An interview with Michal Dvorak – Mindfulness teacher
- Dear Michal, thank you for joining us today for the interview. Can you let us know what is your role @Prague Integration?
I am a mindfulness teacher and I run a course for PIs that focuses on how to better manage stress, repetitive thoughts, difficult emotions and also how to bring more calm, balance and mindfulness into your life.
- How did the idea for becoming a mindfulness trainer come to place?
Many years ago my mom told me about mindfulness and I immediately became very interested in it and started reading books about it and found it very interesting. I did an 8-week MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) course, which I think is the best way to learn mindfulness and get it into your life. I was surprised that after just a few weeks I saw big changes in my life – I was calmer, less stressed, and made more decisions based on my true needs.
- People often associate mindfulness with meditation-is this completely true?
Mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation. It is an exercise in which we develop our mindfulness – noticing what is happening in the moment, what we are experiencing – what we perceive in terms of body, emotions and thoughts. In this way we gradually become more aware of what is happening around us and also within us. Moreover, this approach teaches us how to relate to what we perceive differently than we usually do. Through mindfulness, we can gradually change our habitual ways of acting, automatic stress reactions or negative thoughts. As Dr. Richard Davidson has shown, changing the way our brains function is made possible by becoming aware of what we experience.
- What are the key benefits of mindfulness you would like to point out?
Mindfulness is a scientific approach that originated in 1979 in the USA at UMASS Medical School under the leadership of Jon Kabat-Zinn. Since the beginning, there has been ongoing research into what this approach really does – what happens in our brains during mindfulness practice and what mindfulness training brings. Research shows that mindfulness positively changes the functioning of our brain. These include, for example:
– Higher resistance to stress
– Reduced heart rate
– Better coping with emotionally challenging situations
– Improving sleep
– Improved concentration
– Better empathy, memory or immunity
One example for all. In one study, they found that the prefrontal cortex, which (among other things) helps us to see things from a bigger perspective, to be aware of different options for solutions, was more active, even physically larger, after an 8-week course. In contrast, the amygdala (which is responsible for emotional, physiological reactions during a stressful situation), was less active, even physically smaller. In other words, after eight weeks of exercise, our brains are more resistant, for example, to stress.
- What changes over the time do you see with clients who have signed up for mindfulness courses?
- The things that participants take away from the courses are many and varied. In general, however, mindfulness helps them greatly in that:
- Be more resilient to stress
- To be able to deal better with their thoughts
- Better manage anxiety and stress
- Be more attentive and focused
- To be kinder to themselves
- Many people tell me that mindfulness has helped them improve their sleep
- And also being more in the here and now, i.e. being more realistic about their life, enjoying it more and also eliminating what bothers them
- What daily mindfulness practices can you recommend for beginners?
I find it good not to put extra pressure on yourself – to have another thing you “should” be doing too. Rather, if mindfulness appeals to you, you can just try it out, test it out to see if it fits. The first step might be a 5-10 minute meditation. I also find it good to stick with it for at least a week, so you can become more aware of what the practice brings you. If you email me, I’ll be happy to send you some tips and advice.
In addition to that, I can think of little tips you can try: eat one (or part) of your meal mindfully; go for a run without headphones and instead pay more attention to what you see around you and/or bring more attention to your breathing; stop a few times during the day and pay attention to your three breaths in and out, relaxing the tight parts of your body as you do so…
- We have heard that sometimes people report that it is very hard to keep themselves focused so they can meditate, and that their mind is running around. Can you give us some tips on how to better manage meditation?
The first important piece of advice is that it’s natural. It’s not a mistake, it’s part of meditation. The nature of our mind is to think, so there is no point in beating ourselves up, but rather gradually through mindfulness practice, teaching our brain to function differently, to jump around less and let go of thoughts more easily. This takes practice and time. However, the first piece of advice is: you are fine and meditation is for you.
There are a few things that can help you alongside it:
-Practice with an audiotape
-Have a clear object of observation (e.g., the breath or the body)
-Try naming the thoughts that take you away, for example, as the past or the future, and then come back to the object of observation
– Try to be patient, don’t push yourself, don’t try to blame yourself for the thoughts, and gradually even the way the meditation goes will change.
- We know you are organising your course in CZ language but is there any chance it will be available also for non CZ speakers?
Definitely yes, we are organizing open workshops with Prague Integration, we are planning mindfulness courses for the public as well as for various companies. Besides that, people can contact me and arrange individual meetings.
- Anything else you would like to add?
Mindfulness is not some super unattainable skill. It is a skill that anyone can learn. Basically, it is about becoming more aware of what is happening in the moment and relating to the experience without overthinking, rather with kindness. Just by bringing our attention to our body we can become more aware of how some thoughts are unnecessary and what we really need in the moment.
I like what Dan Harris, author of the successful podcast 10% Happier, said: happiness can be seen as a skill. It’s something we can build moment by moment, paying less attention to unnecessary or critical thoughts and more to living what’s happening in the moment.