Choosing the proper meditation cushion or pillow depends on a few criteria including meditation posture, proper alignment, comfort, and the look and feel of the cushion.
Why Do I Need a Meditation Cushion?
The human body is neither flat nor predictably curved. Without proper support, your body will succumb to the shape of the surface on which it rests. This generally causes the legs, hips, spine, shoulders, and head to misalign and can result in discomfort. Meditation cushions or pillows, yoga blankets, yoga bolsters, and other props can greatly improve your posture and comfort level during meditation. As with any practice, whether construction or cooking, meditation requires the proper tools to ensure a successful practice session.
Common meditation postures include the traditional full-lotus, half-lotus (cross-legged), kneeling (seiza), chair sitting, and lying (shavasana) postures. You may use more than one posture for meditation such as the half-lotus for your morning meditation and then savasana at the end of a yoga session. The ability to meditate in any of the sitting or kneeling postures is determined largely by the flexibility of your ankles, knees, and hips. In most cases some type of support is needed in order to maintain proper alignment and comfort during meditation.
During a sitting meditation in either the full or half lotus posture a firm foundation is crucial. The spine should be erect with the lower back curved in, the upper back curved out slightly, the neck curved in slightly, and the head level (the "S" curve). This alignment naturally supports your body, allows for the greatest comfort, and reduces stress on the spinal components. In the lotus posture, the traditional Zafu and Zabuton Meditation Cushions work well.
The Zafu, the traditional round pleated cushion, raises the hips and upper body so that the legs can rest comfortably. One normally sits on the edge of the zafu so that the thighs slope down slightly. This posture rolls the hips forward creating the natural curve in the spinal column. When the spinal column is in its natural alignment, the back, shoulders, neck and head assume a comfortable upright posture that is easy to maintain during meditation. When used alone, the zafu is well suited for persons of average height and who have normal to above average flexibility.
Taller individuals and those with more limited flexibility tend to benefit from a higher lift. Sitting directly on top of the zafu can increase lift, but may result in an unstable feel with difficulty maintaining balance and proper alignment. A rectangular meditation cushion can be used with the zafu to increase lift and allow for positioning of the cushions to produce proper alignment.
A unique variation to the zafu is the Cosmic Cushion. This cushion has a fortune cookie shape and built-in slope that produces proper alignment with greater comfort. The extended sides of the cushion support the thighs, and the heel cutout allows the heels and ankles to be positioned closely to the body. The Cosmic Cushion works well for most everyone, but is an ideal cushion for taller persons and those who are less flexible. A lower loft version of the Cosmic Cushion may be best suited for persons who are shorter than 5' 6" or have average to above average flexibility.
For those who prefer only a slight lift, but still want a cutout to allow close positioning of the heels, the Heavenly Buckwheat Bean may be the best solution. Greater flexibility may be needed in order to feel comfortable on the Heavenly Buckwheat Bean, because of its lower lift.
The Rectangular Meditation Cushion is a simple solution that can provide lift for proper alignment. Since this cushion has straight edges, it will not interfere with positioning of the heels. The lift is not as high as the standard zafu and is preferred by those with greater flexibility or who are of average height or lower. The rectangular meditation cushion is oftentimes preferred by more experienced meditators.
The Zabuton Meditation Cushion provides cushioning for the knees and ankles during sitting meditation. This cushion is placed under the zafu or other sitting cushion. Proper alignment of the body in the sitting posture can create some additional pressure on the knees and ankles, and the zabuton helps to cushion these pressure areas.
When discomfort is experienced in the hip joint, knees or ankles, additional support can be provided by the Knee Pillow or Kapok Support Cushion. Placing the knee pillow under the knee will raise the knee up reducing the torque on the knee joint.
The kneeling or Seiza meditation posture can be supported by a Zafu, Meditation Bench, Rectangular Meditation Cushion, or Yoga Bolster. Straddling one of these cushions will support the upper body and reduce torque on the knee joint. Using a combination of these cushions can increase lift for taller persons or those with more limited flexibility. A zabuton or kapok support cushion can be used to cushion the knees and ankles from hard floor surfaces.
In the sitting meditation posture, a BackJack Chair can be helpful to support the back. Whether a Backjack or regular chair is used, a kapok support cushion can be used to cushion the lower back and create the normal "S" curve of the spine. A Tush Cush Orthopedic Foam Cushion can be used to create a forward slope, again improving the curve of the spine. The cutout in the rear portion of the Tush-Cush relieves pressure on the tailbone or coccyx.
In the lying posture a Cotton Yoga Mat or Shiatsu Massage Mat can provide the basic foundation for comfort. A Yoga Blanket, Yoga Bolster, or Kapok Support Cushion can be placed under the knees, back, neck or other areas of the body to raise and support those areas of the body.
No matter which posture is assumed during meditation, a firm foundation, proper alignment to support the body and breath, and comfort are important. Meditation and support cushions are instrumental in achieving comfort so that one can focus on the mind and not be distracted by physical discomfort. When we first begin a meditation practice it is useful to focus on the body for a short time to take notice of any areas of the body that need additional support or adjustment.
There are many cushions available for meditation. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors and are made with many different materials. It is important to take the time to think about each of the designs and how they can best suit your personal needs. Consider the height of the cushions, whether the fabric is durable yet soft, and how the fill will support your body.
The color of the cushion may not be too important, though most people look for a color that will fit with the color scheme of their meditation space. The following article on Feng Shui and color may be helpful in choosing the colors for your meditation space.
In general, the basic colors affect your personal energy in the following ways:
Red - linked with fire energy (elevates energy)
Violet - restores balance (includes purple & plum)
Yellow - lifts the mood and clears the mind
Blue - calming color that helps relax
Black - induces deep inward focus and discipline
Orange - induces healing both physically and mentally
Green - creates balance and calmness; encourages slow, deep breathing
Other colors contain aspects of one or more other colors. Brown, for example, offers the qualities of Green and Orange. In general, the stronger the color the more powerful the effect.
Kapok versus Buckwheat Hull
Kapok is a downy cotton-like material that comes from the Kapok Trees of Asia and southern regions of the US. When blown into a cushion the kapok becomes dense and firm. It is a useful product for meditation cushions because it does not compress like cotton, polyester batting, and foam products. It is also lightweight. It has enough give to conform to the shape of the body without collapsing and becoming unsupportive. Kapok has been used for centuries in meditation cushions.
Buckwheat Hulls are the outer chaff of the buckwheat grain. The hulls are small, dark, and saucer-shaped. When poured into a cushion they take on the effect of a pile of sand, but with a lot less weigh. A buckwheat hull cushion does weigh more than a Kapok cushion, however. The result of the buckwheat hulls is that they conform quite easily to the shape of the body and create a very grounded feeling. buckwheat hull cushions feel more stable than the kapok cushions and are preferred by many.
Meditation Cushions are the tools of meditation practice. They help support the body in various meditation postures and create proper alignment and comfort. Whether you choose the traditional zafu & zabuton meditation cushions or the more contemporary Cosmic Cushion or Heavenly Buckwheat Bean, your meditation experience can be improved by the use of these aids.
We have been making cushions for several years and have put a great deal of thought into the design and construction of our meditation cushions. It is always helpful to turn to those who are practicing meditation regularly for feedback on which cushions are working best for them. As you explore the use of meditation cushions, please feel free to contact Sage Meditation Customer Service with any questions.