Where do you find answers to your major life decisions? (Besides HuffPo, of course.) Hopefully you have a few trusted friends. Maybe your family still gives good advice. Obviously you have Google. But at some point aren’t you tired of digesting everyone else’s advice? Where’s your intuition?
When I started doing yoga, right after college, I had a secret hope that it might help me figure out what to do with my life. Figuring out your major is not the same thing as figuring out your career. Regular exercise, meditating, and reading philosophy were perfect strategies for those confused years. (You can call it a spiritual search if you want; I don’t use that word because it implies the presence of a spirit, and then we have to argue about where the spirit lives.)
So I practiced. And practiced. And waited for my intuition to reveal itself. Should I take the job at that startup? Should I move to San Francisco? I knew that if I just kept at it, things would become clear.
But I was still confused. Overwhelmed with the options / opportunities of New York. Unsure which path I should take. When was that email from my subconscious going to arrive?
One late night, in a bout of insomnia, I realized something. Intuition is never going to be an LED screen, sending text messages: "YOU SHOULD QUIT YOUR JOB." Unable to sleep because you don’t want to wake up and go to work the next day — how obvious do the physical signals have to be? Intuition is not all located inside your thick skull.
Once I started listening, I found answers everywhere. Some were quiet, some were loud. Here are five flags I learned to trust.
- Gut ache. Not as romantic as heartache, for sure, but way more useful. Did you know that one half of all our nerve cells are located in the gut? You have as many neurotransmitters there as you do in your brain. Your gut produces 95% of the serotonin in your body, and can function even if it’s detached from the spinal cord. (Read The Second Brain, by Michael Gershon, for more details.) So listen up! If it’s churning, aching, or fluttering, it’s not just indigestion. It’s Morse code.
- Insomnia. My worst enemy / my best teacher. I teach yoga, so people are surprised that I get insomnia. But when I can’t sleep, it usually means I have something to say. Getting up and writing clears a lot of things up.
- Cursing. If you have an exuberant desire to use expletives in your descriptions of something, you’re close to a nerve. (I mean explosions of enthusiasm more than expressions of bravado.) When you literally can’t find the right words, there’s something nonverbal going on. Or you have a bad vocabulary.
- Glee. A light heart is a peaceful one. Expansion across the chest, walking on air, genuine laughter… all of these point towards true north. Getting the giggles can also be a release of pent-up energy. I had a friend who couldn’t stop laughing as he dreamed about his own menswear line. It was something close to his heart, that he hadn’t found a way to express yet.
- Breathing. The movement of breathing affects all our systems, in an intimate way, so it can be a habit to hold the breath and avoid stirring things up. Some people siphon or hoard the breath, holding their emotions at bay. Relaxed breathing is a good sign that you’re at peace internally.
These physical cues really lit up my path. Phrases like "finding your passion" didn’t click for me; was Fabio waiting somewhere? Finding my gut was a little easier.
What took me so long to realize this? An overdeveloped rational side. As TED talker Ken Robinson says, “as children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side.” Most schools don’t give credit for hunches. Or handstands.
Why else is intuition important? Just read this article about luck in the Telegraph. A British psychologist did ten years of interviews with people who felt they were "lucky" or "unlucky."
“Unlucky people often fail to follow their intuition when making a choice, whereas lucky people tend to respect hunches. Lucky people are interested in how they both think and feel about the various options, rather than simply looking at the rational side of the situation. …gut feelings act as an alarm bell — a reason to consider a decision carefully.”
Feeling is smart. It’s no longer owned by women on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Body awareness is another form of intelligence. In fact, some other cultures say that the center of consciousness is located in the gut, or the heart, not the brain. And, as our culture speeds up, intuition is increasingly valuable. We can barely respond to all our email, let alone predict the future. Agile awareness is a huge professional asset. And your center of balance is closer to your hips than your head.
So. A few (ok, a lot of) goofy yoga poses turned out to be the perfect path to intuition. Sure, it took me a while to realize I just hadn’t been listening... but going is half the battle, right?