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Recommended Meditation Resources

meditation resources

Let’s talk about meditation resources. The internet is swimming with incense and a thousand different colors of zafu. Honestly, it doesn’t take much to sit, and most choices don’t make much of a difference. But a few do. (Like getting the height of your zafu right. Or having rounded rockers on your bench.)

Here’s my stripped down guide to the essential meditation resources.

Still too long? Breath! Here’s the kit that’ll work for most of you. Adjust from there.

Meditation Resources

Cushions

Zafu/Zabuton

A great source for cushions of all sorts is Carolina Morning. They are a small shop that cares about material and craftsmanship, and really understands ergonomics. You can’t go wrong with their zafu/zabuton. The zafu is the one that goes under your butt, and the zabuton goes under that for your legs. (Personally I use their Smile Cushion, shaped in a crescent, because it clears some extra space for the feet and gives nice support while getting out of the way.)

If you get a regular zafu make sure it is wide enough so that your pelvis is on the flat of the top.

Zabutons, it’s hard to go wrong with, as long as it isn’t too narrow for your knees. I have seen some that are sewn or buttoned to keep everything in place. This gives you an uneven surface, and I would avoid those. In a regular zabuton the kapok will naturally compress over time. To keep it even, just give it a good shake and beating every now and then, and rotate it.

Support Cushions

Carolina Mornings also makes a support cushion. The Support Cushion is used between the zafu  and the zabuton, and adds about an inch of height. This is a great way to boost your sitting cushion. If you don’t know what height you should be using, you should check out our Quick Guide. (The odds of your zafu being the right height right out of the box approach zero.)

Alternatively, The Adjustable Height Zafu

This is an interesting option from The Monastery Store: the “seifu.” It is a compressible zafu that can adjust from 3-15 inches. While it may become a little tippy at higher heights, it allows you to go through a full range of heights with only one cushion rather than by adding support cushions. They also suggest that you can use it in both seiza and as a normal zafu crosslegged. (Hence the name.) This might be a convenient way to shift positions, but a seiza bench is still much preferable for sitting in seiza because it allows the legs a much more natural position under the body. (I personally keep a bench and a cushion handy.) Nevertheless, as a tall, one cushion solution, this is definitely worth looking into. It’s on the expensive side, but keep in mind that it potentially replaces several support cushions.

For the Knees

Leaving the knees hanging in the air is a just bad form. If the length of the lower leg and knee can’t rest easily, get something under them. A rolled up towel works, especially as you are feeling things out. If you want something a little more convenient, get yourself a bunch of “whatever cushions” from Dharma Crafts. They add about an inch of height each. And you can use them for supporting your hands in you lap too.

Buckwheat/Kapok

Once you figure out how high you want your cushion, it might just be a matter of taking out or adding some stuffing. (If you aren’t sure which you have, Buckwheat is granular, like a beanbag, while Kapok is fiber and feels fluffy to begin with, but will pack down over time and feel like matting.) Which you choose is largely a matter of personal preference. Give them both a try and see. Personally, I feel like Buckwheat is a little more dynamic for sitting, and doesn’t change so much in the break-in period. So if you are doing one of our courses, and want to get started, that’s what I’d go with.

A note on foam: Knock yourself out, but I don’t like the feel. And memory foam in particular remembers all too well, and then there you are, living in the divot of your past self from a minute ago…

If you are using a foam block cushion because you need the height, consider rolling with a chair instead of leaving your legs hanging out like that.

Travel

While not nearly as nice as a proper zafu, I have traveled Asia for six months with an Inflatable Zafu in my backpack. I was glad to have it. (A towel, bed, or what have you, will stand in for a zabuton.)

Benches

If you are using a bench (or even tall cushions) to get a lot of height, so your knees are hanging while your ankles crossed, more power to you if you are happy with it. But I’d say you are better off with a chair height, and sit with your feet flat on the ground. So much more stable.

If you like to sit in Seiza (kneeling) then you want one that is as low as is comfortable without straining your knees. (If your ankles hurt, get something under them!)

Here’s the trick with benches. Most benches have flat bottoms, and angled tops. Which pretty much locks you into that angle, which is likely not precisely where you’d want it. The solution is a bench with rockers on the bottom. So when you sit on it, it tilts to the angle dictated by your posture. Much better. If it isn’t the right height, add cushions on top of it. The Omni Bench is a great bench, has beautiful ergonomics, and is incredibly well built. It folds for travel, though its a touch heavy if you are going light. The one thing to keep in mind is that the legs straddle yours, so if you sit wide or need a lot of room, it may not be the best option.

In that case, the Pi Bench puts the legs between yours, while still having rounded rockers. (But conversely means you can’t sit with your legs close.)

Chairs

I don’t have specific recommendations here. You want something with a flat surface, not tilting back or contoured. (You can make the case for forward tilting but you have to see for yourself on those.)

The trick is really getting the right height. If it’s too low, add some flat pads. Otherwise, have someone chop the legs down to size on a stool for you. The back of the chair, as my Tai Chi instructor used to say, is just for hanging your coat on. ;) If you can’t sit comfortably without leaning back, then take our sitting course

If you are interested in chairs in general, I highly recommend Galen Cranz’s book The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design (The short takeaway recommendation for an office chair from the book is the HAG Capisco. It’s pricey, but excellent.)

Non-sitting Accessories

Timers

There are, at last count, a zillion timer apps. On the iPhone I use Ensō. As a standalone timer, almost any kitchen timer will service. Pro-tip: A piece of tape, or a bandaid over the speaker will cut the sound of loud devices. (Kid’s toys are notorious offenders, even when you can control the volume!) If you want more control, and a calm chime sound, for a price, you can get the Pearl Enso. If you prefer analogue, sometimes it’s the little things in life, like the sound of a real, honest to god, bowl being struck.

 

Ever Changing, Ever the Same

I’ll keep updating this list, but these are the fundamentals. It’s more important to keep adjusting until you get it right for you, than it is to have the best or newest thing. The fundamentals are remarkably stable. If you have something you love, drop me a line, maybe I don’t know about it yet…

 

OK, The Kit that’ll get you rolling…

If you just want to get started, and roll from there, here’s what I’d recommend for most people…

From Carolina Mornings:

  • A kapok zabuton at least two inches wider than your knees (cover optional)
  • Zafu: a buckwheat Smile Cushion (cover optional)
  • One buckwheat Support Cushion for each additional inch of height needed. (test with books first.)

From Dharma Crafts:

  • One Whatever Cushion for each inch of space under your knees. A couple extra of these lying around never hurt anyone…

That will give you a great place to start, without fighting with poor seating.