It’s been said countless times: The hardest part of yoga is getting on your mat. Everyone’s reasons for wanting to practice yoga are different, but the challenge to get on the mat is familiar to all. Whether you’re mustering up courage, finding time to practice, or haven’t considered yoga to be useful, the biggest hurdle to reaping the rewards yoga offers is getting on the mat. It’s difficult to imagine what will happen once you start practicing yoga, but you won’t know until you do. Yoga cultivates your intuitive abilities. Merriam-Webster defines intuition as “a natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence; a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why”. This ability is innate, and this article explores five ways yoga can help you cultivate your intuition.
[bctt tweet="Do the thing, and you shall have the power"]
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Our body has an intuitive way of protecting itself by tensing certain areas under stress. We tighten the hip flexors, neck, shoulders, and jaw, to name a few. Evolutionarily, our hip flexors would engage when faced with life-or-death stressors, such as the threat of being eaten by an animal, allowing us to flee by running quickly. This is just one example of a “fight-or-flight” response in the body. Nowadays, our body barely differentiates life-or-death stress from everyday stress. Falling behind on bills, a bad review at work, or a relationship break up can cause the same stress and tightening in the body it did when we were being attacked by predators. The body releases cortisol, the stress hormone, to spring into survival mode. Unfortunately, our body releases it even when we don’t need to be in survival mode. Cortisol has been scientifically shown to have detrimental effects on our health when released in excess. It becomes toxic in the body.
Women tend to carry resistance, tension, built-up emotions, sexual trauma and stress in the hips because women tend to embody the “nurturer” role. This can cause low back and sciatic nerve pain, abdominal and fertility issues, ulcers, menstruation issues, and more. The stuck energy turns to pain, discomfort, or injury when not dealt with properly. Men typically carry this residue in the neck and shoulders because they are the “strong protectors”. This leads to tightness and lack of blood flow to the chest, causing a myriad of health and heart problems. Additionally, we all carry stresses in various parts of the body based on personality, awareness of stress responses in the body, lifestyle or occupation, mental health, and so on.
The physical practice of yoga washes out stuck stress energy from the body that accumulates from old injuries, toxins stored in our cells, or emotional baggage, as examples. Many teachers refer to yoga poses as “situations”, because we experience a variety of reactions during poses, just like in life situations. Some situations we love (some “poses” we love) while some situations cause distress and anxiety (some “poses” can evoke distress and anxiety). Yoga is a metaphor for life in that we purposefully put ourselves in these “situations” so we can practice handling them effectively, safely and consciously. Through yoga, we sense the perceived importance or lack of importance of life’s situations. By learning to make safe, positive decisions for our body in the moment and by identifying and releasing resistance and tension, we intuitively make decisions that serve us in life.
When you’re in a “situation” in yoga you dislike, you start to notice where you tense up, where you resist exploring, or when you want to escape. Your breath shortens and emotions arise such as anger or frustration. These are clues to stuck energy or trauma, and indications of the postures where we need to work on remaining calm and sending breath to the stuck areas, on releasing the tension in that area and in our neck and jaws, on staying grounded, safe and present, and on safely exploring our edge. When we are able to achieve these qualities in each pose, no matter our “skill” level, we are practicing yoga.
Yoga “situations” that target the gut region will aid in cultivating your intuitive skills by detoxing this area. Lower abdomen twists, squats, chair pose, chair twists and binds will allow you to engage your core center and wring out the negative energy and toxins from your gut. Detoxing the residue in the gut, or the intuitive center, is healthy for the body and the mind. Keeping this area clean and flowing aids with digestion and elimination and supports a healthy bacterial population. A healthy functioning digestive system is essential to proper mental functioning and overall health. You can imagine what would happen if you never took out the trash or cleaned the trashcan. The backup starts to putrefy and smell, creating toxic bacteria. This is what happens inside the gut if digestion and elimination are backed up. Ever heard the term, “Go with your gut feeling?” It’s hard to feel when the gut is bogged down with toxic waste!
The physical fallout of not being conscious of the stress responses in our body and not healing our bodies through a daily practice is that it causes us to dis-integrate, quite literally. We think of “disintegrating” as dissolving but I think of it as the inability to integrate all the parts of our Self – the difficulties we experience mentally, emotionally, socially, and so forth lead to a breakdown of our physical body, inside and out, when allowed to reside in the body. Instead, yoga teaches us to activate our body’s intuitive sense of identifying when a true stress is occurring or when we can relax and soften, and what each feels like in the body. We learn to breath through difficult times and cleanse the body of the negative energy and toxins. We learn to take our power back to heal our body physically from the hands of doctors, chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists and other “specialists” we expect to heal us. We arm ourselves with the knowledge and skills to protect our body from being injured in the first place and become our own “specialist”.
Science has now confirmed the acupuncture meridian system. At the Necker Hospital in Paris, in a joint study with the Cytology Laboratory at the Military Hospital, a radioactive tracer was injected into acupuncture points and then photographed with a gamma camera. The pathways were that of the acupuncture meridian system. The meridian pathways carry energy all throughout the body and it connects seemingly unrelated systems to one another. You might think that healing old injuries isn’t important to your overall health, but even small energetic blockages, like from a broken finger, can lead to dis-integration in other areas. In yoga, we focus on strengthening and increasing flexibility in every part of the body, including the fingers, toes, wrists, and other seemingly unimportant areas, to support fresh energy and blood flow and to prevent injury and illness.
In Western medicine, we segregate the body and go to specialists for certain ailments. The creation of the specialist in medicine has caused us to cease viewing the individual as a functioning whole, and instead as separate parts or systems. Diseases and cancer don’t just happen in one area of the body. The whole body breaks down and the toxicity manifests as a disease in the weaker organs or systems that we neglected through our lifestyle choices, but the entire body is affected. Disease can be seen as dis-ease in the body, or a lack of comfort and ease. The word Yoga comes from the Sanskirt word “yuj”, meaning “unite” or yoke”. The practice teaches us to integrate all the seemingly separate parts of our Self so we can find “ease”, preventing disease, injury, and pain. We balance strength and flexibility, enabling us to intuitively protect ourselves throughout the day.
Just like our body, our mind doesn’t want to be tight or weak. It happens through years of neglect. If you have pain in a particular part of the body, it’s common to disengage completely from that area to cope with or “medicate” the pain and discomfort. This is an analgesic or hypnotic effect our mind plays on us to enable us to get work done or to get through the day. The pain inevitably returns at varying frequencies in different situations. The disengagement from this area of the body can lead to further injury, as we unconsciously place added stress on it or tighten muscles around the area to protect it, injuring joints, ligaments, and muscles. Disengagement causes us to lose touch with systems of our body, which has a “turning off” effect of parts of the brain that communicate with these different body systems. Inevitably, this damages our intuitive ability to do what’s healthy in each moment.
In yoga, instead, we activate and communicate with all parts and systems of the body. We check in with our “gut” on what is right for us, both on and off the mat. When we’re not turning inward for connection and answers, we feel dis-integrated, and we typically seek connection through outside stimuli such as social media or the television, allowing our heart and our intuition to be drowned out by the voices of others. A yoga practice helps us quiet the voices of others so we can find the answers from within. As we learn to turn inward, we cultivate our intuition, our instinct, and our intelligence.
Many difficult emotions arose for me when I started yoga. I used to look around at the other students in class with anger and disbelief at their apparent ease with the practice. “How the bleep are they doing that?? I hate this teacher!” I said expletives in my head the majority of the time. For months, I showed up for class and wanted to yell at everyone in the room for pretending it was so easy. When the teacher would tell me to breathe through the discomfort and release the tension in my face and neck, it made me angrier.
Then, one day, it clicked that this why we practice. The anger, the tension in my face, and the feelings of attachment were residual issues being worked through and released, which would ease with practice. I was doing the hard work necessary to rid myself of all the negativity I was experiencing. I still encounter these emotions to varying degrees but the way I experience and handle them is different. Putting myself in a stressful situation evokes old residue and allows me to wash it away safely. Through my practice, I notice and label emotions I was experience. Then I practice confronting them safely and letting them go. Old, toxic emotions don’t serve the body. They get in the way of choosing what’s right for our true self because they cloud our judgment. On the mat, we can safely identify and examine which emotions and reactions paralyze us and don’t serve us in any moment, and learn to let them go.
You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself.
– Alan Alda
5. Spiritually and through Chakras
The Chakra that gets activated when focusing on wringing out the gut center or the intuition center is the 3rd Chakra, which is located in the solar plexus. The area defines our self-esteem and houses our ego. Dysfunction within this area (or “dis-ease” or “dis-integration”) causes a person to have difficulty obtaining and maintaining their personal power. Intuition stems from this chakra and it’s where we get our “gut instincts” that inform us which choice to make. Through cleansing this Chakra, we foster self-esteem, which is necessary to develop intuitive skills.
Following your path takes courage. You go against people’s wishes for you at times, say ‘no’ to things that don’t serve you, and confront your demons and the demons in others. We can call upon the power and wisdom of those before us to guide us on our path. We practice our technique of facing the world and all the perceived challenges it brings through the postures. In the warrior postures, we practice opening our chest and heart, engaging our core, grounding ourselves firmly, and calming and slowing our breath, emulating a courageous and conscious warrior on the battlefield of life. We gain the courage and confidence to choose decisions that serve us, regardless of what the voices inside and outside ourselves say. The voice of our intuition sounds like our own voice, just calm, collected, and sure. Worry, doubt, logic, and reason are all chatter that fills the mind and drowns out our intuition, so we do the work to quiet those voices that are not our own.
[bctt tweet="Say ‘no’ to things that don’t serve you, and confront your demons and the demons in others."]
Learning to listen to your intuition can be challenging at first. Your intuition may tell you to take a turn that you do not understand. Listening to my intuition has taught me that there is a flow to allowing those waters to sweep you into a mysterious world in which things somehow work out in surprising ways.
– Rosemary Eads