Friday, February 15, 2013

Meditation Cushion Review of The Mountain Seat Zafu

The Mountain Seat Zafu is a unique meditation cushion.

 It is designed and produced by Dharma Communications which is the non-profit store of the Zen Mountain Monastery and the Mountains and Rivers Order in New York.

Quick Summary:  I love this meditation cushion and use it regularly (every other day - I alternate with my meditation bench.)  It is the most comfortable zafu I have used; however, it took some experimentation and adjustments to get there (see below.)

The Review

The Mountain Seat Zafu Meditation Cushion
The Mountain Seat Zafu
Meditation Cushion
I was attracted to this meditation cushion because the Zen Mountain Monastery description sounded like a good fit for dealing with the back pain I experience while sitting zazen.

What makes this zafu unique?

It is a 2 layer design.  The top layer is 3 inches of viscoelastic foam.  The bottom of the cushion is buckwheat hulls.  The design concept is for the top layer to provide a conformable cushion for long sits while the bottom layer provides height and firm support.

The Mountain Seat Zafu comes in 2 sizes  7.5 inches and 8.5 inches high.  I wasn't sure which size would be the best fit for me but I decided to order the 8.5 inch model assuming I could adjust the height by removing some of the buckwheat hulls.  The Monastery store could help customers by providing more insight into how to choose the correct size.  Guidance like - you should consider the smaller size if you are less than "x" inches tall.  Or, if height isn't the best guide then weight or physical condition or whatever allows the online purchaser to know how to select the best match would be great.

Side View of The Mountain Seat Zafu
Side View of The Mountain
Seat Zafu
I actually ordered the zafu/zabuton combination - their marketing worked well:)  I'll review the zabuton in the future but I've already provided the spoiler in a previous post that it is the best zabuton I have ever used.

The package came beautifully and safely wrapped in a vacuum sealed bag.  They want you to return the bag I found out later when I looked at my invoice.  Unfortunately the bag was long gone by the time I saw this and I didn't see a return mailer in the box, as mentioned on the invoice, which would have clued me in.

The workmanship and quality of the materials are fantastic.  It was a pleasure to see and touch.  I anxiously got up the next morning to test it out with an hour long sit.

Since our bodies are like snowflakes (everyone being unique) the following was my experience.  By the way, I'm 5' 10" tall and weigh 170.  My zafu sitting style is to sit cross-legged (not in a lotus) and alternate the top leg about every 30 minutes.  I also deal with back pain as mentioned in earlier posts and use a pillow to support my arms.

I placed the meditation cushion on the zabuton and settled into the the 3 inches of viscoelastic foam.  It felt great!  About 15 to 20 minutes into the sit I started to have some discomfort in my lower back.  The discomfort continued to strengthen throughout the session and by the end of the hour I was quite uncomfortable.  Also the pain was lower in my back than I usually deal with.

10 handfuls of buckwheat hulls
10 handfuls of buckwheat hulls
30 handfuls of buckwheat hulls
30 handfuls of buckwheat hulls
No problem, I thought, tomorrow I'll remove some of the buckwheat hulls and adjust the height.

Removing buckwheat hulls from  meditation cushion
Removing buckwheat hulls from
meditation cushion
This is trickier and messier than it sounds.  The zipper on the muslin bag is behind a cloth handle which aesthetically is perfect except when you want to add or subtract buckwheat hulls.  Also, I have pretty typical hands for a guy and the zipper opening was small and very difficult to grab handfuls to extract.  Hulls tend to go everywhere.  I ultimately took out about 10 handfuls and tried again the next day.

It was clearly an improvement but, in the end, day 2 was still pretty uncomfortable.  I also started to notice the boundary between the foam and the hulls which dug into my leg.  I took out another 20 handfuls for the next sit.

Again I experienced an improvement but it was still uncomfortable and the foam/hull boundary was very noticeable.  Hmmmm.  I really wanted to like this zafu but I think that I will have to send it back.

That night it hit me...try flipping the zafu over...sit on the buckwheat hull side and see how that works.

Side view sittting on The Mountain Seat Zafu
Side view sittting on
The Mountain Seat Zafu
It was like magic.  I have never had such a comfortable session on a meditation cushion.  The foam provides a very stable base to the cushion and some of the height.  When I sit on the cushion my weight is also slightly skewed to the front of the zafu so the foam compresses more in the front to create a wedge similar but less exaggerated than the angle of my meditation bench.

The buckwheat hulls conform very nicely to my bum and with the cushion upside down I don't experience the foam/hull boundary problem.  All the body parts are happy.  With the zafu, arm pillow, zabuton combination I've had no back pain for sits of up to 90 minutes with just alternating my legs every 30 minutes.

Back View sitting on The Mountain Seat Zafu
Back View sitting on
The Mountain Seat Zafu
I used to prefer my mediation bench but now I find myself torn...they are both very effective at letting me find a physically neutral position for extended sits.

It is quite possible that without my back injuries, using the cushion as originally designed would also be fantastic.  It is easy to see how my right shoulder is lower than my left shoulder when viewed from behind.  The bottom line is...keep experimenting until you find your neutral.

Friendly Bows _/|\_

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