Happy Postures: Some Guidance for Choosing a Meditation Cushion or Bench
The Buddha said that meditation flows through four postures: walking, standing, sitting and lying down. But most of the time when we think of meditation, it’s sitting meditation that comes to mind. And for those of us who are less experienced, seated postures are the usual way to start. Some young people may need little in the way of support, but in our culture very few people spend much time sitting on the ground or floor; by the time we’re in our thirties (if not sooner) support can be very helpful for meditators who are ready to sit for a long period of time. That’s where a cushion or bench can help.
Cushions we carry at Mimosa come with three fillings: buckwheat hulls, kapok fiber, and air. Inflatable cushions are most useful for travel, because they take up little space when deflated. For your main cushion, though, you’ll probably want to choose between kapok and buckwheat.
Kapok has a similar feel to cotton batting, but comes from a more sustainable source. Kapok-filled cushions are more stable and softer than buckwheat, but do not fit to the body in the same way. They hold their shape well over time. Kapok is also hypoallergenic.
Buckwheat hulls are a byproduct of agriculture. This filling forms to your contours, though to some extent this depends on how full the cushion is; a well-stuffed cushion will be firmer, while one that’s less densely packed will have more give to it. Since the buckwheat cushions we sell zip open, you have the option of adding or removing hulls for a custom fit. If you want your cushion more stuffed, or need to re-stuff one that’s flattened out with time, Mimosa sells bags of loose hulls.
Zabuton: A zabuton is sort of like a mini-futon. Most people use a zabuton underneath another meditation cushion. They can be handy if you’re meditating on a hard and/or cold floor, but are probably not necessary if the room has carpeting. Or, if you’re flexible and just want a soft surface to sit on, you could use a zabuton without a cushion on top. All our zabutons have kapok filling.
Zafu: This is the classic, round meditation cushion. It provides good back support, and puts you high enough off the ground to reduce stress on your knees. Zafus come in a variety of styles, with your choice of buckwheat or kapok stuffing. One great advantage of the zafu is its versatility: you can sit on the flattened side cross-legged, semi-kneeling, or with legs bent to one side, and you can also straddle the cushion turned on its side. If you’re going to sit for long periods of time, changing posture occasionally can help you stay comfortable, and thus keep your attention focused on your practice–not on your legs falling asleep!
Crescent: The crescent, or “cosmic cushion,” is shaped sort of like a chubby mustache. It supports the upper legs as well as the bottom–an extra level of support that can be helpful for those with knee issues. It’s angled to tilt the body forward slightly, making the back slightly rounded instead of stiff. Crescent cushions work only for the lotus position.
These wood or fiberboard benches sit about six to ten inches off the floor, to provide back support and reduce strain on the knees. Some have a rounded, rocking bottom, while others sit flat on the floor. With most styles, you have the option of adding a tie-on cushion.
Peace Bench: With this bench, you have the choice of sitting in lotus position or putting your legs directly under your body. The Peace Bench sits flat on the floor. It can be easily folded down for storage or transport, and is made from 100% recycled wood fiberboard, with straps made from cotton webbing.
Pi bench: The supports for these benches are nearer the middle, and they’re rounded to make them rock slightly underneath you, so that your back position isn’t totally fixed. They’re best to use for a semi-kneeling position, with legs folded under the bench, but they’ll also support a modified lotus position.