For most people it is extremely difficult to sit in lotus and cross legged postures. Sitting in these complicated yoga postures for a long period of time makes the body hurt. Most common problems people face are legs going numb, lower back pain, pain in the knees and ankles, and more. But this should not discourage us from experiencing the joy of meditation.
The main objective of practicing meditation is go deep within the mind and experience the blissful state of restful calm. But it’s difficult to be blissful or restful when your body hurts. Pain in any part of the body will distract you and waste your time.
Some people talk about enduring pain while meditating. It’s up to each and every individual, but I personally do not endorse this point of view simply because I have seen people doing permanent damage to their body by trying to forcefully sit in advanced yoga postures and enduring pain for long period of time.
It is often seen that people from the western world have difficulty sitting in cross legged, lotus, or easy poses because of low flexibility in the hips. Let me tell you, as an Indian, even I have trouble sitting in the above mentioned postures.
This is despite the fact that I have been used to sitting in cross-legged position since my childhood. I have always struggled with flexibility issues in my hips and thighs.
I have been practicing meditation for the past 5 years and I use meditation cushions (or pillows), also known as the ‘Zafu’, to support my knees and ankles. In fact, zafus are very common amongst Zen meditation practitioners.
In this post we’re going to discuss some of the best meditation cushions that are available out there. But we’ll get to that in a short while. Before that let me explain a few basic things that you should know before you actually decide to buy a cushion.
How I Almost Damaged My Knees Sitting in the Wrong Way
During the early years of my practice, I used to force myself to sit in cross legged posture for a long time and that used to result in my left leg going numb after about 20 minutes. And that’s when I had to come out of meditation because the pain was simply unbearable.
I had almost messed up my knees and lower back, and there was a point where I just could not sit anymore. It took me over three months rigorous yoga practice and exercises to relieve inflammation in my knees and lower back.
I was lucky that my problem was not that acute and I could heal my body through natural exercises and yoga. I have heard of cases where people mess up so bad that they have to get surgeries done in order to alleviate their chronic condition.
When I started using a cushion all of my problems were gone. I could meditate for long periods of time without getting distracted by pain or discomfort.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong in using a meditation cushion and I know of great monks who use cushions to practice meditation. Using a cushion does not mean that you’re a poor meditator, or that the benefit is going to be less.
Your body is your temple and it is important to protect it at all costs. The idea is to keep your knees below the level of your hips. That way you release pressure in the lower back and knees. Using a cushion enables you to do that.
Can’t We Just Sit on a Chair and Meditate?
So this question about the posture used to bother me a lot in the earlier days when I was researching about meditation techniques. Why do we have to sit in these complicated yoga postures to do meditation? Can’t we just sit on a chair, stand up or lie down on the bed?
In order to answer the above questions, I’ll share my own experiences with you. I have tried them all, and the conclusion I came up with was, that the traditional yoga postures were the most optimal when it comes to practicing meditation.
However, because of flexibility issues with in legs and hips, at that time I was not able sit in these yoga postures.
At first, I decided to lie down and meditate. The problem was that no matter how hard I tried I was not able to prevent myself drifting off to sleep. Also, when you lie down, the energy channels running up your spine are not in alignment with the cosmic energy.
Lying down on the bed or even on the floor, I could not keep myself awake and aware beyond 10 to 20 minutes. So clearly, lying down wasn’t working for me.
Next I tried to stand up and meditation. This was even worse than lying down because now I had to put my attention on keeping myself in balance.
Finally, I decided to sit on a chair and meditate. I’m not at all against sitting on a chair while meditating. I know of many people who do that. In fact, I recommend taking help of a meditation chair or a bench if you have issues with knees, lower back or any other medical condition.
For the first year, I myself practiced meditation sitting down on a chair because I could not bear the pain in my legs (it was awful). It took me nearly one full year of yoga practice before I could sit on a cushion in a traditional posture.
It’s important to make yourself comfortable, because if you keep fidgeting, you will be distracted all the time. For an effective meditation session, it is important to keep the body as still as possible. Then only the mind will be silent.
However, for best possible experience I recommend the traditional postures for practicing meditation. The best thing to do is to practice meditation on a chair, and side by side, work on your flexibility.
Once you develop flexibility in your body, replace the chair with cushion.
The Best Postures for Practicing Meditation
After all the other positions failed, I decided to try the traditional seated yoga postures. Now there are four yoga postures that are said to be most conducive for meditation. They are as follows:
Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
As the name suggests, this is perhaps the easiest of all postures. This is just the traditional cross-legged posture. I understand that many people lack flexibility to sit in the posture for long time.
In this posture one leg is folded in front of the other. The left foot is generally place on the front side. You can try sitting in this posture if you find it difficult to sit in the easy pose.
Lotus Pose (Padmasana)
Lotus pose is tough and requires a lot of flexibility. In this the legs are crossed and gently placed above the thighs. The left leg rests above the right thigh and the right leg rests above the left thigh. Avoid this posture if you have painful knees.
Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana)
Thunderbolt pose is very different from the ones I mentioned above. In this you sit on the heals with calves below the thighs with your hands placed on the top of the thighs.
I like to sit in Vajrasana a lot. I find it very relaxing, specially after eating a meal, as it aids in digestion. But this is not my choice of pose for meditation.
My Choice of Posture
I personally like to sit in the easy pose (sukhasana), and with regular practice, I have trained myself to sit in this posture for about an hour or so.
If you have flexibility issues, I recommend using a meditation cushion, or Zafu, no matter what pose you choose to sit in. You can place the cushion below your buttocks in order to elevate your hips above the knees.
This takes the pressure off at the base of the hamstrings and knees and allows for proper blood circulation, and that in turn, will stop your legs from going numb and those tingly needle like sensations you experience.
For those who have back related issues, you can also support your back against the wall. However, please ensure that you don’t lean backwards towards the wall because that will make you sleepy.
When seated in these traditional yoga poses its easy to calm down the mind. When you’re just getting started, start by practicing for very short duration of time (5 – 10 minutes). Over time you’ll develop flexibility required to sit without using any assistance.
Best Meditation Cushions
Unique Wellness Large Buckwheat & Lavender Meditation Cushion
The Round Zafu Meditation Cushion comes with an ergonomic carry bag; therefore, portability is never an issue. You can easily take this cushion anywhere and practice meditation anytime you like.
It has been designed in such a manner that you can adjust the height by removing hulls of buckwheat to suit your body type. The outer cover can be removed and washed in a machine.
The cushion is wide enough to fit all body types.
Zenjara Zafu Meditation Cushion
Zenjara Zafu Meditation Cushion enables you to enhance your meditation experience by relieving pressure off the knees. It enables you to keep your posture in perfect alignment.
It’s made up of natural buckwheat hulls that can either be added or subtracted depending on the height and firmness you like.
Satori Buckwheat Meditation Pillow
Satori Buckwheat Meditation Pillow is a crescent shaped pillow that helps in keeping the spine erect and prevents back injuries. It is filled with buckwheat hulls which prevents it from flattening. The cover is made up of cotton and is washable.
It has been designed in such a manner so as to enable you to easily sit in easy, half lotus, and full lotus postures without putting excessive pressure on your hips and knees.
Existentials Buckwheat Meditation Cushion
If your limbs go numb very frequently while meditating, you might want to check out the Existentials Buckwheat Meditation Cushion. It is made up of buckwheat fillings that makes the cushion comfortable for sitting.
This cushion can also be adjusted by adding or removing buckwheat fillings based on the firmness level you want to set for yourself.
Florensi Meditation Cushion
This one is an extra large meditation pillow made up of buckwheat hulls. Just as the other cushions the height is adjustable and the cover is made up of soft velvet fabric that is machine washable.
This one is actually very appealing visually and the design is inspired by the traditional Japanese Zen Cushions. The design on the cover is something similar to the Mandela lotus flower that symbolizes unity, connection, compassion, and growth.
Modern Multi-Use Zafu Meditation Cushion
If you’re looking for an ultra lightweight, portable, and comfortable meditation cushion, you should checkout the Modern Multi-Use Zafu Meditation Cushion.
This one is made up of polystyrene foam beads which protects it from bugs. The outer cover can be removed and machine washed.
Seat of Your Soul 2019 Meditation Cushion
Seal of Your Soul Meditation cushion comes in three types of shapes:
- The Buckwheat Crescent Moon – this benefit of using a crescent cushion is that it enables you to place your legs closer to your body while sitting.
- The Buckwheat Zabuton – this is a Japanese style cushion for sitting (generally on the floor). This is very much used in the practice of Zen meditation where a Zafu is placed on top of the Zabuton. And the Zabuton provides cushioning to the knees and ankles.
- The simple Buckwheat Zafu – regular rounded cushion.
Not only can you practice meditation, but also use this as a substitute for the yoga blocks. The buckwheat filling makes the product more durable and offers a joyful meditation experience.
You can also adjust it based on your comfort level by removing some of the buckwheat hulls. The outer cover is also machine washable.
Friends of Meditation Up and Down Floor Cushion
For those who like to practice intense forms of meditations such as Vipassana, Friends of Meditation Up and Down Floor Cushion would be an ideal choice. It makes the sitting comfortable and relaxing, and enables you to experience deep states of restful calm.
It prevents numbness in legs, keeps the spine in perfect alignment, and increases the capacity to sit in cross-legged posture. It’s also portable and can be easily carried around places.
Seiza Meditation Bench
The Seiza Meditation Bench is ideal for those people who prefer to sit in the thunderbolt pose, or Vajrasana (please refer to the earlier section ‘best posture for practicing meditation’).
The best thing about this bench is that the height of the platform is adjustable giving full protection to the knees, and at the same time, it also protects the ankles from the weight of your upper body.
It has a curved base (the platform) that aligns perfectly with your thighs and buttocks. It is also light and portable.
Alexia Meditation Seat (Zen Yoga Chair)
If you are looking for the most ergonomically correct meditation seat, let me introduce you to the Alexia Meditation Seat (winner of the Reddot design award, 2016). This is a lot more than just a cushion. In fact, it’s a complete seat.
If you have painful knees or issues with lower back, ordinary cushions will not be enough. Alexia lets you sit in easy pose (sukhasana) and supports your knees, hips, and lower back and keeps them in perfect alignment.
How to Improve Flexibility for Sitting in Meditation?
Developing flexibility for sitting long periods of time requires consistency and patience. Here’s a video that demonstrates some well known yoga postures that will help you develop flexibility in your hips and legs and enable you to sit the yoga poses mentioned above.
But until you become flexible enough, feel free to use a cushion. You don’t want to cause serious injury to your body. Again, it does not make you a less of meditator if you take support of a comfortable cushion.
A natural question that comes to mind is “Why can’t I just use the regular pillow or blanket for cushioning? Why do I have to buy a cushion specifically designed for mediation?”. And the short answer is – you can but the regular pillows and cushions do not provide the same level of comfort as the ones specially designed for meditation.
When I got started with meditation I was hesitant to buy a cushion. So I use to fold my blanket and sit above it. However, it was not very comfortable. I tried the same with other things such as ordinary pillows, newspapers (I’m not kidding), and what not.
But nothing was as comfortable as the Zafu.
If you’re interested in meditation, I have an excellent free resource for you, checkout The Ultimate Meditation Guide.
Hey guys! I would really like a small favor from you. If you decide to buy a cushion, I would really appreciate if you can come back (after a day or two) to this article, and let me know in the comments section about your meditation experience after you used the cushion.
You can also suggest me your choice of meditation cushion, and if I like it, I will include it in the list above and also give you the credit for it.
I’m really looking for forward to hearing for you. So please bookmark this page and share it with people you know.
Thanks and have a nice day.