It is important to choose the right meditation cushion or bench in order to make the meditation practice more comfortable, effective and rewarding. Just like any other activity, meditation requires the right tools for a proper and successful session. The choice of the cushion will depend on certain criteria such as your unique physical characteristics, comfort, alignment, meditation posture and of course, the feel and look of the cushion.
Depending on what your meditation posture will be- whether half or full lotus, chair sitting, kneeling or lying, you need to pick out a cushion that provides you with the right kind of support to ensure flexibility of knees, hips and ankles and to maintain comfort and alignment during the session.
For lotus postures, the conventional zabuton and zafu meditation cushions are good choices as they provide the right support for the body to reduce spinal stress and let it be erect in the form an S-curve.
For taller individuals, a larger (or rectangular) meditation cushion is ideal as opposed to the smaller zafu as the latter may provide the right lift but it also causes an unstable feel and difficulty in maintaining proper alignment and balance. As a 6'2" male with limited hip flexibility, I prefer the additional height of a zafu turned sideways (or a second cushion).
The purple cosmic cushion shown to the right is also a good choice for people who are less flexible and tall as the built-in slope and fortune-cookie shape allows for greater comfort and better alignment.
If you are one of those who prefer a slight lift only and you still want space for close heel positioning, Buckwheat Bean cushions provide a low profile with good support.
If you want cushioning for your ankles and knees in sitting meditation, you can go for the zabulton cushion which can be placed under another sitting cushion such as a zafu cushion to help in easing the pressure exerted on the ankles and knees due to the body’s alignment in the sitting position.
You can even pick up small square kapok support cushions and knee pillows if you want to provide additional support to your knees, ankles and hip joint. The knee pillow can be placed under the knee to reduce the torque exerted on the joint. When I was on a 7 day Zen retreat, I found these to be life-savers.
A meditation bench, zafu, yoga bolster or rectangular cushion would be idea for Seiza or kneeling meditation. Taller people can use a combination of these to get an extra lift. I tend to alternate between the cushion and the bench on day long retreats.
A portable blackjack chair would also be a good choice when it comes to sitting posture. A tush-cush cushion can be used with this for creating a forward slope which improves the S-curve of the spine and relieves the coccyx or the tail bone of the pressure it experiences.
For the lying posture, you can go for a Shiatsu massage mat or a cotton yoga mat as a basic comfort foundation. A yoga bolster, kapok cushion or yoga blanket can be used to provide support to the neck, back, knees, etc.
The color of the cushions might also be a considerable criterion while choosing meditation cushions. The basic colors can influence your personal energy. For example, blue has a calming and relaxing effect while red increases the energy level. Black induces discipline and deep focus while green creates calmness and balance and encourages deep, slow breathing. Yellow clears the mind and lifts the mood while violet restores balance.
As a type of informal survey, please let me know what cushion or bench you use during practice using the comments box below.