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Listening to my Body to Discover My Zone of Genius

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Looking at me when I was a 25-year-old you’d think I was really a model of health. On the outside, I looked very fit, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with the world ahead of me. I was living with my new fiance and working on my Ph.D. at Berkeley.  

Yet at the time I couldn’t even walk down the street holding a single piece of paper in my hand. My back and all of my skin were inflamed, my nerves ached down my legs, and I couldn’t feel my feet. 

I was going to doctor after doctor and getting a lot of advice, and none of it was working. I eventually reached a point where I couldn’t do what I used to be able to do. 

During this difficult period, my husband and I moved to Amsterdam. The cold combined with my chronic pain felt miserable. I felt lost and frustrated. 

I started looking for something I could do just to get my body moving like I used to. There was a little dance studio across the street from our super old apartment, and I met the Pilates instructor there who invited me to come in one day.

That instructor and pilates changed my life. 

Pilates taught me how to feel my own body again. There were so many parts of my body I had not been aware of, there were so many parts I had learned to ignore.

I started going every single time they had a lesson, and it was gradually giving me this sense of where my center was. 

In Pilates, integrity describes aligning and strengthing your body inward. The muscles around your ribs knit in so that your ribs are not flared out and splayed, which is what gets your back into all sorts of weird positions. You center your ribs around your spine, holding your body tall and in place.

As I became more centered and strong in my integrity in Pilates, I became more centered and strong in my integrity in my own life.

I began recognizing what was working and what was not working in my own life, in a way that was not at all crisp or clear before. 

Pilates gave me a window of time and the space I needed to assess what was working for me and what wasn’t. 

How Integrity Changed My Life

Pilates was the start of me waking up and understanding integrity isn’t about me stretching or loosening up. Integrity is about holding myself together and standing tall. 

My body had been screaming at me, desperately trying to teach me the most important lesson of my life. 

I had physical pain, and I got there because I wasn’t listening to my own body, mind, and heart. I was listening to voices of self-judgment, and to the idea, I needed to be something I wasn’t to be what I thought I wanted to be. 

I believed I needed to change myself and shove down my true being to have what I thought I wanted and needed to have. 

In reality, I needed to stay in my center. I needed to stop stretching out into all these directions, which was just me contorting myself into a shape I thought the world wanted me to be, but not who I truly am. 

I realized I was saying yes when I needed to say no. I wasn’t listening to my Whole Body Yes, which includes my head, heart, and body all aligning in agreement. 

Integrity is a process. You start by getting centered and doing one thing that makes a little difference, and then you can recognize what else can make a difference, and slowly, little by little, things start getting cleared up and cleaned up.

By committing to living in integrity you can live inflow, and learn to succeed without suffering. 

Photography by Kelley Raye //

Dr. Caneel Joyce is a CEO Coach and social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

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