By Julie Jarvis
Posted in REALthings Meditation Blog, on September 29, 2014
If you’ve got an injury, chronic pain or tight muscles and joints that make sitting a physical challenge, you might be thinking about abandoning your practice. But before you do so, consider this: there are many ways to meditate and many cushions you can use to support your body so you can sit comfortably in meditation. Finding a cushion with the right height, size, shape and design to support your posture can reduce physical pain and allow you to relax and sit comfortably.
This guide will help you identify the right cushion for your body.
Knee pain can be a real problem when meditating cross-legged on the floor. The two most common problems involve tight, inflexible knees or, conversely, knees that are too flexible and hyper-extend, straining the knees and hips. This can make the feet and legs go numb and, in some cases, cause shooting pains up the leg.
An effective way to alleviate knee strain is by putting a cushion or blanket under the knees. To address these issues, we have created two types of knee cushions to support and lift the knees off the floor, preventing strain.
- Our silk knee cushions with a strap have been created specifically for meditation. They are stuffed with raw cotton or kapok and attached by a silk strap that makes them easy to carry around and secure in place on the floor.
- Our triangle knee cushions with handles can be used to sit and lie comfortably in many different yoga postures. You can sit on them, place them under your knees or head, or use them as a bolster for your back. Combine them an Urban b bolster and to make the perfect travel set.
Lower Back Pain
If you suffer from lower back issues, you may be concerned about pain during meditation. But you can use a tall cushion or a chair cushion to create a comfortable meditation posture.
If you’re sitting on the floor, ensure your cushion is high enough to allow your pelvis to roll forward rather than tilting back, which causes the lower back to collapse. Our round Zafu cushions are the most popular for sitting on the floor.
We use buckwheat hulls in our Zafu cushions, which allows us to create taller cushions that form to the body, which isn’t possible with traditional Zafu cushions filled with kapok, cotton or polyester fibres.
If the round cushion is too high for you, our rectangular bolster cushions - The Urban b and the back bolster - can also address back pain. For many people, sitting cross-legged is too difficult or painful. In this case, you can try sitting on your knees on the floor or on a bench. Or, if you’re female, you can turn a regular or tall Zafu cushion on its side and place it between your legs to give you some height and to take the pressure off your back.
Perhaps a chair is the most comfortable option for you. Add a Runa chair cushion to provide additional comfort and support.
We have designed our Runa cushions specifically for this purpose. If you sit on a Runa with your feet flat on the floor in front of you (preferably no shoes), your pelvis can roll forward the same way it does with a Zafu. Our Runa cushion allows your pelvis to roll forward and the back straighten naturally. Alternatively, you can place a cushion behind your lower or mid-back to get the support you need to sit straight comfortably.
Upper Back Pain
Upper back pain is less common in meditation, but can be challenging to correct when it does occur. The best way to alleviate upper back pain when sitting is to support your back with a straight board, like a chair back or wall. A small cushion like the Runa can act as a support against the wall or chair back.
Shoulder and Wrist Discomfort
If you like to fold your hands in front of you with your thumbs touching while you meditate, but have a long torso and short arms, this posture can be uncomfortable for the shoulders and arms.
To alleviate the discomfort, place a small square in your lap. This supports the hands and lifts the arms, keeping the arms from pulling the shoulders forward.
Hip pain can occur during meditation when you sit flat on the floor without any support, or if your cushion is the wrong shape or size for your body. For optimal support, the edge of the cushion should meet your hip joint. Depending on your body type, you are going to feel more comfortable with a round, oval or rectangular cushion or bench. (When the hips aren’t sitting comfortably, the knees and ankles can also get distressed and/or fall asleep.)
If you’re very flexible or an experienced meditator, then you may simply need a small cushion like a mini zafu the Runa or a triangle knee cushion to give you a bit of a boost off the floor. (All these cushions are also light and easy to carry to class or in your travel bag.)
If your hips still hurt, you may require additional cushions. Try a combination of cushions like a Zafu or bolster or bench together with a zabuton or floor cushion or knee cushions. Or, add more height by placing small hand cushions or a Dolma cushion under or on top of your sitting cushion.
Ankle pain is commonly experienced when meditating on hardwood floors or thin mats. Soft cushioning under the ankle bones is the best solution. The zabuton and Dolma cushion offer instant relief for ankle pain. You can also place a hand cushion under your feet or use a soft sweater or thick blanket. Although it is very easy to alleviate ankle pain, if nothing is done about it, it can be extremely painful.
For those who sit on their knees or on benches during meditation, there can be tenderness and pain on the top of the foot or ankle. In these cases, it’s best to sit on a soft mat, blanket or zabuton.
Leg Cramps and Legs Falling Asleep
Leg cramps and sleeping legs re often caused by poor circulation, and are one of the most common complaints with meditators. To avoid leg cramps and sleeping legs, ensure you’re sitting at the right height. Use a Zafu or Dolma cushion to boost you up. Lifting and supporting the knees with triangle knee cushions can also alleviate this type of pain and discomfort.
Neck pain is common to everyone, but not often viewed as an obstacle to meditation. In fact, meditation can often help relieve existing neck pain caused by stress. If your neck does hurt during meditation, try to ensure your head is centered rather than tipped upward or downward. The ability to keep your head straight becomes easier with practice.