know, you’re kidding yourself if you think, ‘if I just have this or that, it’ll go away’. I’m like, sure there are some things that money can help with, but I think for the most part, stress just doesn’t go away, it just changes.
Could you tell us a little bit about your new book?
So, the book is called Wellth, How I Learned to Build a Life, Not a Resume. I wrote a blog post, actually, two and a half years ago, on my 39th birthday, '39 life lessons I’ve learned in 39 years'. So it was all bits and pieces of things I’ve learned on my personal journey. The post did extraordinarily well, a lot of people read it. A literary agent read it, and reached out and said I think you could expand on this and try to do a book. And I actually didn’t write back, because I was like, eh, I don’t have time for this, I’m not naïve to this process, like, it’s not a book, it’s a blog post. So she followed up and sent a book to the office, and a note saying, ‘I think you should read this other book, I think your book could be similar in format’, and so I was traveling the next day and actually read the book, and I was like, wow, I can do this, and so I wrote the book. The book is essentially what’s called a ‘prescriptive memoir’; where I break it down into different pillars, and so there are thirteen pillars, thirteen chapters- ‘eat’, ‘move’, ‘work’ ‘believe’, ‘explore’, ‘breathe’, ‘feel’, ‘love’, ‘heal’, ‘thank’, ‘ground’, ‘live’ and ‘laugh’, and so, each pillar is a personal story, something I’ve learned in my own personal journey, and it closes each chapter with a prescriptive part, where, because of Mind Body Green, I have access to the world’s foremost experts in wellness, so at the end of each chapter is a little bit of prescriptive from me and an expert on some real actionable, easy tips for people to take, to change your life. And so, yeah, the goal of the book- after I left Wall Street I was really questioning what I was doing, and looking for something deeper, and I read so many self-help books and so many books. And like, this is the book I wish I had fifteen years ago. And so, that’s the book that I wrote. The book that, no matter where you are in your life, if you’re looking for change, if you’re stuck, like whether it’s with relationships or health or dieting, whatever it is, this is the book that I wish I had. It would have saved me a lot of money buying dozens of books.
Do you have any favorite spots in DUMBO for healthy food?
My wife and I love Gran Electrica. They have amazing Chilaquiles on the weekends, which are pretty healthy, and they have Quesadillas, they have a lot that is vegetable-focused, and right now they have a Ramp Quesadilla. Ramps are this really trending vegetable right now. I went there last night and I’m like wow, this is awesome. They do great vegetable tacos. So I love Gran Electrica, I love Brooklyn Roasting Company, they have great organic coffee, love Vinegar Hill House, they have really great vegetables there, farm-to-table food. And then I’m super excited about what’s coming in, Westville coming in is going to be awesome. Great vegetables, great locally-sourced, sustainable meat and seafood. And then, I love BlueStone Lane, which is coming into DUMBO Heights, it’s part of the Australian Health Invasion in NY. There are all these cool little Australian cafés that are popping up, and BlueStone Lane is one of them, it’s so good.
To read Mind Body Green and purchase Jason Wachob's "Wellth, How I Learned to Build a Life, Not a Resume",