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What is a Zafu?

Cushion for Your Sitting Meditation Practice

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What is a Zafu?

Zafu

© Phylameana lila Desy
The zafu is a traditional Zen Buddhist meditation cushion. This round cushion is typically made from silk or cotton material consisting of two round pieces (top and bottom) and a strip of pleated fabric which wraps around the outside of the cushion. There is generally a zippered opening on the side. Filler is cotton filament or buckwheat hulls. The opening allows you to adjust the amount of filling suitable for your personal comfort both in height and softness. This zippered enclosure makes it convenient to remove the filler for laundering as well.

The cushion pictured here is my plum colored zafu made by Hugger Mugger™. It has a handle-like strap for convenient carrying. Although, it is rather hefty (9 pounds) so I would not choose to travel with this zafu. But for toting it up and down the stairs in my home I have found the strap to be handy and the weight is no bother.

An optional zabuton (rectangular meditation mat) can be placed underneath the zafu to give extra comfort to knees and legs while sitting in lotus pose. The meditator plants his tailbone near the edge or upon the front third section of the zafu. This position raises the hips above the knees offering comfort. The mediator may also choose to sit in half-lotus or kneeling position when using the zafu.

A zafu would be fairly easy to sew yourself if you are crafty. If you are interesting in getting a one-of-a-kind zafu I would suggest checking out Etsy for one. Just keep in mind that zafus are sold with or without filler so take note of what you are paying for when you are doing your comparison shopping.

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Sitting Meditation

It is recommended that you begin a sitting meditation practice for 5-10 minutes once a day. Preferably at the same time and place. Choose a quiet spot away from noise or distraction and make it your sacred space. Gradually increase your meditation time to 20-30 minutes or longer each day.

How to Do the Lotus Pose

The lotus pose opens the hips and aligns the spine. Right knee is bent and placed on the thigh near the crease of the left hip with the sole of the foot facing the ceiling. Left knee is bent and then crossed over the right hip crease, again with the sole facing upwards. The lotus pose is associated with yoga and meditation.

How to Do the Half Lotus Pose

One knee is bent and placed near the opposite hip crease same as full lotus pose. The other knee is bent and placed underneath the opposite leg.

Zazen

Zen meditation is called Zazen and is typically done once daily for 10 to 30 minutes.
  • Sit upon the floor or cushion with legs crossed (lotus pose).
  • Straighten your spine, allowing a slight bow in the small of the back.
  • Chin is tucked under slightly toward the chest.
  • Mouth is kept closed.
  • Tongue rests on the roof of the mouth with tip of tongue barely touching the back of upper teeth.
  • Breathe through your nose.
  • Release any tension held in the shoulders.
  • Hands are cupped in the lap in meditation mudra.
  • Eyes are kept closed or open while gazing downward onto the floor at approximately 45 degree angle.
  • Silently count or use a mantra allowing any mental thoughts or images to drift away.
  • Leave any expectation out of your meditation space.
Although the zafu originates from Buddhist Zen tradition it can be used for different meditation styles besides Zazen.

Transcendental Meditation

TM or Transcendental Meditation is typically done twice a day for twenty minutes during each session, first thing in the morning and again later in the day. TM is done while sitting on the floor or sitting upright in a chair.

Vipassana Meditation

Vipassana incorporates a variety of meditation positions in its teachings (sitting, walking, lying down). Suitable sitting positions include:
  • Half lotus
  • Full lotus
  • Cross-legged tailor fashion
  • Legs bent with one leg in front (Burmese style)
  • Kneeling on a meditation bench
  • Sitting in a chair

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