As a child I had strong intuition.  I felt things intensely.  I was open to the idea that there was more to us than just what we can label and see.  As an 8 or 9-year-old, I remember standing in the airport bathroom en route to ski in France.  I was wearing a yellow sweatshirt and I had not yet had braces, so my buck-toothed self locked eyes with my image in the mirror and realized that my body was separate from me – that there was a part of me that was not permanently tethered to my physical being.

This notion of something beyond was always present in my childhood.  My maternal grandmother, who was a huge part of my life until she died when I was pregnant with my first child, was psychic.  She found it hard and often not a positive force, since it was usually associated with death and danger.  She and I had a connection that extended beyond the realms of “science” – she knew when I had been involved in a serious accident before anyone else and was responsible for sparking the search to find me.  She and I would just know stuff about each other and laugh at the same things and I could tell her anything without fear of judgment.  She often knew things before they happened – plane crashes, serious diagnoses – and would joke with me that she would have been burned at the stake as a witch if she’d been born centuries earlier!

Yet, I pursued science doggedly – partly driven by my youthful thinking that I would return to study humanities as an adult, but I would not go back and study chemistry, math, biology, physics. Also, I suspect in hindsight, and as a mother of a tween, partly out of the black-white way that the young tend to view and comprehend the world.  So, as I grew, I focused on proof, the scientific method and moved away from intuition.  I argued with my religious studies teacher about passages from scripture and was the only person in class who did not raise her hand at the question “Do you believe in miracles?”  I rejected the notion of anything supernatural, spiritual and not grounded in science – except for my grandmother’s intuitive abilities, which I used to try and test in a scientific manner!  My education, which continued through a PhD in cognitive neuroscience continued in the strict realm of the scientific method, kept pulling me away from intuition.

My life has changed dramatically & I no longer believe in the purity of science.  Six months ago I separated from my partner of sixteen years and the father of my three children, sparking an even more intense period of self-reflection, that had started two years earlier. This journey of self-reflection began with my physical body requiring new focus as a result of the manifestation of years of stress and was further ignited by my cousin Mark’s diagnosis of cancer and eventual death in January 2014.  During the last two years I have been studying Ayurveda and have also continued my studies of Buddhism and Yoga.

These practices involve an inherent belief in intuition – whether it’s the understanding of the Koshas – the layers or sheaths of ourselves which we study in Yoga and Ayurveda and our attempts to gain understanding of the Fourth layer the Vijnanamayakosha (wisdom layer) which relates to our ego and intuition (my blog on koshas); the Vedic texts which defines intuition as Buddhi – individual knowledge, memory and consciousness; the deep listening to my body required for me to notice the deleterious but subtle effects that different foods – even ones like apples that are supposedly good for everyone – have on me; or the awareness in Buddhism that through meditation and other practices we can develop the intuitive discernment or spiritual awareness called Buddhi or Bodhi – awakening to the awareness.

So, I am now trying to trust my gut feelings about situations and people, which, interestingly is based in science!  The gut, or the “second brain” contains more neurons than either the spinal cord or peripheral nervous system and research is starting to support the ancient Ayurvedic notion that health in the gut is linked to psychological or mental health (95% of our serotonin – a neurotransmitter responsible for balancing mood – is found in our guts, for example).  Psychoneuroendocrinological research is starting to show that leaky guts are found in people with mood disorders.

What does this mean for me?  I am going to meditate.  Journal without agenda.  Ask myself a question as I fall asleep and see if I dream the answer, or awake with the knowledge.  Acknowledge the feelings I have about situations and people – as they bubble up.  I intend to continue the process of slowing down enough to let these feelings arise and to let myself pay attention to my intuition: a unique blend of my mind and body, which gives me valuable information.

Tamsin Astor-Jack, PhD writes at
©Tamsin Astor-Jack, Yoga Brained LLC