Selenge Baatartsogt: on nature as our teacher

Photography credit Ana González

Selenge Baatartsogt is a yoga teacher and independent tour guide based in Australia, originally from a small town of 2000 people in Mongolia. She’s loved nature and horses her whole life and has fond memories of riding horses as a girl, in a culture where it was meant for boys. For college she moved to Australia and the new foreign country had a big impact on her, leading her to find yoga. Now she travels back each summer to lead her Steppe Yoga tours in beautiful lands of Mongolia.  

 

Hi Selenge, it’s wonderful to have you on the Setu blog. I’m excited to learn about your experience with yoga in Mongolia. Online you talk about moving to Melbourne, Australia in 2010 and how the beautiful country provided you with many challenges. During that time, you discovered yoga, fell in love with it and worked through difficult times. I find this support through yoga to be common among practitioners. Can you share how you found yoga and what parts of it helped you?

I moved to Australia in 2010, then around 2013 I discovered sports. I was doing a lot of body pump classes, like weight lifting. I had this interesting relationship with my body – not really liking the parts of my body – [like] this part is small, this part is too big. Going to gym classes, my body looked good but I was still comparing it – not really a nice feeling. At that time, I was having a lot of sore pains from lifting. I wanted to relieve the muscle pains and discovered YouTube and this yoga thing.

During that time I wanted to stay in Australia but I was ending my 3rd year [of school] and I didn’t know ways to stay. Then it was like, ‘Woah, I’m Mongolian but part of me is finding myself in this Western country and I don’t want to move back.’ Another challenge was [when] one of my best friends in Mongolia had a brain tumor. That was a huge heat for me.

All of these different challenges, the body issue, school visa thing, and my friend having a brain tumor – [there was] so much stress. Thanks to my hand being sore, I started going to yoga classes. After the yoga class, I felt a sense of peace. I noticed myself having a lot more ease when I was waiting in line in shops, letting people do what they’re doing. Slowly my body opened up and my mind relaxed – I was like, ‘Woah, what is this thing? It’s incredible.’

That year, I went back to Mongolia and went to my uncle’s property. Mongolia is like one open land — there’s no such thing as property. I was on top of a mountain, of the particular land my uncle lives on and herds the grasses around. [I was] looking over the nature and was like, ‘Wow, how amazing would it be to do yoga here?’

Because of the ease [yoga] brought my mind, I could dance through those problems easily. I managed to finish my studies and find a full time job. The job needed a Mongolian translator and travel advisor, which worked incredibly and through that I got my visa. I was able to raise a little money for my friend and send it to her. Yoga gave me the strength to do the things that make a difference. Then going home and seeing the nature, I was like, ‘Ok I want to create this [Steppe Yoga].’ Game changer.

The name of your yoga tour company is “Steppe Yoga.” What does ‘steppe’ mean?

[Steppe is] a wide open plane land. We don’t really have steppe in Australia or America, it’s mainly these beautiful landscapes that exist in Central Asia – Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan. Beautiful  open land with some hills, not big mountains but big hills with trees around, mainly special expansive land.

 

I love how you describe Steppe Yoga tours on your website. You say, ‘Steppe Yoga tours are all about unity, inclusiveness, creating safe space for people come together for a feeling of growth, expansion and support no matter where they come from.’ How do you create this feeling and space for people?

Belongingness and inclusiveness are so important for all of us. We are doing yoga because we belong to this yoga community and this connection with our body that feels good and nurturing. I actually found this feeling through finding my tribe, doing festivals and meeting similar types of people [who] raised my vibration. Inclusiveness and belongingness allow me to trust and let go of the idea of who I am.[I can] be my natural self. Once we feel like we belong, trust comes naturally. When people trust you, there is a space for you and them to open up. There’s a safe space for them to express themselves freely. It’s a place for me to give abundantly. It’s a two way dance.

Mainly I like to use humor.I don’t like being too serious. Humor is something I think everyone can relate to… [I] start really easy and gentle, helping [the travelers] ease into the culture.I know going to new countries is a huge thing. Eyes are open, our way of perceiving everything for the first time is new. Our bodies even go through a process —  sometimes we get allergies and dry eyes. It’s important to nurture and be there for them, whatever they are going through. [By] listening and supporting the space, being a compassionate listener and [having]  boundaries —  from the beginning you can create a healthy environment for the tour to go on.

Everyone loves to [be] loved and cared for. We need to give ourselves love first but it’s so beautiful when people care for you, especially when you’re overseas.

 

You have a Shaman Tour, that’s a 19 day adventure. It sounds incredible. I’m interested in your experience with shamanism in Mongolia. Can help us understand it better and share how you bring it into the tours?

Mongolia has a beautiful ancient culture —  one of last living countries that has a living animistic culture. It’s very solid and strong, how the people love living in that way. Once you leave the capital city with skyscrapers, an hour away there are no fences, there are horses and little yurts around. It’s really incredible how Mongolia is very modern and ancient.

 

In the Mongolia territory, we had different kinds of nomadic tribes and it wasn’t [originally] called Mongolia. Genghis Khan united all the tribes and called them Mongolia. We are a nomadic culture in our roots. From his time, we were likely practicing shamanism, which is the worshipping of nature — mother nature, father sky we say.

Shamanism is mainly about the spiritual nature. All nature is a living being…Nature includes animals, powerful animals like eagles, wolfs, owls . They are worshipped in shamanism. Shamans would normally heal people if they had stuck energy or something happening in their body or life. They go through drumming, trance and communication with their ancestors – father sky to receive guidance and to heal the people who need to help.

The trip was so challenging and worth it. It was one of those experiences where you come out really strong. We drove up to the North, stopping at a monastery, a lake, a hot spring and seeing beautiful landscapes. Once we got up really close to Siberia, we left our cars and went horse riding for two days. The horses there are Genghis Khan horses – really solid, tough and strong. From the beginning you connect with your horse and trust they’ll look after you. They really looked after my seven people. We had five horse guides, looking after people too. It’s really safe.

It is a challenge for people who’ve never ridden a horse. The tour requires mental physical resilience as well. Which I think is how we learn from life. I like to nurture [the group] through a morning of yoga practice and prepare for the beautiful dance of challenge.

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I love how you provide such a well rounded experience for people physically/mentally/emotionally.

It becomes a mental journey. On big hikes people go through really big internal journeys as well. I had a friend the other day telling me how he went on this difficult hike and was crying. But when he went on the top of the mountain it was the best feeling he’d felt in his time. It’s really incredible how the human brain and satisfaction works this way.

In nature, the prana of nature, we are just vibrant because our bodies and minds recognize us as being at home. A complete surrendering and trust is happening. Sometimes our mind is like, ‘ooooh?’ but our body is really happy in nature.

Thank you Selenge! We hope to take a tour with you sometime!


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