One of the most challenging unknowns about choosing a meditation cushion is the height of the cushion for sitting meditation. When people first begin a meditation practice, they can experience physical discomfort whether it be pain in the shoulders, back, hips, knees, or ankles, or numbness in the buttocks and legs. Much of time the meditation cushion is the source of the discomfort mainly because the cushion affects the posture of the body. Sometimes there are physical causes within the body but this can be overcome with a good cushion and some thoughtful meditation practice.
Factors Related to Meditation Cushion Height
There are generally four factors that need to be considered when choosing the height of a meditation cushion: your height, your weight, your level of flexibility, and your level of experience with sitting meditation. Of course, there are mitigating factors such as injuries, disabilities, defects, and surgeries, for example. These extenuating factors are outside the scope of this article. We recommend that you seek the advice of a medical professional if you have special circumstances that might influence your ability to comfortably engage in meditation practice.
How Your Height Factors Into Choosing a Meditation Cushion
In general, the taller you are, the higher the cushion you will need. The reason for this is that taller people typically have longer legs. Longer legs need more room in order to fold them up for the cross-legged meditation posture. A taller cushion will help to accommodate longer legs. Our Zafu Meditation Cushion is about 7 inches tall, which is a good, standard height for people between 5 feet and 6 feet tall. If you are nearer 5 feet tall, you will want to choose the buckwheat hull fill so that you can let some of the hulls out and lower the cushion a bit. If you are over 6 feet tall, you may want to supplement the height by adding a small support pillow under the Zafu to raise it up even higher.
Our Cosmic Cushion comes in 3 different heights: lowloft and travel size (4-1/2 inches), regular lift (6-1/2 inches), and oversize (7-1/2 inches). We designed the oversize Cosmic Cushion for those who are, say, 6 feet 2 inches or higher, but we mainly designed the oversize for those people who are heavier (225 pounds and up). The extra bit of height is oftentimes pressed down by a heavier person. The lowloft and travel size Cosmic Cushions are generally for shorter people of about 5 feet 6 inches or less.
How Your Weight Factors Into Choosing a Meditation Cushion
The main reason that weight is a factor is because more weight will effectively reduce the height of the cushion. A heavier person will squash the soft fabric and the fill of the cushion (especially Kapok) causing it to become lower. As mentioned earlier, the main purpose behind the design of the oversize Cosmic Cushion is to compensate for the squashing down of the cushion from a heavier person.
The only reason to consider weight is because of its affect on the height of the cushion when you are sitting on it.
How Your Flexibility Factors Into Choosing a Meditation Cushion
An important understanding about sitting meditation is that your body will be most comfortable when your knees are level with or somewhat lower than your hips. If your knees are sticking up in the air, it will cause your lower back to curve outward and your back, neck, and shoulder muscles will have to work extra hard to maintain an upright posture. When the knees are up high, this closes the abdomen as well causing your bowels to be under pressure.
If your knees go significantly lower than your hips, this will cause the lower back to curve in severely causing lower back pain. Additionally, it will cause the body to lean forward and, again, force your back, neck, and shoulder muscles to work harder to maintain an upright posture.
First, you want to test your level of flexibility. Sit on the floor in a cross-legged posture with no cushion or lift whatsoever. If your knees align with your hips or go toward the floor, then you have good flexibility. If your knees stay somewhat in the air, then you have average to limited flexibility. If your knees stay practically straight up in the air, then you have very limited flexibility. This is common in men because they have narrower hips and shorter hamstrings than women.
Limited flexibility is not any indication that you are out of shape, defective, or unhealthy in some way. Indeed, people who run, bike, and hike a lot tend to have less flexibility. People who do yoga tend to have above average flexibility. And some people have above average or limited flexibility just because that is how they are built.
The correlation between flexibility and cushion height is simply that more flexibility requires less cushion height and less flexibility requires more cushion height. Again, the goal is to get the hips level with or somewhat lower than the hips.
How Your Meditation Experience Factors Into Choosing a Meditation Cushion
The final factor I will discuss is your level of meditation experience. We offer some very minimalistic meditation cushions with just a few inches of lift such as our Heavenly Buckwheat Bean and our Rectangular Meditation Cushion. These lower cushions are not just for those who have above average flexibility but also for those who have a lot of experience with meditation and have found they are comfortable with a smaller cushion. As you continue your practice of meditation (as well as some yoga), your flexibility will improve as well as your ability to adapt to and adjust to discomfort during meditation. No matter how long you have been practicing, you can still experience discomfort and even leg numbness during meditation.
Very few people will find perfect comfort when they first bring a new meditation cushion home or take a new meditation cushion out of the box. In this article, I hope to help you make an informed choice about the best meditation cushion height for your needs. If you are not sure about what type of fill is best for you, be sure to read our article on Kapok vs. Buckwheat Hulls.
I hope this article has been helpful. Thank you for reading,
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