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A Sixth Sense?

Updated: Oct 21

We know about the five senses – taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight – but what about a sixth sense? Some define a sixth sense as an ability to sense things that are outside the five other senses, as in extra sensory perception. You might think that something is going to happen even without having any reason to believe it. If it does happen, you’re like “Whoa, I must have ESP!” But, in reality, it’s probably just a coincidence or you actually did have a way of knowing about it and just didn’t realize it.

But, there is another kind of a sixth sense that just about everyone has. An alternative name for this is proprioception. This is an awareness of your body without having to actually think about it. For example, when you walk, you naturally put one foot in front of the other and this happens without conscious effort. You balance, you reach out for something, you turn your head at a sound or you stoop to pick something up. Do you need to be on top of all that to have it happen? Not really. You have a general idea of what your goal is, like – I’m going to walk out to get my mail. But you reach out to open the door, walk down the driveway, open the mailbox, grab the mail and head back - all without a lot of thought. You might also be listening to an audiobook (me) so your attention is on that but you still manage to get the mail and bring it back to the house. Imagine for a minute that you had to think about all those steps while they were happening. In the first place, that would be the end of multitasking. And, it would take forever to get anything done!

Proprioception is the continual sensory feedback to your brain. Your other senses are constantly sending signals and your brain interprets them without you having to be conscious of it. A good example of when this goes awry is when alcohol is a factor. Walking a straight line, being able to touch your nose with your eyes closed and standing on one foot suddenly become a challenge. There are other, more permanent things that can cause a loss of proprioception – ALS, diabetes, arthritis, stroke or other brain injuries are a few. Age can also play a role and we find that the more elderly population have a better chance of falling. But, there are things you can do to keep yourself in tip top proprioception shape (try saying that five times fast!) Yoga and tai chi are excellent for building balance. I know this because there’s no way I can do a tree pose without falling over. But, with perseverance, you can (and should) keep your sixth sense sharp.

If you think you’ve never experienced a loss of this sixth sense, just recall the last time you woke up with your arm asleep. That awful dead feeling and how to get it to go away is exactly what happens when the sixth sense is also asleep. Your arm is still there, of course, you just can’t feel it because your brain isn’t receiving the usual signals. Doesn’t it feel really good when the usual sensation of having an arm comes back? Yep, that sixth sense sure does make a big difference!

So, we’re going to close with something fun. Watch a portion of the Netflix show "Magic for Humans", where magician Justin Willman performs the "Rubber Arm Experiment," on volunteers. He tricks their proprioception and it’s pretty darn cool!*

*Do not try this at home

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