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Meditation

Traffic delays and long lines can pretty much put a dent in everyone’s piece of mind. Busy days at the office, doctors’ appointments, conflicts and disagreements can disrupt your everyday routine and make you feel stressed out and disoriented. You may have read somewhere that you shouldn’t let outer interrupters ruin your day or give you headaches, but having a peaceful mind is a little more easier said than done. As modern human beings, we are used to stress. For most people, stress is a normal, day to day emotion. It shouldn’t be that way, not just because stress is the root of many diseases, but because when you’re feeling strained, you are blocking the flow of the other, more healthier emotions. Biting your nails and banging your head off the wall won’t solve any of your problems. Sitting back and letting things happen is also not a very healthy solution. The best way to combat the feelings of anger, depression and fear is meditation. For many people sitting around and humming seems like a waste of time. Nevertheless, many of those people still waste at least one hour every day to sit in front of the TV and watch mind numbing commercials. That’s the thing about meditating. At first, your modern lifestyle doesn’t leave you with enough room to think of meditation as anything more than a waste of time. Then, when your brain gets so tired and squandered, and you can’t seem to shush your thoughts at night, you buy a sleep meditation tape, as a last resort. After two or three nights falling asleep with the voice telling you what to think and how to breathe, you wake up fresh and alert. Finally, you’ll start thinking maybe the Buddhists were right all along. Taking time to concentrate on anything takes a lot of energy. Your everyday thought processing makes your head spin at the end of the day, yet falling asleep is the last thing on your mind, even when the head finally hits the pillow. We lay at night think about grocery lists, dentist appointments, mortgage payments, paychecks, kids, bills and taxes. And when you finally wear down your last brain cell, the mind stays in the same state, the worrisome state. No wonder we hardly ever get a good night’s sleep, usually induced with sleeping pills. With sustained meditation you can forget about sleeping pills. You can forget about antidepressants and anticonvulsants. With meditation you will train your brain to listen and to relax. You will teach it when to calm down and how. Until recently, hardly any medical facts were identified about this Buddhist technique, but many more are still to be discovered. However, until the next big discovery o this ancient wisdom is revealed, you can read what we’ve found out by now.

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Types of Meditation

For beginners, almost all forms of meditation are the same and equally hard to achieve. For those of you who think meditation is nothing more than sitting around doing nothing, now you can add a name to that activity. This type of meditations is called Zazen and it’s more than just sitting. Most people who want to start practicing this Buddhist tradition, zazen meditation is the best preparatory experience. With the help of this technique you will be able to find out just how restless your mind can get. There are many variations of this exercise and you can even practice it while sitting on a chair. All you have to do is make sure your back is comfortably positioned. That way, you won’t be interrupted in the middle of the practice by an aching neck or a sore arm. Preparation is half the exercise, so you should take a few moments to adjust your sitting and assure you are most comfortable. Sway right and left to center your spine, extend your neck and relax the shoulders. Some practitioners say your left hand should cover the right during meditation, while others suggest that the dominant hand should be placed over the other, both always palm up. Your head should not be tilted back or forth, instead try to find the center where you feel most comfy. Your jaw, teeth and mouth should be relaxed with the tongue touching the roof of the mouth. Once you make sure you are not clenching any part of your body, lower your gaze to three feet in front of you, but don’t close your eyes. You shouldn’t focus your gaze on anything but you shouldn’t blur the vision either. The intention of this type of meditation is to teach you to concentrate, so your job will be only to count your breaths and nothing else. Inhale through the nose until the belly starts moving and then exhale. The inhale is counted as one and the exhale as two, for the reason that, most beginners lose focus and let their mind wander. If you feel ready enough you can count in breaths and outbreaths as one, but if you notice any thoughts other than counting, you should go back and count from one. If you can’t concentrate and unwanted thoughts keep crossing your mind, you can focus on the way your body changes while you breathe. Your lungs go up and down, your belly goes in and out and your posture moves back and forth slightly, so you can focus on that. That way, your mind will be stimulated to think, but won’t lose focus to the point of spontaneously drifting off. This meditation comes from the Japanese Buddhist tradition and for some practitioners achieving progress is very difficult.

Generally, every type of meditation has the reputation for being a little tricky and hard to master and that’s why guided visualization is the most popular type. It’s not a traditional practice but it’s the fastest way to experiencing a state of deep inner peace and tranquility. Most yoga instructors can help you achieve the deep meditative state with guided imagery. Or you can find MP3s, CDs and YouTube videos with soothing music in the background and a calming narrator’s voice. The aim of guided imagery is to relax your mind and body by removing all negative events and circumstances and replacing them with positive ones. Once you learn to meditate without distractions, you will no longer need tapes and MP3s and you can guide your thoughts by yourself. It will be even better that way, because all tapes are very general and most instructors communicate with the entire group instead of the individual. While if you practice guided visualization by yourself, you can control your thoughts and make up your own concepts.

Mindfulness meditation is maybe the most effective type of meditation for managing stress and anxiety. The word mindfulness can pretty much explain what this practice is all about. It means that instead of cleaning your mind of every thought that enters, you are letting your mind be full with thoughts. The trick is to stay nonjudgmental during this process. The brain processes thoughts with the speed of light and most of the time we unintentionally let our thoughts build up on top of each other. That is the cause for stress and anxiety and that type of thinking patterns lead to depression. During a mindfulness meditation, your job is to let every thought pass without labeling it as good or bad or irritating. Unlike guided imagery, where you focus on good and positive thoughts, here you have to let every thought, good and bad, enter your head and then release it, to make room for new ones. When you are not labeling and judging, you leave no space for feelings and emotions to overcome your meditative state. If you still judge something you’ve observed, you have to learn to acknowledge your estimation and let it go as it came. Most people find this type of practice most appropriate, because it’s not easy to keep our minds still and clean from judging after daily activities. A very similar thought processes to mindfulness meditation are reflection and rationalization. We reflect our days every night before we go to bed and ponder over the highest and lowest highlights. Many of us rationalize our problems in order to get a grip on the everyday outburst of emotions and feelings. These two can help you achieve very powerful meditative focus. The difference here is that you will have to learn to distinguish all upsetting and disturbing thoughts and get rid of them as soon as you notice them. Some might say: what’s the point of meditating if all thoughts are allowed in my mind? The point is to learn to control your emotions and reactions to everyday problems and all in all, stress. With the help of mindfulness meditation, your brain will learn to focus on what’s important, without being bothered by outside forces. We usually worry and stress over things that are actually not happening at the moment we worry about them. With continuous meditation, your mind will learn to sort out the priorities and deal with them as they come.

Chakra meditation is a wonderful way to balance your body, mind and soul from the inside out. This is not the type of meditation you can do by yourself, because you may not know which chakra needs opening and which one is overactive. The balanced body, mind and soul concept can’t be achieved with exercising only and a little self-nurturing might be in order to make you feel tranquil, loosened and mellow. Every chakra has its name, location, color and frequency. Together they determine us on spiritual, mental, emotional and physical level. There are seven main energy vortexes like these and usually the main focus is placed on them. Your instructor can guide you to open your chakras and balance them as you need. After you learn enough about this type of meditation you can meditate alone, which has its own benefits.

If you are talking about empowering our energy vortexes, kundalini meditation is the most powerful type of meditation. It is also called kundalini awakening, where the word kundalini stands for bodily energy but it’s also often referred as Shakti. In Hinduism, Shakti is the great divine mother or the elemental cosmic energy that moves forces through the universe. Ancient Hindu texts say that awakening the kundalini force prematurely and without a guru or a teacher will be straying off the path and squandering the energy carelessly. This energy is found in all of us and according to Buddhist scripts, it’s swirled in the root chakra as a serpent. Once this energy is awakened, it goes up, piercing and activating the chakras all the way to the crown chakra. This awakening can happen spontaneously, without the individual triggering it or even meditating. Childbirth, near death experiences, extreme stress and mental trauma can awaken this energy and people who’ve experienced it this way, say that it feels like a ray of electricity going through the spine and ending in the forehead. A spontaneous kundalini awakening is known as a kindalini syndrome and it’s not a very pleasant experience. Some people said they felt overwhelmed, suffered hot flashes and out of control emotions.

More than 6 million people today practice transcendental meditation. This type of meditation is the only one protected by a trade mark, a feature that many practitioners condemn for its corporate mentality. Nevertheless, the approach is very professional and thorough. During these lessons, you will learn which sound causes which vibration and how they affect your way of life. Each individual who pays for the classes is interviewed and a special mantra is given exclusively. According to this type of practice, there are four states of awareness: deep dreamless sleep, dreaming state, walking state and the transcendental state. A transcendental state is when the mind is relaxed but alert. Many types of meditation can help you achieve this state. Even though you may not be able to find free transcendental meditation lessons, you will find other ways to experience this blissful spiritual enlightenment.

Meditation and Medicine

Many will think that meditating is a practice designed for monks who live in monasteries, but lately plenty of medical evidence will support the fact that not only monks should meditate. Even the Dalai Lama has been encouraging and helping researches to prove the benefits of meditating on the brain. He has been sending Tibetan monks in Washington, D.C. to be examined and their brains scanned in order to demonstrate how this ancient practice is altering the brain. Researchers used to think that after the year of 30 the human brain stays the same and never changes or develops. However, Buddhist monks proved them wrong. Now we know that 40 minutes a day spent meditating can improve the memory and increase the ability to think clearly and creatively. Every 40 minutes spend in this state, thickens the cortical walls of the brain, which are associated with memory retention, attention and decision making. A 40 minute nap might sometimes make you even more drowsy, but once you get a handle on meditating you will come back to the real world refreshed and ready for action. When you are in a state of relaxation, your body forms nitric oxide which helps your blood vessels open up and lower the blood pressure naturally. Meditating will not only protect your brain cells from aging but your entire DNA too. At the end of every chromosome there are protective capsules called telomeres. Science says that the longer these parts of our DNA are the longer we live. In the Davis Shamatha Project was verified that meditators have much longer telomeres as well as high telomerase activity. During the course of every meditation practice, endorphins are released because the body is no longer under stress and it’s positively focused. When these neurotransmitters are free to control your body and emotions, you will feel what is called the runner's high. You can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and lower cholesterol levels without the use of medications. Sustained meditation will help you to avoid headaches, muscle tension and insomnia. Because you will learn to guide your thoughts and reduce the negative ones, you can improve your emotional life by increasing positivity and gaining confidence. A feeling of connectedness will follow you and remind you that you are one with the universe and others. You will learn to let go and what’s more important to go with the flow.

Meditation will alter every aspect of your life and that is the main intent. You will gain greater insight of how you respond to daily experiences and thus understand people around you and their actions better. The quality of your thinking will be enhanced, because you will know which troubles are worth your nerves and which are allowed to pass through. The moment when thoughts are born is very insignificant in your mind but may cause inescapable consequences, so it’s time you learn how to sort them out. At the beginning, you might not feel you are the type of person to meditate, hum words out loud or even sit still for longer than 10 minutes. Keep in mind that great achievements take time and you have to put a lot of energy in them. Take baby steps if you have to, but make sure you don’t give up, because the results will be worthwhile.

References

1. How to Meditate for Beginners http://theconsciouslife.com/how-to-meditate-a-guide-for-beginners.htm

2. Meditation for Beginners: 20 Practical Tips for Quieting the Mind http://zenhabits.net/meditation-for-beginners-20-practical-tips-for-quieting-the-mind/

3. Zen Meditation http://www.openway.org.au/pdf/introzen.pdf

4. Simple Meditation Techniques - Stress Reduction, Focus, and Change http://www.yinyanghouse.com/basics/simple_meditation_techniques

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