How You Use Your (Real!) Sixth Sense

It’s true: a real sixth sense exists. But it might not help you guess lottery ticket numbers, or talk to dead people.

As a matter of fact, you use your real sixth sense every day of your life. It is known, generally, as interoception and it is defined as the ability to know what is happening inside your body.

This is pretty useful for say, physical relationship activities, hunger, and very importantly, conscious breathing such as in yoga, pranayama, and various other forms of meditation.

Here are three ways to harness interoception to vastly improve your life.

1. Breathe better.

You’ve taken a yoga class, right? Or maybe you have had some singing lessons? If not, just know that there are plenty of people who can teach you how to breathe.

It sounds silly, but many people think good breathing is automatic. Adequate breathing is automatic. Good breathing is not.

Good breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing or lower-chamber breathing, can elicit the relaxation response (and who couldn’t use more of that?). The relaxation response, in turn, can help you reduce your blood pressure and lower any anxiety.

Breathe deeply into your belly, so you can actually feel it moving a few inches in and out. If you can feel that happening from the inside and the outside, you are doing it right. Using your real sixth sense of interoception mindfully two or three times per day to improve your breathing can vastly reduce your stress, and teach you to monitor it well.

Quick tip: When you are stressed, breathing becomes very shallow. This may be evolutionary, because your ancestors learned to breathe quietly if they thought a wild animal was going to jump on them. That is unlikely at work, unless you work in a forest or a zoo. Practice lower-chamber breathing and reduce your stress even during tense moments.

2. Practice “zen eating.”

Once food passes your mouth, it is inside your body. That means everything happening inside your mouth becomes part of an interoceptive process, from texture and taste, to digestion and elimination. OK, sorry to be gross.

Health coaches, like my wife, will tell you to practice chewing your food many times before swallowing. This helps a few things happen. First, you will enjoy the food more. Secondly, a lot of digestion is meant to happen with the enzymes in saliva, which is mostly in your mouth, unless you drool a lot. Third, it prevents stomach upset, because a lot of problems develop if the stomach is doing the work of the teeth. So, you know, chew.

In zen eating, you chew your food until it is almost completely disintegrated. This takes a very long time. It also allows you to make each fork or spoonful (chopstickful?) count, as you will really take time to notice your food and enjoy it more.

Side benefit: You will not eat as many calories, and your body will absorb the food better. Zen eating represents an example of “less is more.”

3. Tune into your muscles.

Interoception also lets you sense your muscles. No mirror required. Your muscles have a wealth of information about where you hold your stress, and how balanced your body is. A balanced body is connected to a balanced mind.

Your sense of your muscles can give you really good information about why that office chair is not working out for you, how you slouch in certain company, or where that terrible stress headache might start (hint: many people with headaches have problems originating in the muscles of the neck).

How to use it: If you can sense your muscles using your interoception, you will be much better aware of how your day is going, and where to tell your partner or masseur/masseuse (one-in-the same if you are very lucky) what to do and where to do it.

Have fun telling everyone you are improving your sixth sense!