TAKING CARE OF THE SELF
Uldis Balodis talked to Julia Hengst about how his specially designed meditation chair evolved.
Uldis Balodis (now Dharmapala Bhikshu) is roughly 60 years old (very roughly, he says), and he had polio as a child. He uses a leg brace on his left leg and gets around with crutches. He has started using wheelchairs, not to replace walking, but so he doesn’t have to get in and out of chairs so often, which has become quite difficult. He’s been meditating for (roughly) 35 years, and it’s become more difficult to sit cross-legged for extended amounts of time. During retreats he needs a cushion on the floor and a chair nearby for when that becomes uncomfortable.
For years he thought it would be so convenient to have a chair that’s big enough to sit cross-legged on, but sufficiently adjustable to also be able to sit with legs down, and still have back support.
Uldis lives in Nepal, where it is relatively cheap to get things made to order. A few years ago he decided to try and come up with something, but the prospect of countless trips to a the workshop where it would be done seemed too exhausting; although it’s cheap to get things made, it requires extensive explanation, oversight and involvement to have them turn out the way one envisions.
He has experience of working with his hands. And with a good assistant, he has successfully made things before. He thought about what kind of materials he could work with at home and decided to try to make it out of the various aluminum sections available in the Kathmandu marketplace, and to bolt them together, possible with the tools he already had.
There were four parameters for the chair: the slope of the seat needed to be adjustable; the seat had to be large enough to sit cross-legged on; the back-rest needed to be adjustable forwards and backwards to suit both cross-legged and legs-down sitting; and the footrest height also need to be adjustable.
For adjustment mechanisms, Uldis found some car seat angle adjusters. One set tilts the platform (the base) and the other moves the backrest backwards and forwards. He evolved the design as he went along. For instance, at first he thought to have a base with 4 vertical legs, but then came to understand that two triangles would make a simpler and more stable base.
Uldis said he felt some kind of guidance as we worked: “It went so smoothly, how these ideas came into my mind. I felt inspired during the whole process.”
The chair is rough; it’s fitted together with nuts and bolts. But because this one is made with aluminum, it is quite light and required no welding.
Uldis figures there are people who want to alternate cross-legged sitting with sitting legs down, so he wanted to share this design in case other people want to pick up on it. He would not undertake production of this chair in Nepal, but he can provide photos, measurements or suggestions to anyone who wants to get one made or make one themselves. Furthermore, he is open to receiving feedback or news if anyone has done anything similar. He says it is the most comfortable meditation chair he’s ever sat in in his long career as a sitter, and it was worth every hour he put into the project.