Whether you just start or already familiar with mediation, a good meditation cushion or bench is indispensable. But how to choose a good one right first time?
Why it’s important to choose the right meditation cushion or bench
Choosing a good meditation cushion or bench that supports your unique body type is an important part of your meditation practice. Why is it so? Because when you start with meditation, the first important thing to do right is a good meditation posture. “The ideal posture for meditation has three essential characteristics: it’s stable, it’s straight and it’s comfortable” (Live & Dare).
The type of support depends on what posture you feel most comfortable with. For most westerners, Burmese posture or on a stool/kneeling seems to be popular. Burmese (see in the middle of the below picture) is a simple cross-legged position. In this, one leg is in front of the other, and both shins and knees touching the floor. If you find it hard to sit cross-legged, you can sit on the Japanese sitting posture, known as seiza or kneeling. For this, you’ll use a meditation bench or stool.
In this article, I will talk about how to chose these two main kinds of meditation support, a cushion, and a bench.
The right meditation cushion
I used to start my first meditation with a pillow. But frankly speaking, it did not help! A good meditation cushion is essential when you start. Why? Because it allows you to sit with stability and comfort. You will be able to sit for a longer time with more focus. The cushion helps your knees touching the floor and the pelvis slightly rolling forward. I bought my one cushion and used it every day for several years. It was my best investment!
Height and shape
When searching for a cushion, you will see a lot of different shapes. From round (classic wheel) to wheel type, crescent or even rectangular. Which one to choose? In addition to shape, cushion height can make a huge difference in your meditation experience.
In terms of height, a “meditation cushion height varies 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” (Live & Dare). A good idea is to choose a cushion that you can adjust the filling to find a good fit for your physiology.
Regarding meditation cushion shapes, there are three main popular shapes.
The first popular cushion shape is a classic wheel type (a good cushion below). It is used in most Zen temples in the world. Personally, I use the wheel type shape. I love it because I can easily adjust the position of my sitting. I can thus better find the position for my knees and legs. Especially when I do “half lotus”
If you need a higher or tighter seat, a wheel is a good shape (see this cushion below). It’s round as the classic wheel type, but with a better lift. It is quite ergonomic and can help relieve your aching joints.
The crescent shape (like this cushion below) is good when you need wider support for your hips and legs. It is particularly suited to individuals with limited mobility and chronic lower back or knee problems. This crescent shape has a natural slope. You will have some natural support for alignment. You will not need to maintain a specific position on the cushion to ensure proper posture. It can help reduce the risk of numb limbs and relieves stress on joints. Attention, if you are quite tall, you may find that your knees remain elevated. A cushion with more lift will be a better choice.
Sometimes you can find a yoga cushion like this one which is thinner like in the below image. It is usually cheaper. It’s good for a short meditation period (for example during a yoga session). But you may get uncomfortable in a longer meditation session. I would not recommend this for an intensive meditation practice, but why not for some short meditations to start with.
The next important thing you need to know before buying your meditation cushion? It’s filling material. In addition to meditation cushion’s shape and height, the filling of your cushion can make a great difference for your meditation experience.
Why is it so? Because it can impact your comfort and the quality of the posture. For example, the cushion below is more sturdy with its kapok fill and is quite high, which might not fit a small person like me but can be good for a taller person who needs stability. If you look for a firm, stable and tall enough cushion, this kapok filled cushion is a good choice. Don’t choose this if you want more soft feeling and comfort because it can be a bit sturdy.
Let’s go into details of these two filing materials.
One of the most popular is the buckwheat hulls. They are the outer shell of the buckwheat grain. These organic shells bring you the feeling of sitting on the sand. The shells shift immediately under you, like a beanbag chair you may already know. It adapts and conforms to the shape of your body. So it is quite flexible for you to find the best position.
This cushion (below) is made with buckwheat hulls. It’s softer and can be easy to adjust the filling to make it comfortable. My friend used it for several years, the cover remained in a good state. It’s a good cushion for long meditation sessions.
Kapok is a natural fiber from the seedpod of the Kapok trees. Its soft and resistant character makes it one of the favorite materials for cushions. While some people might find them less soft or comfortable, Kapok cushions bring you very good stability. It’s ideal for long sitting meditation. They are used in most meditation centers, probably because kapok-stuffed cushions hold their shape well over time. Those who have hip pain, for example, find it firm and very supportive. Also, if you are taller, you may find kapok more adapted to your physiology than buckwheat hulls filled cushion.
The below is a kapok filled cushion by the Zafu store. We have similar ones in our zen meditation center. The cover is made of cotton with carrying handle. It’s very stable and remains on time. We had several heights. And it’s true that when I choose the right height it’s a great cushion.
Other materials include wool, cotton, or air… Wool filled cushions tend to be extremely comfortable. But they are softer than kapok and might move their shapes over time.
When you choose a cushion, some other practical things can be taken into account. For example, the possibility to adjust the filling materials, zip for washable cover, or a bag or handle for travel convenience.
Choosing a meditation bench
Don’t find it comfortable to sit in Burmese posture? Go for a bench with a kneeling posture. Indeed, with Burmese, both shins and knees touch the floor. Some people may find this posture uncomfortable for their knees and legs. This position might numb your knees and legs. As a result, you can’t meditate for long. In this case, opt for a meditation bench and sit in kneeling/ seiza posture.
Enlightenment does need to be suffering! And yes, if you really find it uncomfortable to sit with a cushion, a bench is a perfect choice.
This bench, for example, is good for someone as tall as 5′ 11″ (1m80). For most people with hurting knees, the bench is extremely painless and comfortable compared to a cushion. It has two sides so you can choose the best positions for your height. It helps the spine aligned easily. Just a point of attention, if you look for a foldable bench, this one is not. But in general, the foldable bench is less stable. So if you don’t need to move, I recommend this, because it can be also good furniture decoration with its wooden aspect.
If you need to bring the bench to your meditation center or to meditate in a group, then a foldable one like the below is a good fit. It can be a bit unstable sometimes though. A bench with the right height can also be used in the Burmese position if you want to change one day.
A choice and much more
So I hope you have now a good idea about the different choices you can have. Find the best meditation support that fits you. Starting a meditation practice is one of the best things to do. It brings you relaxation, reduces tensions and fatigue, and better sleep. And you will see in the long term, it brings you much more. Confidence in yourself. Better relationship… So don’t wait, start today. Permit yourself good support (a good cushion or bench) that will help you retain the practice longer.
Tell me, which cushion or bench you will choose?
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