Sharing Shiatsu in Mongolia: just for the fellowship
– Helping nomadic populations
Shiatsu in Mongolia
Lionel BITAN is a Shiatsu teacher from the Paris region. A great traveller to the four corners of the globe, he takes his Shiatsu with him everywhere as a means of exchange with people. Thailand, India (add the other countries), everywhere his hands are in action, especially as his eyes have gradually gone out. But it is in Mongolia that his experience with the nomads of the steppes will take on proportions that he did not expect.
Ivan BEL: Hello Lionel, can you tell me how this adventure in Mongolia started?
Lionel BITAN: In 2017, a friend suggested that I go to Mongolia for a literary retreat. The idea was to travel and meet people while writing every day on a theme. I thought it was a nice idea because I like to travel, but I told him I would rather do Shiatsu. If he didn’t mind, I would like to try it with the nomads we would meet. Finally, we left in 2018 and after a long journey, we arrived in Ulaanbaatar. We boarded a Soviet-era van with a guide. We quickly got lost in a country that is 2.5 times the size of France and has only 3 million inhabitants, half of them in the capital. So the idea that we have of vast uninhabited areas is not a fantasy. It really exists!
We drove hundreds of kilometres, because between two yurts there can easily be 200 km. The nomadic families live completely self-sufficiently with their animals. It is impressive. Once settled with a family, we walked for hours during the day and came back exhausted in the evening. One of the members of our group asked me for a little Shiatsu on the way back after the walk, which I gladly did. The guide took the opportunity to ask for one too. As he was a local, the family watched carefully. It must be said that you cannot isolate yourself in a yurt. Everything is done in front of everyone.
A 35-40 year old Mongolian lady asked me in English “are you a doctor”? So me and the English are angry. I wanted to explain that no, I was not a doctor, but I couldn’t find the words and said “yes, I’m a doctor”. And here I go for another session.
It seems that you don’t really need words when you know Shiatsu. Did the nomads like your sessions?
Every two days we changed location, we drove a few hundred kilometres across the steppe to reach a new family. But very soon the nomads started phoning each other to announce the arrival of a mysterious “doctor” and on arrival there was a group of people who wanted a Shiatsu. The whole host family wanted Shiatsu, and sometimes the neighbours too. So a yurt is not very big. There is furniture and beds all round against the canvas and in the centre the stove, which is essential to survive the cold. I had to manage to put people between the stove and the bed, on the ground on a carpet. We are a bit cramped, but it was great.
You must have met some very special people, because these people are faced with a harsh, even hostile, environment.
The nomads live completely autonomously. This means that they almost never relax, because there is always something to do with the animals, the food, the fire, churning milk to make cheese, etc. Accidents are not rare and a piece of wood, a piece of cloth and it makes a splint. Accidents are not uncommon and a piece of wood, a piece of cloth and it makes a splint. There is no other solution when there is no doctor around, so we manage. I remember an old man who came from far away on his horse. He had had to ride a long way to get here and didn’t smell very good. People wash in the rivers and when the rivers are too cold, well… they just don’t wash. This man must have been the local patriarch, all muscle. But when I touched him, I saw that his right shoulder was six inches lower than his left. He lived like that, never having been put back in place, with the pain or tension games that entails. I took care of him and felt him let go little by little. It was perhaps the first time in years that he had let go, allowing his body to relax and recover. Well, I didn’t put the shoulder back in, it was too old, but at least he was able to relax and find himself. I’ve met a lot of colourful characters like that, because every nomad carries his life on his body, with injuries and accidents. From the age of 40, they are broken all over.
You spent three weeks in Mongolia living from yurt to yurt. Finally, this trip was a revelation for you.
That’s what I like about Shiatsu. The language of the hands replaces the language of words. I already don’t speak English, so Mongolian even less. But with the gestures, the technique and the heart, I was able to get closer to the nomads. These shared moments bring us to the very essence of what an encounter between two humans is. It is the being that speaks, not the intellect. I loved doing this, seeing these men and women come on horseback to receive a session, to relieve their pain for a moment of eternity. Today I still have these heads and bodies in my mind. It was really a deep and unforgettable experience. Shiatsu can really be shared with everybody.
Thank you very much for this testimony, Lionel. Don’t hesitate to come back and tell us about your next adventure.