What is a zabuton? In the past, you may have heard someone mention “zabuton” and wondered what that word actually meant. It is the Japanese term for meditation cushions or mats used during sitting practice.
Sometimes people confuse it with a zafu; they are 2 different things but used together.
Meditation zafu is a low pillow-like cushion filled with kapok, buckwheat hulls, or other material designed to support your body as you sit in a seiza position. It might seem like a simple cushion but it has been used for centuries in Japan as part of the Zen practice. The zafu is a pillow that’s placed on top of the zabuton.
The combination of both forms the “seat” in an area where you meditate. That combination is used in many sitting mindful activities.
The following photo is an example of how NOT to meditate to understand the importance of such a cushion.
That posture above is impossible to keep without a zabuton or/and a zafu. If you do it, in a few minutes, your buttocks will numb, your ankles and knees will be in tremendous pain, while there is no way to keep your back straight unless you hold it against a wall or a sofa. Avoid that by all means.
Even if you plan to sit for a 10-minute meditation you need to be comfortable.
What should you pay attention to when choosing one? This article will share some knowledge I got from my own experience.
With so many options available, it can be hard to find the right one for your needs. To help you narrow down your choices we have come up with a list of features that will make the most significant difference when it comes to purchasing one.
History of Zabuton
Such cushions are used to sit upon while meditating. These pads have been around for hundreds of years, and they were first introduced in Japan during the 17th century. They are made from several materials, including foam or cotton.
Despite its use for meditation purposes, zabuton is also used in daily life in Japan. Its shorter version is used as a sitting pillow.
It is also known as “suwari buton”, which means: sitting cushion. In early Japan times, was known as “shitone” and had a round shape, mainly used by aristocrats but also for zen meditation. Later on, it became square, with cotton filling, and took the name “zabuton” (floor cushion).
It comes in large and small sizes, as it is an object for any daily sitting activity and not just for a meditation practice, while it was also reserved for guests and family.
Even their fabric and filling (thickness and fabric type) change for summer and winter use.
How to Choose the Best Zabuton for Meditation?
It might be tempting to buy the zabuton for meditation based solely on its size first; however, this may not always work out as well as you had hoped. The basic criteria for buying a zabuton are the following:
- Choose a zabuton that is made of natural materials.
- Make sure it has a removable cover for easy washing.
- It should be large enough to accommodate your legs and feet comfortably but not so big that you have to curl up or stretch out to sit on it.
- If you’re looking for an eco-friendly option, try using recycled cotton or hemp fabric.
Why Use a Zabuton?
Zabuton provides extra comfort and support to the buttocks, knees, ankles, and lower back while meditating. It significantly enhances your overall posture when sitting on the floor versus a hard surface such as wood or concrete floors.
Because these mats provide support to your lower back and legs, it eases the pressure from those areas that otherwise would be uncomfortable without the use of such a mat.
So when choosing one, it’s important to know what material works best for your body type and how you plan on using it.
As your meditation practice evolves and you sit for longer periods of time, your posture will also change. Your folded feet will gradually “drop” lower from your body, resting softly on the zabuton. If you sit on a wood or concrete floor, you will get lots of pain. The same stands for your waist and your butt. The video we embedded shows lots of the whole posture and the importance of these two “pillow” elements.
How to Know the Correct Zabuton Size for Me?
If you own a zafu, simply sit on it with your legs crossed. If that is your usual posture then you need to measure a square that includes you while sitting on the zafu.
If you can’t sit with your legs crossed and you need to fold them under your body (in seiza posture) or you stretch them while having your back against the wall, then measure that.
In any of these postures, your legs and body must be inside the area covered by the zabuton.
You don’t want any part of your body to be on a hard floor, either wood or other, while you sit. Keep in mind that you need a zafu on top of the zabuton to sit properly. It is not easy to only sit on a zabuton and keep your body vertical to the floor. Moreover, since it is not too thick, your buttocks or legs will get cold fast, or they will ache soon enough.
What Material Should my Zabuton be Made Out of?
When buying a zabuton for meditation, make sure that the material used in making it is from authentic cotton or silk materials as this will ensure your comfort when meditating on them. Make sure too that they have been well-constructed and not rushed through production to meet increasing demand.
The most user-friendly type is the one that has a removable cover. This way, you can just pull it out and wash it whenever you need to.
Do not wash your zabuton altogether. If you do that, then the cotton or wool filling they have will be gradually destroyed and the zabuton will be less effective.
This guide from the University of Hawaii, drives you -with precise measurement- to create a zabuton by your own.
How to Sit on the Floor?
This video is rather explanatory on how to sit on a zabuton and on a zafu. It shows different ways of sitting depending on your flexibility.
Where can I Buy a Zabuton for Meditation?
Here are suggest items that you can buy, that can suit any style.
Mindful and Modern Large Meditation Cushion Pillow
This one comes with sturdy cotton twill and reinforced stitching for the outer cover. It is a large floor mat that offers pressure relief for your knees when sitting on a zafu, crescent pillow, or meditation bench. That is the typical style of such a mat. You can combine it with a zafu cushion.
Round Zafu Pillow and Large Square Zabuton Mat
This colorful option is comfortable, stable, and breathable thanks to the use of natural plant materials. It is filled with new, untreated kapok, a plant fiber extracted from the fruits of a tropical tree. Even during longer meditation sessions, this meditation seat mat and the yoga cushion offer a high level of comfort.
Foldable Meditation Floor Seat 2 in 1 Set
If you love intense colors and a different kind of sitting cushion, then this one may be for you. However, the sitting cushion is not actually a zafu but a block, and covers are not removed for washing them.
Conclusion on Zabuton for Meditation
Without a doubt, zabuton cushions are the best solution to sitting on hard floors. And let’s face it; we all have to sit and meditate at one time or another.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced veteran or a beginner just starting out with yoga and meditation. You must understand that there are many different styles of zabuton pillows available today. However, only certain brands will provide optimum comfort and support for your body during meditation sessions.
Choosing the right one is not as difficult as you might think but can make your next session more enjoyable than before!