Scientists have long theorized that man possessed a sixth sense. Much research suggests early man relied heavily upon a sixth sense—now more commonly called intuition—as a critical survival tool that the nomadic and warrior lifestyles demanded. It is theorized that man has become less in tune with this enhanced perception from the lack of necessity our urban and suburban lifestyles now require.

However, more recent research has better explained what intuition is and how it works. We aim to harness this knowledge and use intuition as a self-defense tool. Regardless of what martial arts style you practice—Krav Maga, Karate, Kung Fu, JuJitsu, Thai Boxing or MMA—intuition can enhance your first line of self defense: avoidance and escape.

It’s Not Just All in Your Head…

The notion of a sixth sense has become viewed almost as a mystical power through the likes of lore and movies (one even bearing the name). Skeptics write it off as luck or fortunate guesswork. But scientists who study the subject say it is a very real ability – an ability that can be identified in lab experiments and observed on brain scans.

The Body

Scientific evidence demonstrates that our instincts first manifest on a visceral level, telling us what we need to know well before our consciousness catches up. Indicators of this physical manifestation include: increased heart rate, perspiration, and a ‘stomach in knots’ feeling. For instance, scientists at the University of Iowa performed a study measuring the perspiration on people’s palms. Participants were asked to play a game, turning over cards from four different decks – winning or losing money based on the cards they drew. What the participants did not know was…the decks were rigged (two decks had more high-value cards, and two decks were stacked with losers).

Researchers discovered that players started generating stress responses to the bad decks—i.e. sweatier palms—within ten cards. Yet, they did not start suspecting that the decks were rigged until they had turned over approximately 50 cards, and not until 80 cards were revealed were they able to fully explain how the decks were stacked. In fact, their clammy hands were signaling suspicion long before their conscious minds made the connection. The body, not the mind, became aware of the difference after only 10 cards were revealed from the poorly rigged decks – 5-8 times faster than the mind.

The Gut

Dr. Deepak Chopra, neuro-endocrinologist and best selling author, studies the connection between our consciousness and physical body. He and his colleagues have found that our gut is actually it’s own nervous system, and potentially more powerful that our central nervous system.

He goes so far to say, “If you say ‘I have a gut feeling about such and such’ you’re not speaking metaphorically, you’re speaking literally. Your gut makes the same chemicals that your brain makes when it thinks.”

What I find most interesting is quite obvious—the nervous system in our gut doesn’t have the ability to doubt itself like our central nervous system does!

Hence the saying, “Trust your gut.”

The Eyes

Human eyesight seems rather straightforward—the eye receives images and the brain processes them. But we actually have two vision tracks—one conscious, the other intuitive—and as a result, the eye sees far more than we realize.

We absorb and retain visual information that doesn’t penetrate our conscious mind. Joy Hirsch, PhD, director of the MRI Research Center at Columbia University Medical Center, has shown that our brains react with anxiety to images of faces expressing fear—even when such images are flashed so quickly we have no idea we’ve seen them.

“The amygdala, which plays an important role in emotional processing, activates in response to these pictures even when they’re displayed for only 33 milliseconds—too fast to register in our conscious awareness,” says Hirsch. This reaction stems from our earliest origins; when our ancestors confronted a new situation, those who could quickly discern danger were more likely to survive.

Neuroscientist Beatrice de Gelder, PhD, recognizes the danger in ignoring this ‘ultra-sensory’ information. “Because we’re so dependent on our sense of sight, we are not accustomed to trusting our intuitive vision track. If you find yourself in a situation that is making you feel nervous, you may have spotted a reason for concern without even knowing it.  Pay attention to the sensation.”

The Nose

There is a logical reason we say that a bad idea doesn’t “pass the smell test.” Various experiments suggest that our nose plays a major role in certain judgments, even if we’re not aware of the scents we’re detecting.

Recently, Researchers in the Netherlands tested whether the feelings of ‘disgust’ and ‘fear’ could be communicated through smell. They had male participants watch portions of (a) horror movies or (b) disgusting graphic scenes while wearing sweat pads placed in the armpits. Then female volunteers smelled the sweat pads while researchers measured their facial responses to see if the expressions they made were indicative of fear or disgust.

In fact, the fear-stained sweat pads elicited the facial fear muscle response (Medial Frontalis), and the disgust-stained sweat pads elicited the disgust facial muscle response (Levator Labii) from the women smelling the pads – at a highly reliable level. In short, human beings are highly capable of smelling fear and disgust and presumably many other emotions emitted from our own species.

Put it Together

Your five senses have been aware and storing information your whole life. We are only beginning to understand the potential and complexity of the mind and body. The ‘nudge’ (to act or avoid or escape) you feel may seem unconventional, because you cannot ‘put your finger’ on the how or why, but trust that you are programmed as a fine-tuned bio-machine – capable of sensing danger far beyond what you might think possible.

Given what we now know about how intuition is working within our bodies to alert us to potential danger, let us examine how we can become more in tune with our body’s responses.

Practice is the best means of improving—no matter the pursuit—in this case it’s meditation. To gain insight into the clues your body is providing you, listening to yourself in solitude will train you to listen to your inner voice when you are not alone.

A recent MRI study from Harvard University (released in November 2014) proves meditation literally rebuilds the brain’s gray matter in as little as 8 weeks. The participants spent an average of 27 minutes per day practicing mindfulness exercises, and this simple act was all that was required to stimulate a major increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus (the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection).

In summary, meditation allows a person to set a mind-body baseline, become more in-tune with expressions and awareness outside the conscious mind, and subsequently identify when a departure from the mind-body baseline is happening. This process builds mind and body awareness of our immediate surroundings and increases our understanding and connection to our intuition.

In the end, your self-defense and situational awareness models could get a big boost from being in-tune with your intuition.

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