Have a Seat

Taking the time to discover the most suitable cushion, bench, or chair for your body will pay off in years of less painful meditation sessions.

Photographs by Marvin Moore

Know Your Seats

Ah, the zafu. In the Western world, it’s the most ubiquitous of meditation seats. For many meditators, this simple, round or crescent-shaped cushion allows a cross-legged posture where the knees rest effortlessly below the hips. Or, if you’re more comfortable in a kneeling position, you can turn the zafu on its short side and straddle it.

The consistency of the zafu depends on what it’s filled with, ranging in density from a firm pillow to a stiff bean bag (see below for more about cushion fillings).

Gomdens come from a different lineage of meditation than zafus, and were designed specifically with chair-bound lifestyles in mind. Having foam innards, they’re taller and don’t compress like some zafus, but rather stay flat, so your pelvis stays level, rather than angling forward. Your ankles can be loosely crossed in front of you, not directly under you, which reduces pressure on the ankles and knees.

Mini gomdens work well for travelers or children.

Bolsters and support cushions may not be the main attraction, but they still can be a big help. Yoga and meditation supply businesses sell specifically designed bolsters, but any small pillow around your house may work just as well.

The largest is the zabuton (or flat mat), which is placed under a zafu (or gomden, or chair…) to cushion the lower body. Smaller bolsters and cushions can be used with any other seat: adding height to your zafu or gently tilting the pelvis forward in a chair. You can even put a pillow on your lap to rest your arms on, taking pressure off your shoulders.