Popular holistic fitness routines such as pilates, yoga and meditation address mental health, physical health, emotional health and spirituality. Most people partake in these programs to improve their physical state with only later realizing the benefits that come with the programs themselves. Appropriate tools are necessary to achieve the best results from each of these types of “workouts”. Exercise mats usually will do the job, but for meditation (especially in a longer session) a thin sticky mat won’t cut it. A floor pillow, or zafu, is much better on the tailbone and overall, the spine. Discomfort will not allow you to reach a deep meditative state.
A meditation seat or zafu/zabuton combo puts the body in a relaxed but alert position where energy is in an optimal flow. As each person is designed a bit different, different siting or kneeling positions work best for those individuals. Most of the time with floor pillows the practitioner is in a type of cross-legged position. A lotus is defined with both feet tucked up above the calves. A half lotus is where only one foot rests above the opposing calf while the other is tucked underneath. A zabuton, which resembles a large American floor pillow works well with the lotus and half-lotus.
However, when using a zafu, a raised round or square floor pillow, the burmese position is more suited to this meditating prop. The burmese position is where both legs are crossed in front but neither foot rests on the calves. This position is very stable with three points being supported like a tripod. This cushion/position combination is much easier on the joints compared to the lotus and half-lotus. If you become more flexible, a standard floor cushion and one of the lotus positions is all you really need. With meditation your hip muscles do loosen over time.
From the zafu spawned several version of a crescent shaped raised pillow giving even further support to the upper leg during a meditation session. When you’re allowing yourself this much support, generally you haven’t much flexibility and are more than a beginner. Most crescent shaped elevated pillows are sold with the zabuton. So the zafu or crescent is intended for spine alignment and zabuton is to cushion the ankle and feet, preventing them from being a distraction.
A hint when using the zafu or crescent is to scoot forward toward the edge instead of sitting in the middle. Moving forward like this will angle the pelvis to a point where there is little strain placed on the knees.