Choosing your seat of enlightenment
We get a lot of questions from people wondering which of the many types of meditation cushions is right for them. The Monastery Store is staffed by monastics and long-term residents living in full-time training at Zen Mountain Monastery. This means that we’re using the cushions we sell every day. The Monastery’s monastics even developed some of the cushions we offer, which can’t be found anywhere else. We’re here to help answer all of your questions about our cushions so that you can decide what’s right for you.
Did you know that we’re available during business hours from Tuesday afternoon through Saturday afternoon to help answer any questions you have about our meditation cushions and benches—or anything else related to your practice? Give us a call at (845) 688-7993, or email us at email@example.com.
In the Zen tradition, a meditation cushion is called a zafu; the square mat that you sit on is called a zabuton. Meditation benches are called seiza benches, referring to the kneeling posture. Find out more about meditation postures and zazen instruction. We also have a short video on how to take your seat.
The traditional zafu is a kapok zafu. Kapok is a natural, silky fiber known for its resilience and lightness. A new kapok zafu comes tightly packed with kapok. You can remove some of the kapok and save it to use when the filling in the cushion wears out. If you feel comfortable sitting on the floor—either cross-legged or kneeling—a kapok zafu can work for you. They tend to work better for people with smaller frames, but I’ve seen people over six feet tall and over 200 pounds sit comfortably on a kapok zafu.
While by no means true in every case, people with smaller frames and more flexibility do better with smaller cushions that are low to the ground. Those with larger frames often fare better on larger, firmer cushions that have more height.
Next are buckwheat-hull-filled zafu. Buckwheat hulls provide a very firm base that conforms exactly to the shape of your seat. They come in different sizes for those who prefer sitting lower or higher, and again, the buckwheat hulls can be removed and saved to add back into your cushion when the old hulls start to wear out. Our SeiFu Zafu is an adjustable buckwheat-hull cushion that adjusts from 8- to 13” high. This is the highest cushion we offer, and can work well if you’re a beginning meditator with a large frame, or you find sitting cross-legged on the floor on a low cushion hurts your knees or back.
Sitting for long periods of time over many years will cause the kapok or buckwheat hulls in your cushion to break down, and you’ll find yourself sitting lower to the ground. You can add more kapok or buckwheat hulls to your cushion.
Our patented Mountain Seat Zafu* has a buckwheat hull base topped by a soft layer of memory foam. These are excellent cushions for those who prefer the firm base of a buckwheat-hull zafu, but want a softer seat. I’ve been sitting on a medium Mountain Seat for over a decade (I'm 5'2" with a medium frame), and think it is the very best meditation cushion available in terms of quality and comfort.
All of the cushions mentioned so far can be used to sit not just cross-legged, but also in seiza, or the kneeling posture, by straddling the cushion between your knees and sitting back on it. The larger buckwheat hull zafu or a tightly packed kapok zafu work best for this. Sitting seiza on a soft kapok zafu over the course of a long meditation period can cause your legs or feet to fall asleep.
Finally, there’s the Cloud Zafu, which we developed after so many of us took to the unique comfort of the Cloud Zabuton (featured in my next post…). The Cloud is made of six inches of firm foam topped by three inches of memory foam. It’s very soft and springy and works best if you have a small or medium frame, or prefer a higher seat. Because it’s not as firm as our other zafu, we don’t recommend it if you plan on occasionally sitting seiza.
Still have questions about meditation cushions? We'd love to help! Give us a call or send us an email—we love to talk about meditation cushions almost as much as we love to sit on them. Check out our handy chart about How to Select a Zafu.
Look for my next post, in which I’ll cover seiza benches and zabutons, or meditation mats. People tend to think a lot about which zafu to purchase, but if you plan on sitting regularly over a period of years, choosing the right zabuton can make a big difference in being comfortable sitting cross-legged or kneeling on the floor.
*U.S. Patent Number 9,668,584 B2
Shea Ikusei Settimi, MRO is a novice monastic at Zen Mountain Monastery. She currently serves in Outreach & Communications for Zen Mountain Monastery, The Monastery Store, and Mountain Record: The Zen Practitioner's Quarterly.