The ideal posture for meditation has three essential characteristics: it’s stable, it’s straight and it’s comfortable. For that purpose, finding the ideal meditation cushion, chair or bench for your unique body type is an important part of your practice.
There are so many different products out there – meditation cushions, meditation chairs, stools, pillows, mats, zafus, zabutons, etc. So you might be confused which one to choose. This article will guide you through the world of meditation seats, explaining what each one of them is for, and helping you find the ideal one for you.
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1) Meditation Posture
The meditation seat you need depends on the posture you use for meditation. So let’s start by discussing posture.
As mentioned, good meditation posture needs to be:
- stable — so that your brain feels safe, and is able to turn inside without distractions
- straight — so that your body helps you be more present, focused, and alert
- comfortable — so you can sit for longer periods of time, in a relaxed manner, without needing to move and without feeling pain.
There are different recommended positions for meditation, these are the five main ones:
The most popular postures for Westerners are Burmese (simple cross-legged) and Seiza (kneeling on a stool or a cushion). I meditate on Burmese style.
Full lotus and half lotus are traditional postures, but require a lot of flexibility, and are usually not comfortable. If you are looking for other traditional meditation postures, that are less demanding than lotus, check out Siddhasana, Siddha Yoni Asana, Sukhasana, Swastikasana, Vajrasana. It’s beyond the scope of this article to expand on those; if you want to learn more, I recommend Swami Satyananda’s excellent book on asanas.
Regardless of the position of your legs, some general principles apply to all postures:
- Gently pull your chin back, and stretch your head towards the ceiling
- Close your mouth and have your tongue gently touch the palate
- Relax your shoulders (it helps you breathe better)
- Position your pelvis on the seat in a way that your spine doesn’t arch
Having the right height in relation to the floor is essential for the right position of the pelvis. What we want to achieve is that the hips are above the level of the knees, so your pelvis can roll forward, and the back can straighten naturally, without stress or pushing.
Now let’s talk about the right seats to help you achieve the optimal posture.
2) Meditation Cushions, Stools & Chairs
The first decision you need to make is the posture you like. Here are the four main ways, from hardest to easiest, and the respective meditation seats.
If you sit on the floor in a Yoga posture (half-lotus, siddhasana, easy pose, etc.), then all you need is a thin cushion. In this case the cushion need not be high, otherwise it makes you bend forward. Something like these thin ones can work:
Burmese / Balinese
In this posture you will typically use a Zafu (first two images), or a bolster/gomden (third image). You can also use a Yoga block on its edge (this is what I currently use).
Zafus come in different shapes, sizes, and colors.
Type classic — the one used in Zen temples all over the world.
Type wedge or crescent — wider support for you hips and legs
Type wheel — it gives less, so usually better if you need a higher or tighter seat
More than the shape, however, what matters is the height and filling. More of that in a minute.
Kneeling / Seiza
For those that find hard to sit cross-legged, you can sit on the Japanese kneeling position, known as seiza. For that, you would use either a meditation stool, or turn a zafu on its side and straddle it. Using a zafu for this purpose is usually better for people who are not very flexible, as it lifts the hips high and it’s easier on the knees.
Many stools/benches are not cushioned, so you might need to get a small cushion to put on top.
If your knees don’t agree with any of the positions above, or if you need a backup seat for longer meditation sessions, you can use a chair. Here, you might need a thin cushion either to get your height right, or to support the lower back.
3) Heights and Cushion Fillings
The height and filling of a cushion can make a huge difference to your meditation experience. Cushions heights vary from 5 to 23cm (2 to 9 inches). If you find your cushion is not working, the problem is likely the height. It may be too tall or too short for your body.
Each body is different, so you need to try different heights of cushions – sometimes one inch can be the difference between a smooth session, or sleep legs and sore back.
The other factor is the stuffing/filling.
The final thing you need to know before buying your meditation cushion is the filling. You may need to try more than one type of filling to see what works best for your meditation needs. But this guide is here to help you save some time.
This is the most popular among modern practitioners. Buckwheat hull feels like sitting on sand, it shifts immediately under you, conforming to the shape of your body. It is a bit firm but has a little give.
Buckwheat Hulls are the outer shell of the buckwheat grain. This outer shell is too hard to be eaten by humans or animals, so it is a waste product as far as food is concerned.
This is recommended for those that prefer to sit on a softer cushion, one that shapes under you, and don’t need a very sturdy zafu. However, some suppliers do make them in ways that are more sturdy and taller than kapok cushions.
Cushions filled with kapok are firmer than those filled with buckwheat hulls. It holds your body shape more steadily, as there is less give.
Kapok is a soft, hypoallergenic, mold and mildew resistant, natural fiber from the seedpod of the Kapok tree which is found in Rain Forests all over the world and can be harvested naturally. Naturally silky and resilient, it has been the traditional stuffing for sitting cushions for centuries. It does compress a little over months and years, so you might need to fill it more as time passes.
Some meditators who sit for prolonged periods, as well as those that need a taller support, tend to prefer kapok cushions.
Wool doesn’t compress, is lightweight (as compared to kapok and buckwheat), durable. Wool cushions (zafus) and mats (zabutons) also tend to be very comfortable, and allow more blood flow. According to many Yogis, wool is a good insulator of “energy” (prana), and a recommended filling.
The downside is that it tends to be not as firm as kapok zafus, for example.
You will also find cushions filled with:
- Cotton (the cheapest filling, but not so environment-friendly)
- Polypill / Polyester (about two dollars a pound)
- Air (inflatable cushions for travel)
Cotton cushions, when packed using traditional methods, can be extremely firm.
4) Other Props
For those sitting on the floor, especially for sessions longer than 20 or 30 minutes, using a Zabuton is highly recommended. These are Japanese square mats designed to be used under a cushion or stool, in order to help keep your legs and feet comfortable. You can also use a folded blanket for a similar effect.
Finally, depending on your body types you may also find helpful to have small cushions to support your knees or your hands.
If you find that your knees are high in the air when they are crossed, it may be that you need a taller cushion or a different position or knee supports.
If your cushion or stool is too low, your knees will tend to be up in the air – that indicates you need more lift under the buttocks, so add another cushion or fold blanket higher underneath. If the knees are still high up in the air, it may get uncomfortable for you through the hips and thighs, then put cushions under each knee so they have support. Otherwise, without that support, your hips and knees may start to hurt.
In general, knee cushions are helpful for people who experience sleepy legs when meditating, or for those who have knee injuries, or not enough hip flexibility.
If your trunk is long in relation to the length of your arms, hand cushions will be helpful. Or else the shoulders will tend to roll forward to compensate, which will end up arching the back.
5) Where To Buy
There you go. Now you have a good understanding of the different seats and accessories for meditation, and are more well equipped to choose the one for you.Considering that your meditation seat will last you for decades, and that it’s basically the only “accessory” you need for meditation practice, it is worth it to invest some time and money to find the ideal solution for you.
Considering that your meditation seat will last you for decades, and that it’s basically the only “accessory” you need for meditation practice, it is worth it to invest some time and money to find the ideal solution for you.So, where can you buy them?
So, where can you buy them?Here are some of the stores that I recommend. I have affiliate relations with some of them.
Here are some of the stores that I recommend. I have affiliate relations with some of them.
US & Canada
Europe & UK
Australia & New Zealand
Now it’s on to you. What meditation setup do you have for your practice? Let us know, and share pictures if you have any!
If you are a supplier of meditation products and would like to be included in this list, contact me here.
[Image credits for this post: most of them were REALthings, apart from the black and white Zafus (from Basaho) and the Yoga asanas for meditation (from Bihar School of Yoga).]