You want to create a meditation space that supports your posture for a good length of time to allow you to concentrate and gain awareness and insight. An ordinary floor cushion won’t have that right filling or structure. Let’s look at how to get that best meditation cushion for Vipassana.
What is the best type of meditation cushion for Vipassana?
The best cushion for Vipassana meditation is one that is firm and supportive. One that will help you sit upright (if you can’t sit still) for a decent duration without pain or discomfort that will distract you. You don’t want the normal floor cushions as these will be too soft.
Vipassana is not about “let’s relax and feel calm” but rather it’s basis is concentration to gain insight, awareness, and to let go. Vipassana means “clear seeing” or “insight” in Pali. It is a traditional Buddhism meditation.
You are aware of your thoughts but you are not thinking the thoughts.
Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned meditator, having the right support for your position is important for concentration.
You want something that is going to stop you from slouching and falling into sleepiness. You don’t want to be tilting forward, nor have your back begin to hurt nor your breathing hindered by slack support.
Best meditation cushions
Meditation takes you into an alpha state of consciousness, which is associated with calmness, creativeness, and clarity of mind, according to several studies (see my article on the science behind it).
You need to be comfortable. For you, the best meditation cushions are those suited to your prefered style and posture, in this case, Vipassana. Think also about any limitations in your flexibility.
As well, you may want to consider the material of the product, e.g., whether it is natural and eco-friendly or synthetic in origin. And, is the cover removable and easily cleaned? Does it have a handle and is it transportable for when you go to venues to meditate?
The following covers some popular meditation cushions to help you make the best choice of support for you to use at home (or anywhere).
Patterned zafu meditation pillow and zabuton mat
This is a zafu and zabuton set. The floor cushion or zabuton rolls up and has an inbuilt handle for easy transporting. The filling is natural eco friendly kapok and cover is 100% cotton. If you’re not sure on this material, I cover the different inner fillings below.
Leewadee products are handmade, which the company states is done “responsibly and sustainably.”
Check out Leewadee meditation cushion set online at Amazon
Buckwheat filled zafu
This zafu has a natural buckwheat hull filling and a removable cotton cover. It comes in a variety of vibrant colors. It has a built-in handle for carrying.
Check out Buckwheat Bolster Pillow Cushion online at Amazon
Bean Products zafu and zabuton cushion
Bean Products zafu cushions come in a range of color options and designs that are filled with organic buckwheat from the USA. The covers are made of eco-friendly hemp or organic cotton.
The inner filling of buckwheat can be refilled or removed to clean the cover. Each pillow has a built in handle for transport. Items are made in the USA.
Check out Bean Buckwheat cotton Zafu and Zabuton online at Amazon
Where to buy meditation cushions
I’ve listed popular meditation cushions from Amazon.com, above. For other online meditation gear, here is a selection…
US & Canada: Meditationbench.com is a family owned and run business with all pillows made at their shop in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California.
Europe and UK: Basaho on Amazon.uk
Australia & New Zealand: StretchNow has been established since 2002. They offer a range of eco-friendly yoga and meditation products.
Read on to learn more about what to look for in a meditation cushion…
Why use a meditation pillow?
A meditation pillow provides the necessary support for you to sit comfortably in contemplation without distraction for several minutes.
When placed under your seat, a meditation cushion lifts your hips in a way that they roll forward just enough to uphold the natural curve of your lower back and align your spine so that your body is naturally supported.
Believe me, without proper meditation pillows, if you sit on the floor for longer than a few minutes, things will start to get a tad uncomfortable.
The meditation teacher, Turiya Moore, explains that “finding the correct cushion (for your body) will help take pressure away from your tailbone and also relieve some of the tension you may experience in your knees”.
Take off your shoes. “Make yourself feel comfortable.” “Be kind to your body.“
The different shapes in meditation pillows
The zafu and the zabuton are the most common meditation cushions. Use them together or separately. Together they make a great set to define your space and add comfort and support.
The zabuton is mostly square and flat.
These cushions are designed to use alone, for example, for the lotus position. Or, they go underneath a traditional meditation cushion, the zafu, as a floor mat.
Why use a zabuton? A zabuton helps to define your space, makes a base for your cushion, and provides support for your knees and ankle joints.
This meditation floor cushion helps to relieve any pressure on your knees, ankles, and feet when in the sitting or kneeling poses.
A zabuton placed as the base will cushion the effect and protect your joints against the floor.
A zabuton meditation floor cushion is flatter than the zafu and is useful in the full, quarter, or half-lotus postures (see the different poses).
The Zafu meditation pillow is the traditional style of cushion used by the Zen Buddhists and so is sometimes called a zen cushion. Translated, Zafu means sewn seat.
A zafu meditation cushion has three main shapes: classic, crescent, and wheel (see the diagrams below).
A good posture is the best foundation for meditative practice.Giovanni Dienstmann, Meditation Teacher in Practical Meditation.
A zafu is a round (classic or wheel) or a moon-shaped (crescent) cushion with more height than a usual cushion (see diagrams).
All help to raise the hips into a comfortable sitting position (see best postures). The classic or wheel shapes form a short cylinder. The crescent can be useful between your feet and your buttocks in the kneeling pose or used to support the knees in the Burmese pose.
How do I choose a meditation pillow?
Meditation teacher, author, and coach, Giovanni Dienstmann, explains the best way to meditate “is on a cushion on the floor… this is the most stable meditation posture, making it easier for you to achieve physical and mental stillness”.
For the various sitting styles of meditation, it’s best to have a proper meditation cushion or pillow to support your spine and help prevent ‘pins and needles’ in your legs.
The following describes common meditation poses and suggested props for support.
- Easy pose is simply a comfortable seated position with legs crossed in front. It is similar to the Burmese pose. In this, your knees are wide and your shins are crossed.
- This is not the best pose for meditating more than a few minutes as it is not the most stable posture.
- But…You could place a sitting cushion, such as a crescent meditation cushion under your knees for support and add stability.
Full, half, or quarter lotus position
- This is a common position that people seem to adopt naturally. A thin cushion, a folded blanket, or a zabuton is best for lotus positions.
- The full lotus is where you sit crossed-legged with your feet resting on top of the opposite thighs. The half lotus involves only one foot resting on the opposite thigh while the other leg is stretched out in front or folded underneath and rest beneath the knee or thigh. The quarter lotus has both legs crossed but with each foot resting under the opposite thigh or knee.
- People who have difficulty sitting with legs crossed may prefer the Burmese posture.
- This involves laying your legs bent and flat on the floor in front of you.
- This position has the legs folded (rather than crossed). One heel is on the inside of the opposite thigh, and your other heel sits slightly in front of the opposite foot, ankle, or calf.
- The sides of your knees touch the ground and if they don’t, you can do what I do, and add a cushion under one or each of your knees to support them. You can use pillows, bolsters, or blankets for this extra support.
- For this, a zafu is useful, to elevate your hips, and a zabuton cushion or folded blanket can be used as a base in the Burmese posture. Dienstmann1 recommends having your hips slightly higher than your knees.
Kneeling (Seiza) position
- The kneeling position while in meditation is more gentle on the knees. Best for those who find it hard to sit cross-legged; a kneeling position is ideal.
- For this, you use a meditation bench or stool as a prop. Otherwise, you could straddle a zafu (meditation pillow). You can also place a meditation rug or zabuton underneath to define your space and add more comfort for your knees.
- Make sure your spine is in proper alignment. Dienstmann 1 explains “Your pelvis should be tilted slightly forward to enable you to sit with a straight spine”.
- In this position, your feet are rested firmly on the ground in proper alignment with your hips and knees. Dienstmann1 advises that: “Your thighs should be parallel to the floor”.
- Involving a chair or other seating, in this position you can use a folded blanket or a zabuton placed on the seat for support. You could also use a zafu if it fits.
What’s the best meditation posture?
What is the best posture for meditation? The best meditation posture is the one that naturally feels right for you, where you can reach a depth of calm without slouching and falling into daydreaming.
On the best meditation pose, Krishna, a widely revered and popular divinitiy, had this to say:
Firmly holding the spine, neck, and head erect and motionless, let the yogi focus his eyes at the point between the two eyebrows. When a Yogi is ready successfully to engage his reversed mind and life force in a battle with the outwardly pulling senses, without any strictures or pinching of the spinal nerves, the mind and life force are easily directed upward.In the Bhagavad Gita
Imagine your spine is a stack of coins — a classic depiction from Buddhist texts.
Regarding comfort, Robert Butera, Author of Meditation for Your Life, explains that “Comfort is predominantly subjective—so long as muscles and joints are not compromised—so use your own body’s intuition to find what works best for you.”
Always support your knees. Meditation teacher, Giovanni Dienstmann, explains: “Your knees should be supported. If they don’t touch the floor place a pillow or folded blanket under each knee”1.
Best meditation cushion filling
What’s the best inner filling available in meditation pillows? There are seven main types of fillings to consider when looking to buy a meditation cushion. My recommendation is a natural and eco-sustainably grown product. This would indicate kapok, buckwheat hulls, and wool.
Think about the purpose (e.g., will it be for home use or for travel) and whether you have any allergies, or how much you value using organic, eco-friendly materials.
1. Buckwheat hulls as natural cushion filler
Why are meditation pillows filled with buckwheat?
This type of filling allows the cushion to fit your shape underneath you. Sitting on a meditation cushion with buckwheat filling is likened to sitting on a dune of beach sand, giving you that “grounded” feeling.
Buckwheat hulls are a by-product of buckwheat grain and are considered hypoallergenic.
Bonus: This natural type of filling won’t absorb and reflect your body heat as much as artificial fibres (polyester and polyfill).
2. Kapok fiber natural cushion filler
This is another natural material taken from the seeds of the Kapok tree, which grows in the South Pacific. It is also considered hypoallergenic. The advantage of this type of filling is that it is lightweight and mold resistant. It provides firm seating. Look for organic kapok.
3. Wool – natural cushion filler
This is a good insulator of ‘energy’ (prana) according to many Yogis. It doesn’t compress and is comfortable. Wool will last longer than other materials used as fillings. Wool is a natural fiber and has a ‘crimping’ action that returns it to its original shape much like a spring.
4. Cotton filling
This is the cheapest filling, but not the more enviro-friendly because of the water and chemical use in production. Best to go organic cotton zafu meditation cushion (no chemical use) to help the Earth.
5. Polyfill / polyester filling
This is an artificial fiber made from fossil fuels. This will be less expensive but you may find this filling with tend to flatten with use.
6. Air filling – Inflated cushions
For the mobile meditator, an inflatable meditation cushion, one filled with air, is a practical choice.
7. Foam – Artificial filling
This is artificial filling that will deteriorate with time. Foam filling is not usually recyclable and will not compost down.
Ways to add ambiance
- Meditation scenes
- Visual meditation videos
These would also make great gifts for that special person.
At the end of the day, there are some basic principles to remember with regard to your meditation posture. Dienstmann, in Practical Meditation1, cites these four:
- Practice a firm posture to make you feel grounded and secure
- Sit upright or lie straight to prevent your mind from falling into daydreaming
- Make sure you are comfortable so you can sit still for a long duration with minimal distractions
- Relax the muscles in your shoulders, arms, and face.
Is a meditation cushion a good investment? Yes. Having the right set-up will help you feel comfortable and motivated to continue a regular practice of meditation. For this reason, you should look at investing in a good quality meditation cushion and other accessories to support your continuation of this beneficial activity for your well being – scroll up to recommended meditation pillows.
- Dienstmann, G. 2018. Practical Mediation. Penguin Random House. London.