Few people in the world don’t know what meditation is but for those that don’t, it’s the conscious act of breathing in and out while clearing your mind. That’s a simplistic explanation but you get the idea.
If you’ve been hearing about zafu meditation cushions and wondered what all the talk is about then look no further. We will tell you exactly what they are.
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What Is a Zafu Meditation Cushion?
The quickest answer to that question is this. A zafu meditation cushion is a pad, typically round, with sides that are pleated and assembled in a way so your legs can dangle from the tip and your knees can rest on the ground. The idea behind this is to keep your knees lower than your hips. When you sit this way, your spine naturally moves to its organic position.
These cushions typically sit up to six inches high and they are curved at the edge so your thighs have comfort during your practice as well.
Where Do They Come From?
The zafu is the type of cushion used for Zazen, which is sometimes confused with meditation. This isn’t surprising since they both require sitting, remaining still, and diminishing your thoughts, Zazen doesn’t use tools to manipulate your mind into letting go of thoughts like some of the meditation classes you have attended.
If you are a practitioner you may chant “om” during each exhale, you might recite a mantra, you might even imagine a black cloud exiting your mouth as your breath out and all your thoughts going with it. The last one is my special touch but it illustrates how something traditional has evolved into a practice you can own.
What Makes Zazen Different From Meditation?
While meditation uses your breath to clear your mind, Zazen requires the practitioner to simply sit correctly, or kekka-fuza. To do this you must not utilize any type of chants, mantras, or manipulations that are required for other meditation techniques like Kundalini.
The belief behind this is that, if we are using our minds to clear it, our minds become more powerful than our bodies. But when we sit Zazen, our bodies and minds are equal. There isn’t anything else to do. This ideology was born in the Soto Zen School.
What Is The Soto Zen School?
This 9th-century school is one of the largest sects of Japanese Buddhism, was founded by Dogen Zenji, who simply took sitting very seriously. He challenged that Zazen escaped from the duality of mind and body and brought them both together as one.
With other meditation techniques, the requirement of psychological work is inevitable with thoughts, visualizations, setting intentions, and all the other things that you might do to let your mind go blank. It is the attempt of emptying your mind Zazen avoids by just being, as one with your mind and body.
How Do I Practice Zazen?
Zazen is an ancient practice and to achieve it takes practice and much more information than I can put in this article. But, for the most part, you need a mat, which is known as a zabuton. It’s typically 2 feet square and cushioned with cotton or kapok.
This is for your legs, which will hang from your zafu cushion and rest on the floor. The mat is to avoid excess stress on your legs from a hard floor. If you have carpeting or a comfy rug you can skip the mat. Set up the mat about two and a half feet away from a wall and sit on the cushion facing it.
Beginners should use half-lotus posture, which tucks one foot under a leg but you can advance to full-lotus, which has both feet resting on the legs. Your hands should be in your lap, both facing up and curved into an oval with one hand resting on the other and the thumbs touching.
Sit up straight and close your mouth, and your teeth. Breathe through your nose as you would normally. Focus your eyes on a spot on the wall while trying to look down at a forty-five-degree angle. Do not let your eyes go unfocused.
When you find your balance begin your breathing by taking a deep breath in and letting it out. Way the upper body like a pendulum two to three times and then back to the center. From here you breathe naturally and just be in the moment.
There are many types of mediation and there are all kinds of traditions and alterations to those traditions over the millions of years people have been breathing. What is interesting is the zafu meditation cushion was not created for the same type of meditation you and I typically think of when reading the word.
Fortunately, it doesn’t matter. No matter what the intentions were when they were created, zafu meditation cushions are a wonderful tool no matter if you feel that Zazen is in your near future or if you would like to use it for meditation after all. This is the beauty of evolution and growth.
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