Whether you're new to meditation or looking to shake up your routine, choosing a meditation pillow can be extremely helpful for your practice.
Just like you would make sure you had the proper tools before doing home improvement, you should make sure you have the appropriate tools for meditation. A comfortable cushion makes mental focus easier and helps keep meditation a habit.
Much like meditation practices, there's no one best meditation cushion. You should buy a meditation cushion that first and foremost meets your physical needs in terms of height and shapes. But you should also buy one with a filling, color, and extras that meet your personal preferences.
Why Buy A Meditation Pillow?
While you can meditate in any position and any situation (and people have been doing so for time immemorial) a meditation seat can help you get the most out of your practice both mentally and physically.
First and foremost, having a dedicated cushion that you don't use for other work or leisure trains your mind and body to associate that seat with your meditation practice. And when you have a physical reminder of your meditation practice in your space, it's a subtle cue to continue.
Physically, a meditation pillow eases the pressure on your back, knees, and hips. It aligns the spine and the body and allows for an even distribution of pressure. If you grew up in the west, your body probably doesn't have much experience sitting on floors or sitting cross-legged. While sitting zazen (on the floor) is always an option, if it's not comfortable for you, you should consider a cushion or other support.
In short, if you're not comfortable when you meditate, you're unlikely to want to keep doing it.
Can I Use A Regular Pillow?
In a pinch, you can always use pillows, blankets, or towels to cushion your joints from the hard floor. They're certainly better than nothing!
Meditation Cushions, however, are specially designed to support the spine and knees in meditation postures. Obviously, a pillow that's meant to be placed under your head while you sleep can't do that. If you have the money, purchasing a specialized meditation cushion can be a great boon to your practice.
How Much Will I Spend?
There's a wide range of prices when it comes to meditation cushions — you can essentially spend as much or as little as you want.
Simple zafu cushions can be as little as $30 or $40, with some budget options even cheaper. More expensive varieties with extras are closer to $100. Benches are typically a bit more expensive and run from $50 to over $100. If you'd like more spine support, full seats with backs will run you several hundred dollars.
Where Can I Buy A Meditation Pillow?
You can find meditation pillows in department stores and discount stores, sporting goods stores, handmade craft retailers, and yoga specialty shops.
While discount stores will generally give you the lowest prices, yoga and meditation specialist retails are likelier to have cushions specifically designed for meditation and that address certain needs. Specialty stores and craft retailers are generally more transparent about their sourcing and labor practices, too, if that's something important to you.
There's no substitute for trying out a meditation cushion in person, so whichever retailer you purchase from, keep an eye on the return policies. Since meditation seats are such personal items, many retailers have a restocking fee and strict time guidelines for returning non-defective merchandise.
It's All Personal
Picking the right meditation seat is highly dependent on your body type and personal preferences. If you have the chance, there's no substitute for trying out a few for yourself, but here are some criteria to keep in mind.
What's Your Preferred Posture?
It's possible to meditate in just about any posture, though most people have a preferred position. If you are new to meditation, you may want to figure out what your posture is before you purchase a cushion.
This is probably the most common meditation pose and covers a range from the simple style you probably remember from your kindergarten days to the half and full lotus poses. Proponents of these poses say they allow for the most grounding, both physically and spiritually.
Cross-legged meditation postures are best supported by the traditional meditation pillow called a zafu pillow or zafu cushion. Zafu cushions are usually round. They often look like a thick cushion for outdoor seating or for the top of an ottoman.
You sit on a zafu cushion by placing your bottom towards the front edge of the pillow and allowing your thighs and knees to stretch out in front of you at an oblique angle.
The best zafu meditation cushion keeps your hips elevated and allows your pelvis to roll slightly forward. With your pelvis relaxed, it becomes easier to sit up straight and lengthen your spine. The exact height of the zafu cushion you need will depend on your height and your flexibility, but you generally want a higher cushion if you're taller or less flexible.
Keeping your pelvis rolled forward is also important because it makes sure your sciatic nerve won't get pinched. Your sciatic nerve runs through your buttocks and the backs of your thighs. When it's compressed, it can cause your legs to fall asleep and create a numb, tingling feeling. Get a zafu meditation cushion that doesn't compress your nerves.
If you are brand new to meditation or not as flexible as you might like, meditating while seated in a chair can provide you with better support. A cushion can still be helpful, though, because a hard chair can still pinch your sciatic nerve or place undue stress on your pelvis.
Slumping forward is another chair meditation risk. Slouching may feel comfortable at first, but can cause you back pain in the future. A good cushion will prevent your hips from rolling back and causing your entire spine to slump in the chair. The right chair cushion will allow your pelvis to roll forward, much like a good zafu cushion will.
If you require more back support, but don't want to use a chair, you can buy meditation seats that can be placed on the floor and offer partial or full spinal support. These seats tend to be pricier than cushions and benches, though.
Meditators who like to kneel (the posture is also known as seiza) may prefer a meditation bench. These are generally made of wood and allow you to support your bottom and pelvis while you tuck your ankles underneath. Meditators in seiza can compress a lot of blood vessels in their legs and ankles and risk the uncomfortable feeling of “pins and needles."
A kneeling bench also widens the angle that your knees are bent at, which can reduce the stress and torque on your knees.
Different benches offer slightly different positions. Some are made for you to straddle the base and keep your knees further apart. Others allow your knees to touch as you tuck your shins underneath the bench rest.
Lying Down (Savasana)
Meditating in a lying position (known in yoga as savasana) is great for seniors, meditation beginners, and those who want to maximize meditation's rejuvenating effects. If you have intense lower back pain, a savasana position can also be beneficial.
For savasana meditation, all you truly need is a basic yoga mat to provide your joints with a little cushioning from the hard floor.
A bolster cushion, though, can help to elevate your knees and provide them with additional support. As an added bonus, you can also use a bolster pillow under your hips during seated meditation or to assist you in yoga poses.
What's Your Body Type?
If you're choosing a zafu cushion for seated meditation, you need to factor in how tall and how flexible you are. The taller you are, the higher a zafu cushion you generally need. The more flexible you are, the lower you can comfortably sit.
Zafu cushions are available as low as 2" (5 cm) or as high as 9" (22.9 cm). Most fall in the 5" to 7" (12.7 cm- 17.8 cm) range. If you can, test out a variety of sizes to see which one fits your body best.
If you have bad knees, using just a zafu meditation cushion may force your knee ligaments and tissues to twist too much. If this is the case for you, using a zabuton under your knees may be helpful. A zabuton cushion is a rectangular cushion, usually thinner than a zafu, that you can use to support your knees or ankles while you meditate. Keep in mind, though, that you still want to keep your hips higher than your knees to avoid stress on your pelvis.
If it's uncomfortable for you to have your ankles hitting the hard ground, you can place a yoga mat under your zafu, as well.
Some people prefer to rest a pillow on their laps when they meditate cross-legged if they have shorter arms or have trouble resting their hands on their laps comfortably.
In addition to the more traditional shapes like zafu and zabuton, a popular new shape for a meditation pillow is the crescent cushion. Depending on the brand, the appearance of these cushions varies. Some are more rounded and look like croissants, while others have straighter sides and look more like fortune cookies.
These cushions provide more support for your bottom and thighs. If you have difficulty staying in your meditation posture or your hips get sore, crescent-shaped cushions might be right for you. Taller individuals who have difficulty getting the height they need can also benefit.
What Filling Should You Choose?
Traditionally, a zafu meditation cushions in Asia was filled with the fluffy down from the reed mace plant. You probably know the reed mace as a cattail or bulrush.
Today, you have several options for fillings for your meditation seat. The two most popular by far are kapok and buckwheat hulls, though there are other options as well.
Kapok is the English name given to several species of trees in the southern US, Africa, and Asia. Most of these trees are often referred to as “cotton trees." All trees called kapok seed pods produce downy white fibers that are a great filling for pillows.
As you might expect, a zafu meditation cushion stuffed with kapok feel very light and fluffy. For many sitters, it's the most comfortable filling. Kapok does not compress the way cotton or polyester batting might, and it generally has enough strength to conform to your body shape.
However, the kapok filling can get lumpy over time and begin to resemble cottage cheese. Unlike other fillings, you can't restuff the kapok into your meditation cushion yourself. You will have to either get a professional to do the job or purchase another meditation pillow. If you are allergic to cottonwood trees, you may also be allergic to kapok, as well.
Buckwheat hulls come from the buckwheat plant, which is commonly grown in Eastern Europe and Asia. The hulls provide a much firmer pillow filling, which many sitters like.
Zafus stuffed with buckwheat hulls conform well to the sitters shape and don't compress at all. However, some people don't like the feel of buckwheat; it can be a bit like sitting on sand. The hulls also have a bit of an earthy smell and make a squeaking, scrunching noise when they're sat on.
Buckwheat hull cushions weigh almost twice as much as kapok cushions, which can be inconvenient if you plan on traveling with your cushion. Some people also have buckwheat sensitivities or allergies.
Buckwheat hull cushions are more customizable, though. Most come with a zipper that makes it easy to add or remove filling. If you'd like to change the size of your zafu meditation cushion or replace a filling that's starting to break down, it's pretty easy and inexpensive.
While kapok and buckwheat hulls are by far the most popular fillings, you can also find meditation cushions stuffed with cotton, polyester, and foam. These are worth seeking out if you are allergic to buckwheat or kapok or are worried about sensitivities.
If you want your meditation cushion to be a multi-tasker, memory foam meditation cushions can also make your work chair more comfortable. Cotton and polyester cushions can also be used in your yoga practice, as well.
Polyfill beads of the type that you see in a travel pillow are also a popular filling for outdoor meditation pillows. These pillows are light and great for travel or situations such as a meditation center where many people might use the same cushions. The squishy texture and their inability to conform to the sitters shape make them unpopular as a general filling, though.
Bells And Whistles
While the basic meditation pillow is ultimately just a pillow, there is no end to the customizations you can add. These extras can really improve your practice, so it's worth taking a look at them.
If you meditate outside, even occasionally, you'll want a water-resistant or waterproof cover on your meditation pillow. These covers are also easy to wipe off and spot clean, which is convenient if your home isn't the primary location where you meditate.
You can often buy a separate waterproof cover as opposed to a whole other pillow, especially if you have a buckwheat hull cushion with removable filling.
Some meditation cushions come in one piece and can only be spot cleaned, much like a throw pillow. While these are generally cheaper, they might be rendered unsightly or unusable by a spill.
A removable cover that is machine washable or can be dry-cleaned can be kept fresher and will last longer. The cover can also be switched out to match the decoration in your meditation room or if you are taking your meditation cushion outside the home and want something more durable. Keep in mind that if the floor has a rough surface, the cover on your cushion will wear out more quickly.
If you enjoy combining crystals with your meditation practice, you can buy a meditation pillow with a small pocket for your favorite crystal or stone. Proponents say that using crystals in your meditation practice can help focus your mind and bring intentionality to your routine.
Popular crystals and stones to use in meditation are rose quartz, amethyst, selenite, and obsidian.
There are some meditation pillows that contain filling infused with crystals. The pillows do tend to be quite a bit more expensive, though.
If you enjoy using aromatherapy while you meditate, you can buy a cushion that includes scented material. Lavender is a popular scent since it holds up well as a pillow filling and provides a relaxing scent. You can simply knead the pillow to activate the scent.
You can also use a meditation pillow with a pocket (see above) to hold a small cloth with essential oil on it. This is useful if you are meditating outside your home and don't have access to your regular oil diffuser or incense.
Meditation eye pillows filled with aromatherapy herbs are also popular and another easy way for you to incorporate aromatherapy into your meditation practice.
Popular aromatherapy scents for use in meditation include frankincense, myrrh, neroli, and sandalwood. The sky's the limit, though, when it comes to including aromatherapy in your meditation practice.
Whether based on personal preference, matching the color pallette of your meditation room, or a desire to access a particular chakra or energy, the color of your meditation seat is important.
Red is an energizing color and connected with the root chakra. It's associated with emotions that are deeply connected to the body-confidence, strength, and sexiness. If you are starting out in your meditation practice, red might give you the boost of confidence you need.
Yellow is an energizing color as well, and a color that radiates cheerfulness and positivity. If you need a mood boost when you meditate, yellow might be able to help you out. It's typically associated with the solar plexus chakra.
Associated with healing and vitality, we could all use more orange in our lives right now! An orange cushion might help you out if you're meditating with an eye to improving your physical health. Orange is associated with the sacral chakra.
The color of balance and tranquility, green is the perfect color for meditation. It encourages you to breathe deeply and enter a more relaxed state. Green is generally associated with the heart chakra.
Blue is a spiritual and emotional color that is linked with verbal communication and the throat chakra. If you are having trouble accessing and communicating your emotions, using a blue cushion in your meditation practice may help.
Associated with deep and sometimes esoteric spirituality, violet can help you access your inner self and reconnect with your spiritual world. It's a very powerful color to use in meditation. Violet is associated with the crown chakra.
Black is a color associated with discipline and focus. If you are looking to add rigor to your meditation practice, black may be a good color for you.
The color of earth, brown, is grounding and nurturing. Along with green, it's a color that can bring a natural element to your meditation practice.
Your Personal Meditation Seat
There are a lot of factors to consider when purchasing a meditation cushion! While you can meditate in any situation, a good meditation seat will improve your meditation posture, reduce your pain in certain positions, and even help you achieve certain spiritual goals. Ultimately, the right seat will encourage you to meditate deeper and more frequently.
With options available at every price point, it pays to shop around and try to find the best cushion in your price range. By thinking about your preferred posture, body type, and other preferences, you can get a seat that helps your journey to bliss.