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DESPERATELY SEEKING YOUR THIRD EYE

DESPERATELY SEEKING YOUR THIRD EYE

“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape”

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God knows, TEFLing can be awfully hard on the ole physique. Without even getting into the less than state-of-the-art medical facilities one is often forced to rely on, the dramatic change of diet, climate and environment which comes hand in hand with TEFLing abroad for a living can knock your organism for six.

It’s none too gentle on the psyche either, it has to be said. The job often requires an individual to repeatedly subject him or herself to a combination of classic stress factors, such as moving home, changing job, living far from loved ones, financial instability and consequent concerns, and integrating oneself into new cultures on a fairly regular basis. Just one of those challenges is enough to send a person into a tizzy – your average TEFLer abroad deals with the combination of all of them many times throughout his or working life!

So, what to do when the TEFLing has started to take its toll, and you’re feeling a little ragged round the edges?

Yoga might well be the answer.

When East Met West

The precise origins and age of yoga are in themselves subjects for debate, however, charting the introduction and influence of the Eastern philosophy in the West is much easier to do, as it occurred relatively recently, though perhaps not quite as recently as one might think. Long before modern-day rat-race-runners halted in their tracks and turned to the East in their quest for inner peace, Norbin Chunder Pal, a graduate of the Bengal Medical College, published in London A Treatise on the Yoga Philosophy, under the anglicized version of his name, N. C. Paul. The year was 1851.

If you’re struggling to imagine stiff and starched Victorians trying to get into yoga poses, it’s because they didn’t – Paul’s book focused on explaining, from a scientific view-point, the physiological effects of yoga on the human body, including the decidedly spectacular phenomenon of a Punjab yogi’s capacity to ‘suspend life’ and survive a 40-day live burial; the book stimulated theoretical discussion, not actual practice, among its readers, who were, it has to be said, mostly from the press and the scientific community. So, although he may not have been responsible for hoards of New Age Victorian ladies busting out of their whale-boned corsets to salute the sun, he can certainly be accredited with getting the West talking about yoga for the first time.

About forty years later, a swami called Vivekananda made it to the USA and, once there, wowed the audiences at the Chicago World Fair with his exotic robes and turbans, and an undeniable stage-presence, getting a two-minute standing ovation just for his five-word opening: “Sisters and brothers of America!”. He too avoided trying to coax his listeners into tantric poses, but orated his way into their enthusiasm, speaking to them of Hinduism, Buddhism and harmony among religions with such eloquence that the American press nick-named him ‘the Cyclonic Hindoo Monk of India’.

From Treadmill to Transcendental

It wasn’t until the early 1960’s that yoga began to be practiced in the West on any real scale. No longer merely a subject for polite conversation, yoga was launched stateside primarily by an American called Richard Hittleman who’d completed his apprenticeship in India, and who filtered the religious element out of the very spiritual practices he’d learned from his guru, and made it palatable to large numbers of more secular Americans by focusing on the physical benefits to be had.

By the time Swami Satchidananda, sitting on stage at Woodstock, in 1969, had half a million very mellow young people chanting ‘Hari Om’, Westerners had finally got off their horsehair-stuffed armchairs and were able to sit cross-legged on the floor. Not only that, many of them had learned to maneuver their limbs into yoga poses, and some even to meditate. It is rumoured that about half a dozen or so of them even managed to locate their third eye during those halcyon Age of Aquarius days.

During the 1970’s yoga went mainstream, and yoga studios started popping up everywhere, although the general vibe was perhaps more Lycra than cheesecloth. The many benefits of yoga were at last available to those not graced with being born in the shade of an ashram, and, increasingly over the decades, yoga has come to be seen as one of the most effective antidotes to modern, post-industrial societal stress. Even if you never do quite manage to figure out where your third eye is supposed to be, the slow-stretching, non-traumatic postures and positions of yoga can do wonders for those destined to spend their working days hunched tensely over computers.

Yoga: what’s in it for you?

A faster metabolism

Weight loss

Better balance

Improved posture

Improved breathing

Better sleeping patterns

Calms and de-stresses

Protects your joints

What’s not to like? It’s certainly worth giving yoga a bash just in case it turns out to be the answer to your bodily and spiritual issues, though strictly speaking there should be absolutely no bashing going on whatsoever, which is probably one of the main reasons why other less spiritual fitness fads have come and gone, some even revealing themselves to be rather detrimental to the health (remember the jogging craze of the Eighties? Everybody and their eighty-year-old mothers were slipping on lime-green or canary yellow, high-cut, nylon running shorts and pounding the pavements, and, tragically, many of them didn’t live to rue the day they suddenly took up vigorous exercise after a lifetime of sedentary behavior), while yoga has had an enduring appeal over the decades – it’s undeniably gentle on the heart, joints and muscles, as well as being soothing on the psyche.

Hitting the Yoga Mat

Well, perhaps not so much hitting it, as lowering yourself gently on to it.

If you’re keen to get started, ideally, you will want a good yoga instructor to guide you serenely towards inner peace and a more supple and flexible physique. Yoga schools and personal yoga teachers can be found just about everywhere on the planet, though, as always in such things, if you can get a recommendation from a very satisfied and observably chilled-out, loose-jointed client, it’s always better than just walking into some unknown yoga centre which you just happen upon.

What if your TEFL post has taken you well and truly off the beaten track, and there actually is no yoga instructor, much less yoga centre, in the area?

If you take it easy, listen very carefully to your body and to any warning signs it might give out in the form of twinges and overly-taut muscles (a word with a doctor would also be advisable, if you want to be 100% sure that there are no contraindications for you, though the doctors you can now access probably have a very limited idea of your past medical history – still, you might want to try and fill him/her in as best you can so they can advise you), there’s always the Internet.

Not quite the same thing as having your own personal guru lighting candles and incense, and talking you quietly through the process, but the computer monitor does give off a bit of glow to create a smidgeon of an atmosphere, and if you stick to your guns about never, ever pushing yourself further than is totally comfortable, a chirpy, gently encouraging YouTube yoga instructor surely has to be better than sitting on your bum in front of the TV all night – at least to get you started.

Naturally, yoga has a great deal more going for it than mere body postures – the physical aspect is, I am told by an actual yoga instructor, just the preparatory phase for the main event, which is, of course, the meditation. I’m not even going to begin to suggest that YouTube videos will get you lost in transcendental meditation…but you never know…so here are a couple of links to YouTube pages with some videos which might get you started on breathing exercises and meditation techniques. The only real risk with doing these unsupervised is that you might just fall asleep. And since TEFLers can sometimes be a bit sleep deprived, that’s no bad thing.

Even if you are dependent on a video guru, once you get the hang of asanas (yoga positions) and work out an effective routine, you can get yourself outdoors and find yourself a pleasant spot to go through your moves – a beach at dawn or sunset, a desert dune, a grassy meadow or a wood all suit the purpose perfectly.

And who knows, the next job posting might be somewhere that actually has flesh-and-blood yoga instructors. You never know – by the time your current contract runs out, you might be ready to give up the rich and materialistic TEFL lifestyle and run off to join an ashram.

Alkhan_Khee_4

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH IS ENOUGH…

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH IS ENOUGH…

Violet_Romer_in_flapper_dress,_LC-DIG-ggbain-12393_crop4…I can’t go on, I can’t go on no more, no!

  • – Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer

TO RESIGN OR NOT TO RESIGN

There comes a time when every cell in your body is screaming at you to head for the door and to the nearest airport. What do you do? Give in to the feeling and run like hell, or try and stick it out?

The expression ‘doing a runner’ actively enters into your vocabulary usually about the same time you take up your very first TEFL position somewhere very, very far from all that is familiar, which, you will shortly discover, also includes the Western concept of workers’ rights. It’s not unknown for a freshly arrived TEFL teacher to hear, in fact, that the position he or she has just landed, had become available because someone else had ‘done a runner’. This act consists of dispensing entirely with letters of resignation and working one’s notice, but simply heading off into the night in a hastily flagged-down taxi, clutching a suitcase or two containing all one’s worldly possessions and wearing a wild-eyed expression interrupted only by a newly acquired tic.

TEFL TICS

The reason for your predecessor’s hurried departure doesn’t usually tardy in becoming apparent, and quite possibly you too will be the proud owner of a nice, new tic before the first month is over. On the other hand, you may turn out to be made of tougher stuff altogether, and find that it only requires drinking yourself into a stupor every evening to make it through the days and the nights. Which is great. Truly it is. Unless the over-priced booze starts to take its toll on your liver and/or bank balance, and you end up having to borrow money from your new colleagues in order to eat, in which case, you might be forced to face the reality – it’s not working out for you.

Nippon_Shuzō_Kabushiki_Kaisha_(Women_in_blue_kimono)_(rbm-coll3020-05-08)

Sake, absinthe, whatever – it can all look very appealing when you’re feeling down.

DISTANCE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE

Making oneself utterly miserable in order to earn a living is, unfortunately, the unavoidable lot of many human beings; the fledgling tic in your right eye could quite easily have been acquired in Manchester or Arkansas, or whichever city you left behind you, starry-eyed at the thought of decent money in an exotic setting. However, back home, at the end of a cruddy working day, chances are you had caring relatives or a set of good mates ready and willing to listen to you letting off steam, to make you a cup of tea, buy you a beer, or to remind you that Mad Men is on the telly later on (let it not be forgotten that, depending on where you end up TEFLing, you might not even be able to rely on having any delightfully brain-numbing decent TV to fill your evenings). More importantly, back home, if your employer really pisses you off, you’ll have various avenues of recourse open to you to protect and to compensate you, whereas where you’re at now it’s quite possible that however rotten a deal you’re being dealt by your employers, there is little, if anything, you can do about it.

Solitude_au_bord_du_lac

TEFLING can mean self-containment to the nth degree

MISSING BUFFERS

 

It would be disingenuous to claim that lousy and dishonest employers are to be found only in foreign climes, because nothing could be further from the truth. Likewise, it would be inaccurate to imply that all TEFL jobs will end up making you rue the day you signed the contract. However, the sense of isolation from the emotional and social buffer of family and friends, combined with the deep frustration of having very few legal options open to you, should things not work out as well as you’d hoped, make all the difference between a professional disappointment on your home turf, and one somewhere overseas.

1913_Rochester_Garment_Workers_Strike

No TEFLer ever went on strike. Ever.

THE HUMANIST MIND-SET

It’s easy to take for granted the laws protecting workers’ rights when you’re a great-great-great-great-great grandchild of the Enlightenment, with a strong sense of individualism in your DNA; it’s understandable not to fully grasp how collectivism, the basis for all the key non-Western TEFL destinations, translates into what you can and cannot expect from an employer-employee relationship, until hit with the reality of not being able to do absolutely anything from a legal stand-point about some grossly unfair event; it’ll be tempting to write off all obstacles you come up against as being down to your employer being less than honest, less than fair, less than decent. The difficult part is trying to figure out if you and your individualistic brain can survive in a collectivist society without damage being done to your physical and mental health, and coming to terms with the simple but harsh reality that, outside of the West, your rights as a worker simply do not have the same weight as they would back home.

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On the road again?

RESIGN YOURSELF TO RESIGNING?

Whilst not advocating doing runners as a solution, especially since they leave dirty great holes in your curriculum vitae, it might be worth pondering whether certain foreign countries are really destined to be anything other than potential holiday destinations to you, and whether you might not be happier and healthier sticking to TEFLing in nations which the Enlightenment, well, enlightened, because, at the end of the day, a job which costs you your mental and physical well-being is really not worth it.

 

NATURE AND THE TEFLER – EXOTIC ACTS OF GOD

NATURE AND THE TEFLER – EXOTIC ACTS OF GOD

“Nature: a place where birds fly around uncooked”
– Oscar Wilde

MUTABLE MOTHER NATURE

Sipping Mai Tai’s in the dappled shade of gently swaying palm leaves, as the frothing white crests of liquefied emerald waves tickling your toes, and the balmy sea breeze softly ruffles your hair; this is probably the kind of role you imagined Nature was going to play in your new life abroad – the provider of warm sea breezes, lapping waves and, of course, copious amounts of sunshine in shades varying from pink-and-gold dawn, to midday incandescence. What might not have been envisioned as you were day-dreaming under grey, rainy skies about the new job in exotic, sun-snogged lands, is that your future home might just be located in an earthquake zone, or in one at high risk for floods, tsunamis or landslides, and that the Mai Tai, and everything else you posses, might just end up smashed to bits on the floor or underwater, while you run or swim for your life from a less than benevolent Mother Nature.

Tsunami_by_hokusai_19th_century

Tsunami by Hokusai – 19th_century

 

FAR EASTERN PHENOMENA

 

Although wages, accommodation, medical coverage and working hours are obvious key factors to evaluate when applying for new TEFL jobs, for some people the priority is location, location, location – preferring somewhere particularly picturesque with a sufficiently laid-back lifestyle to be able to actually enjoy the views.  Overall, Asia is one of the planet’s key TEFL job providers, and it certainly boasts many of the top exotically-enticing destinations,  however, it’s also the planet’s riskiest area in terms of natural disasters, with almost one million lives lost over the last two decades in earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, etc. Certainly, not all of the continent sees prospective TEFLers scrambling for jobs, and indeed, not all of Asia even offers any kind of employment in the English language teaching field – for example, few if any TEFLers will be heading off to Pakistan or Bangladesh any time soon; however, Japan and China are both highly popular TEFL destinations and high-risk nations for earthquakes and tsunamis. And who can forget the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami which lambasted the coasts of Southeast Asian nations, including TEFL-friendly Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, with gargantuan, life-destroying waves?

Reggio_and_Messina_earthquake_1783

Reggio and Messina earthquake of 1783

 

THE VOLCANIC TEMPRAMENT OF ITALY

 

The temptation might be to stick to closer-to-home destinations, however, if you’re assuming that the biggest risk you’d be running in Italy would be spending all your wages on heartbreakingly gorgeous leather goods, think again. The birth-place of the pizza – Naples – is, doubtlessly, a splendidly vibrant and lively city, however, it sits in the shadow of Vesuvius, the same deadly volcano which incinerated Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 A.D. and which, despite having erupted with ghastly regularity for many centuries, has been unnervingly quiet since 1944, when the last major eruption took place. The Italian authorities themselves have a rather baited-breath attitude to the volcano’s future activity, and have in place emergency plans for when, not if, a new eruption occurs. Something you might want to keep in mind, should a Neapolitan dolce vita be tempting you.

Nor does avoiding the Naples area resolve the Italian problem; Italy has another active volcano on land – Etna on the island of Sicily – and a multitude of under-sea ones just off the Italian coast. And if that weren’t enough, Italy, generally speaking, is rather ‘faulty’ – less to do with Fiat engines, and much more to do with the fact that it’s one of Europe’s most seismically active countries – there are geological faults all along the length of the Apennine mountains range, putting about half of the national territory at moderate-to-high risk of earthquakes. In fact, Italy was the site of Europe’s most powerful earthquake in recorded history, which, in 1908, destroyed the Sicilian city of Messina Strait, killing about 100,000 people.

THE ANATOLIAN BLOCK

Let’s assume that’s put you off Italy for good, and you’re considering one of TEFL’s newest top popular destinations, Turkey. How to break this to you? Unfortunately, Turkey has what geophysicists call the ‘Anatolian block’ – the meeting point of the Arabian Plate and the Eurasian Plate as they slowly but surely press against one another. These are not two stubborn goats in a head-butting play-off, but two massive chunks of the Earth’s crust trying to push the other out of the way, a challenge which is pretty much guaranteed to end, sooner or later, in the rupturing of some part of the Anatolian block, possibly (some believe quite probably) with an epicenter only some thirty miles or so from Istanbul.

Tectonic_Map_of_Turkey

The Anatolian Block

 

TEFLING – A JOB FOR EX-MARINES?

 

If you type ‘TEFL and natural disasters’ into a search engine, you will be served up with an industrial quantity of lesson plans and worksheets to use in-class with your students about natural disasters – what you won’t find are job offers worded along the lines of “Come teach in exciting [name of place]! Positions available for five strapping young teachers with a daredevil streak and an ability to run/swim/climb unusually fast (preferably with the equivalent weight of two medium-sized students strapped to their backs). Ex-Marines particularly welcome. Tefl certificate optional”, but, all things considered, perhaps we should.

SMOOTHIE MOVES TO GOOD HEALTH

SMOOTHIE MOVES TO GOOD HEALTH

“Let food by thy medicine”

 Hippocrates

Realistically, nobody wants to accumulate industrial quantities of kitchenware when they’re quite likely to be packing their suitcases and hopping on a plane to a new destination at the end of each year. You may even be the type of person who would consider the purchase of a wooden spoon as something decidedly superfluous. However, if you ever did get the urge to invest in something for the kitchen other than one-plate-one-fork-one knife-one-glass, one truly worthwhile little gadget which really deserves to be invested in is the blender.

 

Uh huh. And what is a blender exactly?

Well, it’s a largish, jug-shaped contraption with a blade thingy in its base, which smashes up fruit and veg, reducing it to a semi-liquid, pureed kind of consistency. The resulting mush is called a ‘smoothie’ these days.

For the uninitiated – what a blender looks like

 

Right. I can just about wrap my brain round that highly technical explanation, but why exactly do I need one, and why would I want to consume ‘mush’?

Well, to get straight to the point – smoothies are awfully useful in keeping fit and healthy.

 

How so?

Vitamins, minerals and fiber, associated with good health and a longer life expectancy, are to be found in fruit and vegetables, especially if consumed raw. And since most of us don’t consume the seven-a-day portions we’re supposed to, and since a blender allows you to cram huge amounts of fruit and vegetables into your body without it feeling like you’re stuffing yourself with foods you might not feel like or even like that much, using your blender to make home-made smoothies is a great way to make sure you’re getting the optimum amount of nutritional goodies.

 

Whoa! Back up a moment – seven-a-day? I thought it was five-a-day?

It was and it wasn’t. Five portions of fruit and vegetables were actually always indicated as the minimum daily in-take, but further research, carried out by University College London researchers using the Health Survey for England, has shown that it’s better if you down seven or more portions a day, if you want to reduce your death risk by at least 33%.

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You wish!

 

You’re beginning to sound like my mother. What if I don’t like fruit and vegetables enough to chomp my way through seven portions a day?

Enter the blender. I’ve been known to swallow an entire pineapple, a couple of kiwi, and several handfuls of berries in one sitting. When it’s all mushed up it sort of slips down the gullet almost without you noticing.  Quite different from masticating your way through a pile of the unblended stuff.

 

Ah, wait a minute. Pineapple, kiwi, and berries? What happened to the vegetables? Surely they’re as important as fruit?

Absolutely, and, in fact, you can blend them too!

 

A cabbage and spinach cocktail? Sounds delicious…

This is where imagination and creativity step in. EFL teachers are supposed to have these traits in industrial quantities. You can blend all sorts of healthy food-stuffs, and throw together the most amazing combinations of ingredients that taste really very pleasant even though some of the ingredients are of the less delicious type. In other words, just make sure you chuck in enough good-tasting elements to balance out the nasty ones.

 

Okay, fair enough, but what has this got to do with TEFLing?

Lots. When you go off on a fortnight’s holiday to a foreign land, your organism can get stressed out by the climatic and dietary changes. When you spend years of your life living in all sorts of climates and environments, your organism has to readjust time after time. The food might not be what you’re used to, or even familiar enough with to cook with. You might just end up eating out quite a lot with consequent higher risks of getting an upset tummy. What you’re provided in terms of medical coverage will not always be of the standard you’re probably used to. In other words, your health could take, if not an actual battering, a jolly good shake-up. Eating healthily is an awfully easy way of contributing to keeping yourself in good health.

Fruit_page_1214-1215

Some you’ll have to peel, some you can chuck in as it is

 

Sounds a bit health-freaky to me. I don’t even like cooking junk-food, much less peeling and chopping piles of fruit and veg.

Well, that’s the point – it takes very, very little time – only a few minutes. Plus, there’s no actual cooking. You just fill up the jug with roughly chopped fruit and vegetables, and press the ‘on’ button. Couldn’t be easier. And actually, there’s no need to reduce your ingredients into tiny, regular pieces – experiment with your blender and you’ll see how it can actually cope fine with quite large chunks. Also, there’s no need to peel everything – for example, I chuck apples and plums in with their peel. Just wash them properly first. Oh, but for God’s sake peel kiwis and lychees.

 

So, you just chuck assorted chunks into the blender and Bob’s your uncle?

More or less. You’ll need a bit of liquid, otherwise your mush will be solid enough to stand a spoon up in. You can use ice-cubes, yoghurt, or – something I like – a handful of frozen berries. You can add water if you like. It depends how runny you like it.

 

Okay, so give us a recipe then.

Well, okay. But first let me give you a list of suggestions for ingredients to use. Half the fun is actually experimenting with combinations, and although not every single smoothie you’ll ever make will be like nectar of the gods, some will be absolutely delicious. Honest injun.

 

  • Fruit – apples, bananas, plums, peaches, melon, watermelon, papaya, mango, strawberries, raspberries, avocado pears, pineapple, etc.

  • Fruit juices – citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, limes, grapefruits squeezed (do not throw into the blender whole or you’ll end up eating the bitter peel) and the juice of pomegranates

  • Vegetables – lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, watercress, carrots, beetroot, kale, baby spinach, fennel, bean-sprouts, zucchini, celery, etc.

  •  Dairy – yoghurt, milk, laban (Eastern yoghurty drink)

  • Herbs and spices – fresh mint, parsley, basil, ginger, cumin, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.

  • Oh! And you can even chuck in honey, nuts, dried fruits, muesli and, well, just about anything. Not chips though – healthy anythings.

veggies

Think salady-type vegetables and you won’t go wrong

 

Okay…so just how much do these things cost?

Actually, not very much at all. Although prices will vary from country to country, the following link will give you an idea. As you can see they start from about £23, though there’s even one listed on there which only costs a tenner (£10).

 http://www.which.co.uk/home-and-garden/small-appliances/reviews/jug-blenders/

 

And the recipe…?

The Internet is full not only of smoothie recipes, but of entire web-sites dedicated to them. Should your TEFL imagination let you down, you can always have a look at them. But here’s one to get you started.

 

half a banana

one small cucumber

a handful of strawberries

3 slices of melon

a few fresh mint leaves

 

So, there you go – happy mushing!

berries