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awakening intuition through embodied practice

Our intuition is our gut instinct, our deeper knowing, Jung’s “perception via the unconscious,” which guides us when logical information isn’t enough. In my last blog, we discussed the ways in which our unconscious mind and body collect information that our conscious brain may not track. While some of this may feel relatively simple (such as recognizing that body language or “Freudian slips” convey important information that we call “intuition”), I don’t want to set aside the more mystical dimensions of the word.

Our intuition is like an inner guide strewing breadcrumbs through a mysterious forest. We don’t always see these clues, and when we do, we can doubt, or be confused! Our conscious mind can shy away from the darkness between the trees. I know in my own experience, there are times when my intuition has led me places that I couldn’t possibly have predicted. I felt called to take a particular class, which led me to a new career. Or I was compelled to ask a client a question that seemed strange or out of context, but which led to a deep insight (“it’s funny you should ask!” they say…).

I have learned that my intuition can feel like a “no” in my body, even when my mind thinks it should say “yes.” Sometimes it can feel irrational, impulsive, a little wild. Most importantly, I’ve learned that to ignore my intuition will inevitably lead to pain or a problem to be solved. The client I wasn’t sure I should take on, the teacher I wasn’t sure I should hire, the purchase I wasn’t sure I should make– my intuition was infallibly right.

For some of us, it can be hard to connect to our intuitive nature.

If we think of our intuition as a deeper, more primal way of knowing, then it’s easy to see how our culture has attempted to domesticate or tame this knowledge. From early childhood, we are not taught to listen to our inner wisdom, but to follow external authority about things like when to move, what to value, how to behave. Perhaps you can remember times when you were instructed to be affectionate toward someone that made you uncomfortable; to go along with the group when it didn’t feel right to you; to “hold it” when you had to use the bathroom. We learn to suppress our desires and ignore our embodied wisdom. We lose our connection to the inner voice that would guide us.

“We feed the deep intuitive self by listening to it and acting upon its advice…. it is like the muscles in the body. If a muscle is not used, eventually it withers. Intuition is exactly like that: without food, without employment, it atrophies.” -Clara Pinkola Estés , Women Who Run With the Wolves

Awakening the intuitive muscle

Remember, your intuition is unique to you, because it comes from the singular constellation of your psyche. The client who wasn’t right for me IS the right client for someone else. This isn’t about “right” or “wrong” so much as it is about guiding you forward. I say this to remind you that we can’t apply everyday logic to this often mysterious process. We train this muscle not by applying someone else’s rules– there’s no set number of “reps” here. Instead, engage it gently, curiously, and with a little wonder.

One way that I work with this is within the structure of a mindful movement practice. We can explore questions like:

  • What am I noticing in my body right now?

  • For some folks, it may be less of a body sense. Instead we can ask or notice, are there memories, images, or sounds that come to mind? Am I reminded of a song, or an experience?

  • How does this make me feel? Is there an impulse or idea that comes up?

  • If (this thing that I am noticing) had a voice, what would it want to do? How could I support it?

  • If given a choice between different types of movement, what “feels right” to me? As I explore that movement, what is the effect? How did that movement feel?

When we engage with ourselves in this way, our curiosity becomes a catalyst to awaken our intuitive “muscle.” We notice the internal validation we receive when we act on that intuition. For example, if I decide that today I would rather go for a long, slow walk rather than do a vigorous yoga practice, I might find that the slower pace allowed me to process my thoughts in a way that my yoga practice would not have done.

Gradually, the muscle builds. We begin to recognize the unique ways in which our intuition “speaks” to us. Notice when you feel things like, “that’s just what I needed,” or when you receive an inner feeling of relief, joy, and gratitude. Let yourself soak in that feeling. Each time we find another breadcrumb, we take a step further onto that mystical trail that only we are allowed to traverse– as unique as our own psyche, and rewarding in a way that is designed just for us. This is the treasure of the intuitive path.

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