Creating a regular home meditation practice might just be the ultimate act of self-care. Meditation has been shown to benefit both physical and emotional health in numerous ways. While there have been countless studies of specific conditions that may be improved through meditation, the bottom line is that any regular practice has the potential to boost your overall wellness.
A scientific review in 2014 found moderate evidence of improved anxiety, depression, and overall improvement of mental health for individuals with an established meditation practice. The same review also found that participants had a reduction in physical pain. Additionally, studies show that meditation can decrease high blood pressure, which has been linked to a plethora of other diseases. While the proven benefits of meditation are significant, there are many more potential benefits that are still being studied, including help with sleep issues and even addiction. With so much potential benefit to meditation, it is worth spending some time to make sitting in stillness comfortable for you.
Yoga’s True Purpose is Meditation
It is no secret that our culture values physical health, often to the detriment of mental and spiritual wellness. As yoga has become increasingly popular in the west, this body-centric approach has dominated the practice. Yes, yoga is wonderful exercise for the body, but the original purpose of yoga was far more focused on the mind and spirit. In fact, the word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word Yuj, meaning to join or yoke. In its origin, the purpose of yoga is to connect the mind and body through movement. Put simply, yoga was designed to help us sit comfortably in meditation.
According to David Surrenda of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, “the original context of yoga was spiritual development practices to train the body and mind to self observe and become aware of their own nature.” In an op-ed for the New York Times, Surrenda makes the case for a return to self-awareness in yogic practice, and less emphasis on the strength training aspects so commonly touted in American gyms.
We often think the goal of exercise is to become faster, better, and stronger. However, the original goal of yoga was to allow the body to slow down and sit in meditation for longer periods of time. The ancient yogis knew the value of meditation for the mind and body. They created the asanas, or yoga poses, with that in mind. While increased strength and flexibility are a welcome result of a regular yoga practice, they were never intended to be the end goal. These benefits were meant to help yogis stay in meditation without the distractions of bodily discomfort.
Finding Your Comfortable Seat
Of course, most of us are not quite as limber as yoga masters. And unless you are reading this from an ashram, it is doubtful that you have multiple hours a day to devote to yoga and meditation practice. So how do we compensate for the aches and pains that often distract from our precious practice of stillness?
That is where supports come in. If you have any experience with yoga, you already know that alignment is key to comfort. The same holds true for meditation. Sitting in a slumped position will exhaust your muscles quickly but sitting tall with firm support will allow you to sit in stillness for much longer. Strong core muscles will help but adding supports like cushions and blankets is key to maintaining good alignment, leaving your mind free to enter the infinite.
Choosing the Right Cushion
One of the most wonderful aspects of meditation is that you leave the mundane, outside world and enter the sacred space inside of yourself. To facilitate this shift in consciousness, many people choose to create a meditation space that is purely for this purpose. Incense, candles, and gongs can all help to set the tone for a meditative journey. The props you choose for meditation have a similar impact.
While you certainly can use a sofa cushion to sit on during meditation, a purpose-built meditation cushion offers many benefits. Meditation can be relaxing, but in a very different way than relaxing on a sofa or bed. As a continuation of your yoga practice, meditation requires awareness of the body and breath. Zoning out in front of the television is exactly the opposite, so it makes sense to use a cushion designed just for the unique needs of your body during meditation.
There are several styles of meditation cushions, but most of them are much firmer than your average throw pillow. When sitting in meditation, you want to feel balanced and grounded. This requires a strong, supportive material, not a plush seat which will cause you to sink and wobble. The right cushion for you will be wide enough to support your hips and tilt you slightly forward. This will support the natural curve of your spine, and the rest of your body will follow in alignment.
The three most popular types of meditation cushions are the zafu, zen, and the zabuton. The zafu is a traditional yoga cushion and a popular choice, as it offers a considerable amount of support without a lot of bulk. They are rounded in shape and fit just under the hips. Zen cushions work in a similar way but are rectangular and often a bit larger and thicker than a traditional zafu giving support to the backs of the thighs. Lastly, the zabuton is a larger, futon-like pad that can be used in conjunction with other supports or on its own. You may also see V-shaped meditation supports as well as benches designed for meditation. Depending on your unique body and choice of position, you may also want to use other supports as well including blankets and yoga blocks.
Whatever style cushion works best for you, make sure the materials and filler are high quality. It is critical that the cushion remain firm without compressing too much. Buckwheat hulls make an ideal filler that will hold up over time and have the additional bonus of being an all-natural eco-friendly material.
Create a Sacred Space
Another consideration is how attractive your meditation space is to you. Make sure you invest in something inviting that you actually want to use. As with yoga, the key to meditation is sticking to a regular practice. A high-quality cushion will help to create an inviting space that will keep you returning to meditation every day. Consider adding additional items that inspire a sense of peace and tranquility. Pictures, crystals, talismans, poems, sayings and scents are great supportive elements when creating a sacred space to go within. Make sure these items add to your practice and don’t distract you as you want to
No matter your fitness level or budget, finding a way to sit comfortably in meditation will contribute to your mind and body wellness. Experiment with cushions and atmospheric elements to enhance your practice, and you may be pleasantly surprised at the length of meditation you can achieve without the distractions of discomfort.
WRITTEN BY AMY