The word zafu is frequently translated as, “sewn seat.” However, a strict interpretation of the Japanese kanji is “reedmace seat.”
Better known in the U.S. as cattails, reedmace flowers produce a fluffy down-like material that can be used to fill pillows. Reedmace was once popular as zafu pillow filling due to its firm and durable characteristics.
Reedmace never caught on as pillow filling. In fact, it’s very difficult to find an authentic reedmace-filled zafu. That’s not a problem, because there’s a far more practical and comfortable option: buckwheat hulls.
Buckwheat hulls are a proven pillow and upholstery filling made popular with centuries of use in Asia.
Thousands of tiny all-natural buckwheat hulls provide support for your body that can’t be matched by other pillow fillings. The unique malleable characteristics of buckwheat hulls allows them to conform perfectly to the shape of your body.
Buckwheat hulls move and shift, but do not compress under pressure and lose volume or loft. A buckwheat pillow can be easily molded and shaped as you please thanks to the irregular edges of each individual buckwheat hull. The hulls gently grip one another, enabling your pillow to hold a shape that mimics the contour of your body, keeping you positioned consistently and comfortably.
Zafu meditation cushions are sometimes filled with kapok or foam. Avoid these.
These soft fillings will compress substantially under the weight of your body and cannot hold their shape. Maintaining a neutral and comfortable posture is difficult if your zafu is too thin or inconsistently shaped.
How does a zafu work and what are the benefits?
A zafu improves your posture by making small adjustments to the geometry of your typical seated position.
While seated on a flat surface, our natural inclination is to bend our backs forward while hunching our shoulders. Sitting with this flawed posture will inevitably cause painful stress on joints, muscles and nerves.
A zafu, placed under your hips, will elevate your upper body slightly. It allows you to effortlessly straighten your spine and pull your shoulders back into a healthy posture. This simple enhancement keeps your spine neutrally aligned and will help to eliminate any potentially uncomfortable pressure points in your back, shoulders and neck.
Zafus are most typically cylindrically shaped: about 12-18″ wide and 5-8″ tall. Their circluar shape allows your legs and/or feet to tuck in along the front edge (your feet will catch on a rectangular pillow’s corners).
Where Can I use a Zafu? They’re Are Useful in Many Contexts:
- Quick and convenient seating for your home – Sometimes also called a pouf or a floor pillow, a zafu will add stylish, compact and comfortable accommodation to any room of the house. Adults can sit on them together comfortably around the coffee table with drinks while the kids use them for lounging in front of the latest movie.
- Posture Perfect – A zafu’s shape encourages excellent posture, making them ideal for use during yoga and meditation.
- Comfort on the Go – Take your zafu with you camping, to the kids’ soccer games or to the picnic in the park. Many zafus include a durable carrying handle making them easy to take along wherever you go.
A zafu will eventually get dirty. Make sure you can clean it.
With use, a zafu is exposed to dirt and dust so you’ll eventually want to clean it. Spot cleaning stains with a damp rag will keep it in reasonable condition, but to properly clean a zafu you need to completely remove the filling and machine wash the outer fabric shell. To do so, your zafu requires a zippered opening, a feature unfortunately not all include. The best zafus also include an interior breathable liner containing the buckwheat hulls. These allow you to quickly remove and replace the buckwheat from the outer fabric shell without any spills.
High-quality materials and construction matter!
Sitting on a zafu can put a lot of pressure on the zipper and seams holding your pillow’s filling in place. I have experience with cheaply made pillows… my first buckwheat pillow split open at the seam and lost its filling all over my bedroom floor! The pillow with the lowest price tag isn’t always the most economical. Buy a product that’s made to last and you’ll save money in the long run.
We recently started selling a zafu alongside our Hullo bed pillows, calling it a “floor pillow.” Give one a try for 60 days. If you’re not sitting more comfortably, just send it back to us for a refund.