Have you ever done something, had it go wrong, and then say ‘I KNEW I should have done x’? We live in a very mind-centric society, where rationale, logic and thinking are highly valued. We’ve been trained to ignore our innate wisdom, but most of us can relate to that sense of kicking ourselves because we ignored some sort of inner voice. Personally, I’ve only ever really messed up when I’ve done just that and ignored my intuition. When I’ve heeded that sense, even when I’ve no idea where it’s leading me, it’s never let me down.
Let’s break down that word, intuition. In – tuition: inner – teacher. It’s the deep part of you that knows what you need. It’s got very little to do with your mind and your ability to analyse and rationalise. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a downer on the human mind – it’s an extraordinary tool that enables us to plan, function and generally make things happen, and positive use of the mind-body connection can yield extraordinary results. We’d be totally adrift without our minds – but they are great servants and terrible masters.
In the yoga tradition, we say that a human being is made up of five aspects. We call them the ‘koshas’, and they’re often depicted like those Russian dolls which stack inside each other. To better understand the idea of intuition, lets take a closer look at those five aspects.
1 – Annamaya kosha: the physical aspect. This one we’re all very familiar with; it’s your body, your anatomy, your human-suit, the flesh and bones that you walk around in all day and sleep in at night.
2 – Manomaya kosha: the mental aspect. This is your mind; your central computer, your thinker.
3 – Pranamaya kosha: the energetic aspect. Prana means ‘energy’, and so this aspect is all about how you use that. It’s your physiology, so all the systems of the body like circulation, digestion, immunity, the nervous system (which is millions of tiny electrical impulses) and so on. It’s how you use your energy – whether you feel raring to go, alert but peaceful, or depleted and totally knackered. On a slightly subtler level, it’s the sense you get and give with other people – we all know energy vampires who leave us feeling drained, and conversely those people who leave us feeling uplifted.
4 – Vijnanamaya kosha: intuitive aspect. This is where things get subtler and very interesting, and it’s what we’re talking about today. This aspect is all about whether you trust your inner self and act on that; whether you are aware of the feelings but tend to ignore them; or whether you’re not really attuned to them at all. NOTE: if you fall into the latter camp, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have intuition; just that you haven’t yet learnt how to tune in.
5 – Anandamaya kosha: blissful aspect. This is the ‘highest’ kosha, and it’s all about pure consciousnesss; pure joy (as distinct from pleasure). In its simplest form, it’s about doing the things you really love to do; things that light you up, that let you feel whole and make you forget time. Again, it’s a state of being which always exists within us, and through a sustained yoga and meditation practice which addresses ALL the koshas, we gradually gain greater access to it.
But let’s go back to number 4, our intuition. How can we recognise it? How can we distinguish it from the chatter of our minds, from the analysing of our intellect, and from the primal pull of our instincts?
First let’s look at instinct. Instinct is not intuition. Instinct is absolutely vital, and we’d be in pretty poor shape without it, but it’s not the same as intuition. Instinct is the reflex arc of your nervous system when you pull your hand away from a hot plate; it’s the grab of a child before they run into the road; it’s the quickening of your heart and priming of your body to run when you sense that you’re being followed. Instinct is absolutely primal, and its job is to keep us alive. It’s not always that dramatic, but it is generally driven by fear. When I got the call for something that I felt seriously challenged by in my professional life, I was scared and my immediate reaction was ‘NO!’ However, I also noticed that my heart rate had shot up and my muscles were tensing, and I called that bad boy out as fear. I went on to accept the offer and it was a great success. Had I confused that panicked ‘NO!’ with intuition, I would have missed out on something fantastic.
So what about our intellect? Well, intellect is not intuition either. Intellect is all that we’ve learnt, both formally and as life lessons. It’s the ability to analyse and learn from a situation, the better to produce more favourable results in the future. It’s the cognitive function of connecting the dots and seeing patterns, and it’s what has made humans so successful, in many ways, as a race. We are very, very clever. (Note: this is absolutely not the same thing as being wise!)
Nor is intuition the chatter of our minds. The day-to-day internal running monologue can take on many different tones, depending on your relationship with yourself. It can be pretty damn nasty at times if you’re struggling with low self-esteem; equally it can be chirpy and encouraging if you’re on friendly terms with yourself. Either way though, it’s not intuition.
So if it’s not all those things, what IS this elusive intuition?
Your intuition is the quiet voice which is there when you learn to steady your mental functions, and there is one huge giveaway marker which identifies it every time.
With intuition, there is no sense of urgency.
I’ll say that again, because it’s the master key: with intuition, there is no sense of urgency. There is just a quiet knowing: a sense of ‘yes’ or ‘this one’ or ‘that way’.
The tricksy bit is that the intuitive voice, when you first start working with it, is very quiet and often drowned out by its noisier cousins of instinct, intellect and mind. But there are definite, practical ways which can lead you to gradually establish a greater awareness of that inner teacher, and I’m sure it will come as no surprise that they are the tools of yoga.
Yoga works on each one of the aspects we’ve talked about, and gives us access to the more subtle aspects of ourselves. We start with our physical ‘asana’ practices, of movements and poses combined with specific ways of breathing. This not only develops a healthier, stronger, more flexible, more comfortable body (annamaya kosha), but the deep inhales bring in vital energy in the form of optimum oxygen intake, and the full exhales stimulate the relaxation response of the nervous system (pranamaya kosha). At the same time, the concentration of combining movements with our breathing means that we become more focused, and the mental chatter begins to abate (manomaya kosha). That’s the entry point to connecting with our quiet inner voice of intuition (vijnanamaya kosha). When we have settled the mind chatter somewhat, we can engage with the quieter yogic practices of guided relaxation, yoga nidra, and meditation. With the mind no longer frantically rushing around trying to fix everything and yell at everyone, we can start to feel our true selves and hear our inner teacher. It’s like someone drilling outside your window, and then stopping; the sound of the leaves rustling and the birds singing was always there, it was just impossible to hear them over the drilling! With practice, we begin to experience a greater sense of pure consciousness and inner peace, free from judgement, resistance and attachment, on a more frequent basis (anandamaya kosha). In this way, a regular yoga practice unites us with all aspects of ourselves.
There are two other, simple ways which I find useful for connecting with my intuition, and they are ‘checking in’, and journalling.
Checking in is as simple as standing still for a few long, full breaths, feeling your feet on the floor, your clothes on your skin, and asking yourself: what am I feeling right now? (Full disclosure: it took me years to distinguish between thinking and feeling, but if a brainiac like me can get there, then I assure you that you can too!) Just notice what’s going on for you, become aware of your emotions and know that whatever you’re feeling is ok. It’s not right or wrong; it just is.
If you like writing, then journalling is a really lovely way of connecting with your inner self. Don’t censor yourself – it doesn’t have to be Yeats and no-one else is going to read it. Just write down whatever’s going on with your internal weather, doodle, whatever you feel – the one guideline for these purposes is that you stick to feelings, and avoid intellectualising and thinking and writing lists of pros and cons! That has its place, but it’s not helpful when we’re trying to connect with intuition.
I must add one caveat: all this stuff is great, life-changing, revolutionary – but it only works if you actually do it. No-one else can do the work for you. There’s no magic wand that any teacher can wave to get you in touch with your intuition, and you alone have to put the time in. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time – 10 minutes, 3 times a week will yield far greater progress than a yoga workshop once every few months, and consistency is key.
Some people naturally have a far greater connection to their intuition than others, and they’ll already be using it even if they’re not particularly aware of putting it in these terms. But if that’s not you and you don’t yet have that connection, rest assured, if you put the work in, the layers will gradually fall away, and you will begin to hear that quiet, wise part of you which always knows what you need.
So: if that part of you had something to say to you now: what might that be?