Friday, February 27, 2009

Zafus, benches, and other exotic paraphernalia

Depending on which meditation tradition you explore, you’re likely to encounter a range of different sitting devices. Some yogis I know like to plop down a tiny rectangular bag filled with rice before they artfully settle onto it and cross their legs in full lotus. Many Zen folks and other Buddhists prefer the plump round cushions known as zafus (Japanese for “sitting cushions”), often combined with flat, square cushions filled with cotton batting for extra height, if needed Zafus have infiltrated the meditation halls of every spiritual lineage and denomination, from Sufis and Buddhists to Christian monastics. Zafus are generally stuffed with kapok, which are silky natural fibers that keep their shape despite repeated sittings. But I’ve seen hefty zafus filled with buckwheat husks or cotton batting and even thick rectangular ones filled with hard polyurethane foam.
Before buying a zafu, be sure to try out a number of different shapes and sizes, checking them for relative comfort, stability, and height. You want to be able to sit so both knees touch the floor, if possible, and your pelvis tilts slightly forward.
If you’re a kneeler, you can try sitting on a zafu or other convenient cushion placed on the floor between your legs, or you can use one of the meditation benches designed exclusively for the purpose. Again, experiment before buying. If you’re a chair sitter, choose one with a firm cushion and a straight back — not one of those plush armchairs into which you can comfortably disappear and drift off. Just be sure your buttocks are somewhat higher than your knees.

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