For most people, it is challenging to sit in complex lotus or cross-legged yoga postures. Therefore, a meditation cushion creates an elevated platform that relieves pressure in the lower body parts and promotes relaxation during meditation sessions.
If you’re not flexible, Sitting in complicated yoga postures for prolonged periods can hurt the body. And in cases, cause irreversible damage.
The most common problems people face are legs going numb, lower back pain, pain in the knees and ankles, and more. But this should not discourage us from experiencing the joy of meditation.
The main objective of practicing meditation is to go deep within the mind and experience a blissful state of restful calm. But it’s difficult to be blissful or restful when your body hurts. Pain in any part of the body will distract you and waste your time.
Some people talk about enduring pain while meditating. It’s up to each and every individual, but I personally do not endorse this point of view simply because I have seen people doing permanent damage to their bodies by trying to forcefully sit in advanced yoga postures and enduring pain for a long period of time.
It is often seen that people from the western world have difficulty sitting in cross-legged, lotus, or easy poses because of low flexibility in the hips. Let me tell you, as an Indian, even I have trouble sitting in the above-mentioned postures.
This is even though I have been used to sitting in a cross-legged position since my childhood. I have always struggled with flexibility issues in my hips and thighs.
I have been practicing meditation for the past 5 years, and I use meditation cushions (or pillows), also known as the ‘Zafu,’ to support my knees and ankles. In fact, zafus are very common amongst Zen meditation practitioners.
In this post, we’re going to discuss some of the best meditation cushions that are available out there. But we’ll get to that in a short while. Before that, let me explain a few basic things that you should know before you actually decide to buy a cushion.
I Almost Damaged My Knees Sitting in the Wrong Way
During the early years of my practice, I used to force myself to sit in a cross-legged posture for a long time, and that used to result in my left leg going numb after about 20 minutes. And that’s when I had to come out of meditation because the pain was simply unbearable.
I had almost messed up my knees and lower back, and there was a point where I could not sit anymore. It took me over three months of rigorous yoga practice and exercises to relieve inflammation in my knees and lower back.
I was lucky that my problem was not that acute, and I could heal my body through natural exercises and yoga. I have heard of cases where people mess up so badly that they have had to get surgeries done in order to alleviate their chronic condition.
When I started using a cushion all of my problems were gone. I could meditate for long periods of time without getting distracted by pain or discomfort.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using a meditation cushion, and I know of great monks who use cushions to practice meditation. Using a cushion does not mean that you’re a poor meditator or that the benefit will be less.
Your body is your temple, and it is important to protect it at all costs. The idea is to keep your knees below the level of your hips. That way, you release pressure in the lower back and knees. Using a cushion enables you to do that.
Why Can’t We Sit on a Chair and Meditate?
This question about posture used to bother me a lot in the earlier days when researching meditation techniques. Why do we have to sit in these complicated yoga postures to do meditation? Can’t we sit on a chair, stand up or lie down on the bed?
To answer the above questions, I’ll share my own experiences with you. I have tried them all, and the conclusion I came up with was that the traditional yoga postures were the most optimal for practicing meditation.
However, due to flexibility issues in my legs and hips, at that time, I could not sit in these yoga postures.
At first, I decided to lie down and meditate. No matter how hard I tried, I could not prevent myself from drifting off to sleep. Also, there is a traditional belief that when you lie down, the energy channels running up your spine are not in alignment with the cosmic energy.
Lying down on the bed or even on the floor, I could not keep myself awake and aware beyond 10 to 20 minutes. So clearly, lying down wasn’t working for me.
Next, I tried meditation in a standing position. This was even worse than lying down because now I had to focus on maintaining my balance.
Finally, I decided to sit on a chair and meditate. I’m not at all against sitting on a chair while meditating. I know of many people who do that. In fact, I recommend taking the help of a meditation chair or a bench if you have issues with knees, lower back, or any other medical condition.
For the first year, I practiced meditation seated on a chair because I could not bear the pain in my legs (it wasn’t very good).
There is absolutely nothing wrong with practicing meditation sitting on a chair. I know of many spiritual masters who don’t shy away from using a chair. Don’t ever think for a moment that you’ll be less of a meditator if you use an accessory in your practice.
The problem is that almost every yoga and meditation blog out there is filled with pictures of attractive people with slender figures and super flexibility. But that is not the case in real life. We come in all shapes and sizes with varying levels of flexibility.
It took me nearly one full year of yoga practice before I could sit on a cushion (Zafu) in a traditional posture. Some days, I still prefer to sit on a chair and meditate.
It’s important to be comfortable because if you keep fidgeting, you will remain distracted. For an effective meditation session, it is important to keep the body as still as possible. Then only the mind will be silent.
However, for the best possible experience, I recommend the traditional postures for practicing meditation. The best thing to do is practice meditation on a chair, and side by side, work on your flexibility. Once you develop a little flexibility in your hips, knees, and back, replace the chair with a cushion.
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Traditional Seating Postures
After all the other positions failed, I decided to try the traditional seated yoga postures. Now, four yoga postures are said to be most effective for deep meditation. They are as follows:
Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
As the name suggests, this is perhaps the easiest of all postures. This is just the traditional cross-legged posture. I understand that many people lack the flexibility to sit in a posture for a long time.
In this posture, one leg is folded in front of the other. The left foot is generally placed on the front side. You can try sitting in this posture if you find it difficult to sit in the easy pose.
Lotus Pose (Padmasana)
Lotus pose is tough and requires a lot of flexibility. In this pose, the legs are crossed and gently placed above the thighs. The left leg rests above the right thigh, and the right leg rests above the left thigh. Avoid this posture if you have painful knees.
Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana)
The Thunderbolt pose is very different from the ones I mentioned above. You sit on the heels with calves below the thighs with your hands placed on the top of the thighs.
I like to sit in Vajrasana a lot. I find it very relaxing, especially after eating a meal, as it aids in digestion. But this is not my choice of pose for meditation.
Meditation Seating Posture Recommended For Beginners
I personally like to sit in the easy pose (sukhasana), and with regular practice, I have trained myself to sit in this posture for about an hour or so.
If you have flexibility issues, I recommend using a meditation cushion or Zafu or even the chair is okay. If you’re using a cushion, place it below your buttocks to elevate the hips above the knees.
It takes the pressure off at the base of the hamstrings and knees and allows for proper blood circulation, and that, in turn, will stop your legs from going numb and those tingly needle-like sensations you experience.
For those who have back-related issues, you can also support your back against the wall. However, please ensure that you don’t lean back towards the wall because that will make you sleepy.
When seated in these traditional yoga poses, it’s easy to calm down the mind. When you’re just getting started, start by practicing for a short duration (5 – 10 minutes) and gradually increase the time. Over time you’ll develop the flexibility required to sit without using any assistance.
In the early days, I lacked the flexibility in my hips to sit for long in meditation. Just sitting for ten minutes used to make my legs go numb.
However, my ego was not letting me take help. I struggled for quite some time forcing myself to sit in pain. And at one point I badly injured myself. It took me six months of regular yoga practice and physiotherapy to cure myself.
If you’re enduring pain in meditation, please rethink. Any damage to any part of your body will hold you back. And some injuries are extremely fatal and can cause permanent damage.
Meditation should never be a torturous experience. It should be pleasant. And your body should be as relaxed as possible, otherwise, you’ll never reach the true depths of silence and peace.
For more information on meditation, read this guide. This is a sample chapter from my book – meditation is not about emptying your mind.