Call it gut instinct or a hunch, but all of us are born with a sense of intuition.
It can save your life or steer you away from a destructive relationship. It’s all about how to listen to it and eventually follow its guidance. Dr Sayantani Mukerjee, consultant psychiatrist at Columbia Asia Hospital in Pune, says that intuition is a sum total of our subconscious signals. “There are a lot of things we process subconsciously that get filtered through the conscious mind and remain in the primal parts of the brain.” She says that when we get an intuitive signal, it’s like information from our subconscious brain falling into place just like pieces in a puzzle.
However, sometimes what we think is intuition could just be an impulse. So how does one know that it’s real intuition that’s giving us a warning signal? Dr Mukerjee talks about the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis) that sets off a series of very physical signals. “You could get a bad feeling accompanied by physical symptoms like a flutter in the heart, a jolt in the stomach.” This is because of the subconscious information in your brain. A paper published in 2008 in Science Daily on the subject of intuition gives the example of an F1 driver who suddenly felt an urge to brake midway. When he braked it saved his life because up ahead was a huge accident where cars were piled up. When he underwent a forensic analysis, psychologists showed him his video footage to understand why he had that sudden urge or ‘instinct’ to brake. In hindsight, the driver realised that the way the crowds were screaming, or the direction in which they were looking was highly abnormal. Therefore, he got the signal from his subconscious to stop.
With such extreme benefits, it would be amazing to have a strong sense of intuition. “The ancient yogis through their meditation were trying to expand their consciousness and intuition,” says Dr Mukerjee. “To follow your instincts, you have to free your mind of bias, logic and opinions of your mother and the media,” she says. Secondly, she explains that you have to observe the signals around you and your own reactions. However, modern science provides no real method or practice to sharpen this sixth sense.
We spoke to Delhi-based vinyasa yoga master Bindiya Sabherwal about methods that can enhance your instincts. She echoes Dr Mukerjee’s thoughts by saying, “Intuition is something that comes from deep within, uninfluenced by someone else—it is the ultimate truth and the reality.” And while many people work on meditative practices to open up the intuitive mind, it all begins with kriya yoga according to Sabherwal. “By following kriya yoga you burn impurities, which leads to a clear mind.” The real need, she says, is to understand what is real and what isn’t. Unfortunately, in today’s world, we are all surrounded by an illusion of materialistic excess, and it is very easy to get lost into the outside world. “All of us are born with intuitive capabilities but we can only refine them by following yogic principles and looking inwards,” says Sabherwal. She talks about basic yogic ethics, principles and practices that will all together give you a strong sense of intuition.
These are the moral guidelines to practicing yoga. You don’t become a yogi just by practicing asana and breathing. You first need to follow these universal laws to really and truly become yogic. They are: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (speaking out truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing of things and even ideas), brahmacharya (practicing moderation or controlling physical impulses), and apigraha (using only what we need).
Once we follow the above ethics, it brings us to the five yogic practices. Shaucha (physical and mental cleanliness), santosha (contentment in what we have), tapas (self-discipline), svadhyaya (self-study, why we think and behave the way we do), and ishavara pranidhana (devotion and surrender to a higher power).
Following the act
After this you are ready for asana practice, pranayama and meditation. “You cannot meditate and hope to improve your intuition without following the yamas and niyamas because your mind will not be polished,” says Sabherwal. Once you practice making these changes in your behaviour, your intuition will already be enhanced because it will come from a place of truth and clarity. However, warns Sabherwal, polishing your intuition and following it are two different things. “It takes guts to even follow your inner guidance. So many times, we know that something is not good for us, but we still do it because it would make us unpopular with others.”