I was 22 when I began to understand the importance of my own intuition. There was a woman at the church I attended who asked if she could mentor me, and I obliged even though I felt uncomfortable around her. After a few months of verbal abuse that I can only categorize as sexual and spiritual harassment, I learned that I wasn't the first young woman she had asked to "mentor." I ended up in therapy and discovered that my body and mind had tried to warn me about this woman before the harassment had ever begun — but I had chosen to not listen.
"Intuition is important for a number of reasons," explains counseling psychologist and author Stephanie Clanton. "It can warn us of potentially harmful situations, like a yellow flag that tells us to proceed with caution. Moreover, it can nudge us to pay attention to a situation or person that may need more care from us."
Clanton should know. She specializes in working with women and teens who have survived abuse, including those who have difficulty connecting with their instincts, intuition and emotions following the trauma. Many of her clients are leery of paying attention to their feelings and intuition because they perceive that their emotions were the source of their pain. "Oftentimes I think the problem is not so much that people ran with their intuition and emotions, but that they dismissed it," she says. "When people know how to pay attention to it and use it correctly, intuition is empowering. It teaches us that we can trust ourselves and our bodies."
Not sure where to start? Clanton says that connecting to your intuition is simpler than many people imagine. It starts with slowing down, taking stock of how your body feels and paying attention to your environment, sensations and emotions. She suggests the following activities to begin reconnecting with your internal self.
A yoga DVD may be helpful, but an actual class where the instructor can assist you to connect with the poses is an excellent way to find grounding in the present moment.
A hike isn't just a walk down a busy city street. Find solitude on a trail, and pay close attention to the sights you see and the thoughts that are buzzing through your brain.
The tactile nature of artwork helps practitioners connect to their bodily sensations and emotions, since art doesn't require any verbal structure.
Try to breathe in a way that makes your belly rise and fall, rather than just your chest cavity. Breathe in for five seconds, hold, and then exhale for five seconds. You can also try inhaling while you flex your muscles and exhaling while you relax them.
Just write, and do so without self-judgment. Words on a page have a way of giving life to the feelings and intuition you have inside yourself.
Horses are extremely responsive to your inner state. In fact, they'll only trust you if your internal feelings match your external presence. Horseback riding — or simply spending time with a horse — is thereby an excellent way to connect with your inner self.
Finally, an experienced counselor or social worker can provide excellent insight into your emotions and instincts. A trusted person who can help you read your responses may give you the skills you need to understand what your intuition is trying to tell you.
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