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The Yoga, Science, and Magic of Intuition


As a child, growing up under the wise shadow of Bryant Mountain, I had an intense and unusually long connection with my imaginary friends. When making decisions (what to name a new calf, where to build a fort, which plants were good to eat), I’d close my eyes and listen. Their voices would slip off the wind, or rise out through the earth, out of holes in trees, and without question, I believed their words to be true. As my family life shifted beneath me, and we relocated into town, with neighboring houses on both sides and rules for how we could trim our bushes, I was also taught to think for myself; to grow up, and make real friends, with real bodies, and “real voices.” So I stopped listening. But as I learned to be skeptical of anything unproven by science, I could not help but wonder where those voices came from.

How many times have you heard in a yoga class to “feel into a pose,” or “to listen to what your body wants”? When I started going to yoga, seven years after leaving my home in the mountains, I hated these phrases. I rolled my eyes. How could my body have something to say? Flesh, blood, and bone can’t have emotions of their own. But the more I went to class, and the more I sat in silence, a strange thing started happening: there was a voice, separate from my thoughts, that started whispering. The less I spoke, the more I listened, new layers of my own body became more familiar to me. Not as something separate from my thoughts, but intricately linked to them. It was so familiar, so very much like the invisible friends of my childhood. It wasn’t until very recently, that a teacher gave name and validation to this voice.

Everyone has the ability to tap into their intuition—it’s just a matter of cultivating the confidence to hear it, and listen to it. Researchers have found that intuition originates in our limbic or “reptilian” part of our brain. It is quick, instinctual, and often subconscious, which is why our intuition does not always make rational sense to us. This part of the human brain was developed in pre-historic times, when our species experienced much more external threat (such as getting eaten or attacked). Because we generally do not live in this kind of environment anymore, many people on the planet today have no idea how to access this deeply primal “sixth sense” or even know that it exists. The practice of yoga helps us to become comfortable and aware in the present moment, to be open and receptive to all of our surroundings, all of which can help us to re-engage and remember the magic of our intuition.

Yoga is a practice of unlocking this internal wisdom, this inner knowing, within our body, mind, and spirit. How often have you felt drawn to someone or something, and not known why? How often does your gut tell you something contradictory to what your conscious brain says? How often do you follow that gut feeling?

Science describes intuition as our mind’s process of drawing upon past experiences and external cues to make a decision, but one that happens so quickly that it is at a non-conscious level. Our minds are a storage house of all of our past experiences and memories; even sub-consciously, we remember what happened, and we remember the outcome.[1] There are several studies that now argue that, in various ways, we also carry the stored emotions and experiences of our ancestors (such as in the cases of the children of holocaust survivors, who across the board experience more anxiety in daily life than those without a traumatic ancestral past[2]). In intuitive moments, we unconsciously assess a situation, comparing it with past experiences, and predict an outcome.

This is where the importance of being present and aware, and the importance of yoga, comes into play. Lars-Erik Bjorklund, who spent many years of his life studying the science of intuition, says, “It can be a matter of smells, gestures, an ineffeable combination of impressions that makes what we call intuition tell us something.” [3] This implies that in order to cultivate intuition as our sixth sense, we must be fully aware of our primary five senses: sight, touch, smell, sound, and taste.

What is fascinating is that research has shown that our intuition often knows the answer to a problem, or is aware of a threat, long before out conscious mind does. In one study, researchers had their subjects play a card game, in which the goal was to win the most money[4]. The subjects were told to choose from two stacks of cards. What the subjects did not know what that one stack was rigged to provide big wins followed by big losses, while the other was set up to provide small wins, but nearly no losses. After about 50 cards were drawn, the subjects said that they had a gut feeling which stack of cards was safer, but couldn’t say why until after 80 cards were drawn. However, it only took 10 cards before the sweat glands on the subjects’ palms began to open slightly every time they reached for the “dangerous” stack. The study also shows that after only 10 cards, the subjects began to favor the safer deck without even knowing that they were doing it. This shows that the sub-conscious mind, and human intuition, knows before the conscious brain which situation is better, and will guide us in that direction.

As mentioned before, many people in the world today do not value or even recognize the existence of their intuition. When our intuition is blocked, we limit ourselves and our abilities to what we consciously “know.” Other studies have found that, when making major life choices, trusting your intuition leads to better outcomes than by relying solely on your rational, thinking brain. Research shows that car buyers who spent lots of time obsessing over all of the information about their various car choices, later end up to be satisfied with their choice only 25% of the time. Whereas, the car buyers who made a quick, intuitive decision about which car to choose were satisfied with their choice 60% of the time. [5] What if we allowed our inner voices to guide our own healing? What if, when sick or injured, we asked out bodies, mind, and spirit what it needs? These statistics show us that our intuition can know what is best for us, better and quicker than external sources.

Take a moment to watch how children navigate their lives. Very rarely do they spend more time thinking out a situation than necessary, if any at all. Their heart, their gut, their intuition sends them all the information they need, and they follow it. Unfortunately, our western society is primarily focused on rational thinking and problem solving, and around ages 4 or 5 years old, we are often trained that our intuitive thinking needs to be controlled and adapted.

But what if this wasn’t the case? What if we allowed our children to hold onto that invisible voice, to trust and learn and grow alongside it? What if our culture did not dismiss the magic that churns within us from the day we are born? What if this is the missing link in modern healing practices? It is not too late to begin.

By exposing ourselves to our inner wisdom, and developing our deep sense of intuition, we can become more sensitive to the intuitive signs and symbols that show up every day, guiding and healing us along our path. Create space in your life for times of calm and stillness, of tender listening and feeling, and your implicit memory will become more vibrant and saturated. Pay attention to your dreams, because this is when your sub-conscious mind is allowed to speak the loudest. Allow the voice of your inner wisdom to guide you, and this magic medicine will begin to reveal itself.

[1] University of Leeds. "Go With Your Gut -- Intuition Is More Than Just A Hunch, Says New Research." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 March 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080305144210.htm>.

[2] The epigenetic inheritance theory holds that environmental factors can affect the genes of future generations.

[3] Linköping University. "Intuition Can Be Explained." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 July 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080701135820.htm>.

[4] "Deciding Advantageously before Knowing the Advantageous Strategy." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 28 Feb. 1997

[5] "On Making the Right Choice: The Deliberation-without-attention Effect." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 17 Feb. 2006.

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PORTLAND, OR