Meditation cushions are an expensive investment for most people, so choosing the right one is important. It can also be something you have for a long time, so you want it to be a good quality cushion, versatile and adjustable. No matter what shape you chose, the inside stuffing and outside materials are just as important. Here is some information about how they are made, what choices you have, and where the best place is to buy one. Just remember, a good cushion becomes a good friend, and even a family addition. Some students carry their own cushion everywhere they go to meditate or practice and some keep them for 20 years or more.
More expensive cushions stuffed with buckwheat are made so that you can add or remove whatever amount of stuffing is needed to help the cushion be as hard or as soft as is right for you. It should have an inner zipper or drawstring, to allow for this adjustment. A zipper on the inside stuffing cover is also great because you can replace the stuffing if it’s gets to old or thin over the years.
Any cushion you choose should have an outer removable cover for cleaning or replacing if needed. It’s best if this cover is separate from the inner liner holding the stuffing. While this isn’t necessary it makes it much easier to manage the stuffing when you wash your cover. Plus, you can also give the cushion a new cover to replace warn, torn or stained covers.
Some manufacturers choose not to include a removable cover to reduce costs allowing the pillow to be less expensive. Some don’t even offer a way to adjust the amount of stuffing to force you to return to buy another cushion when your old one gets flat or dirty. But because a meditation cushion is an investment that will be with you for many years (hopefully) it’s good to spend that extra money to buy one that includes all these extra options. You won’t regret it.
If you sew, you can remove the old cover and take it apart to use as a pattern to sew a new one. Or if you just love the cushion and have the money, hire a seamstress to sew a new cover from material you pick at a fabric store. Either way, a favorite cushion has been known to become a family heirloom.
It’s also great to have a carrying strap (usually on the side), as most cushions are awkward to carry around with you. You may want to transport it to retreat or classes, and a strap makes it more manageable. A pillowslip makes a good cover, or use a fabric grocery bag with handles to protect it when traveling.
Cotton is an excellent choice of fabric for a meditation cushion because it’s not unusual to sweat while meditating – especially if you live in a humid or tropical climate. Brocade or silk might retain a sweat stain that can’t be removed, while cotton can be washed. A stiff brocade or upholstery material is also good because it wears well and holds up for many years. However, keep in mind these materials would need dry-cleaning.
Probably the least popular stuffing for meditation cushions is synthetic. However, sometimes people have allergies and need to use synthetic. The softer stuffing such as polyester or foam tends to loose their buoyancy and eventually have to be replaced. However, they are also the softest, and if you have bottom, or hip joints that are sensitive, this kind of stuffing can be easier on you.
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is a plant cultivated for its grain-like seeds, and also used as a cover crop. They are considered organic, as no pesticides are needed because bugs don’t bother them. The hull, or outside of the grain, is firm and springy and retains its shape for many years. This is the part used to stuff a meditation cushion. Buckwheat is an excellent stuffing because it not only retains it’s cushioning ability for many years, it also shifts and moves to conform to your shape, making it a custom fit for each meditator. It definitely does not have the feel of kapok, cotton or polyester filling because it’s more firm, but for a long sit it is extremely comfortable for most people and tends to be the most favored filling for meditation cushions. Some use buckwheat on the inside with synthetic cushioning on the top to make the sit softer.
Kapok is a soft, natural fiber that comes from a tree of the same name that is found in Thailand and Indonesia. It is naturally silky and resilient, floats and is resistant to mildew or mold. Most often these cushions arrive round and hard because they must be broken in. It is not advised that you remove any stuffing from the kapok cushion because it traditionally flattens a little after a few sittings. Kapok is more like sitting on polyester filling but a little firmer, and is a good choice for those who may not like the feel of buckwheat hulls. The kapok will eventually become flat and have to be replaced, depending on how much use it gets. To me kapok is a little hard so I place a small, flat cushion on top of my kapok filled banana cushion.
Cotton filling is not as popular because it tends to loose it’s fluffiness very quickly, is prone to mold and mildew, and isn’t very soft. However, for people who may have sensitivities to other fillers it is certainly still a good choice. It works better in the box shape, banana, or smile shape cushions.
Most meditation spaces should have either carpet, or padding of a mat under the meditation cushion. This isn’t absolutely necessary, and is often ignored by practiced meditators who can sit anywhere. But for most of us some cushioning under the feet and ankles is more comfortable and takes away the distraction of a hard floor.(See Flooring)
Where to Buy a Meditation Cushion
Meditation, or yoga mats, can be purchased online (of course) from many reputable and trusted cushion manufacturers. But one of the joys of purchasing a cushion is the actual experience of sitting on it before purchasing it.
Of course I can’t go further without giving a plug to our little store at Kunzang Palyul Choling, the temple in Maryland of which I am a member. KPC has a small ‘church’ store that sells items to support practice, and they have an excellent selection, including the beautiful brocade cushions I’ve photographed here to share. They also have several cushions in the prayer room that is open to the public, and they have many different types of cushions donated over the years to the temple. Anyone can use them while you are meditating in that room, so it’s a great way to see how the different cushions feel. And you can also see how they wear as many have been there several years and have been sat on by literally hundreds of practitioners through many group practices.
I’d also recommend finding a good yoga instructor in your area if you can’t find a temple. They would know where to direct you to a good place to find cushions, and some even sell them in their own store.
In the Washington DC area there are several workshops, classes, and conferences that focus around health and wellness and integrating meditation into your life. These often sell, or can direct you in purchasing meditation cushions.
I’m going to throw out the idea that you can go to your local Walmart, or Target and just buy a good pillow to sit on. But in truth, the difference between that kind of a pillow, and real meditation cushion is support, and longevity. A simple store bought pillow might work for maybe six months (depending on how much meditation you do), but the stuffing and cover will soon breakdown and stop being supportive. A good cushion can last literally years, so don’t compromise either the cushion, your back, or your sessions.