Episode #77: Pleasure as Medicine with Alyssa Tennant

Today’s guest, Alyssa Tennant, is a women’s empowerment coach. She helps women use pleasure to heal from burnout. This episode is all about getting to know yourself as you add pleasure to your life and have some fun! If you’re tired of trying to “cure” yourself with guilt and shame, you might need a good dose of pleasure as medicine!

Early Dieting Experience

Alyssa shares that, during the summer after her junior year, she expected herself to live up to the standard of being “Wonder Woman”. (Literally. She has the journal to prove it!) Part of that journey involved losing weight and being more fit.

But the harder she worked to control herself and her food choices, the more she rebelled. Even though she was working really hard to lose weight, she ended up gaining even more of it! Her method of controlling and restricting did not fit well with her nature, and it showed!

Also…she realized in retrospect that trying to live up to a literal superhero was a sure way to set herself up for failure. Now Alyssa looks back and recognizes that this time in her life was both miserable and unnecessary! She was consumed with becoming someone else, and that never seems to end well. Now, she’s fully satisfied with being her true Self. In her work, she loves helping other women nourish themselves with pleasure and begin to live fully as themselves as well.

Radical Responsibility

As a Women’s Empowerment Coach, Alyssa works with smart, successful women who are tired of feeling tired. Her work is all about how women can take radical responsibility for their own lives, and in doing so, free themselves from burn out.

She shares that, in 2012, she visited a traditional Chinese medicine doctor. This was her first foray into alternative health & wellness, and set her on the path towards healing. Since Alyssa had graduated from Stanford and claimed a job at Google…things just seemed off. It was as if the life was being drained out of her.

She knew herself to be someone with a bright, joyful essence, but it seemed like that was gone. In her search for a cure, she turned to alternative medicine. At that point, it turned out she was low in Vitamin D, so there was an immediate fix. However, her health continued to struggle as her career moved forward. From digestive issues, immune disorders, and chronic fatigue, she had one health related set-back after another.

These health issues led Alyssa into yoga, and also inspired her to get an MA in Integrative Health Studies. Eventually, these pursuits led her towards her a more pro-active approach towards her health. The ongoing game of whack-a-mole she seemed to be playing with her health needed to end, and she got serious about getting to the root of these problems. She also recognized that she wasn’t alone in what she wad dealing with! So many high-level women were struggling with similar issues.

Empowered Women Change the World

Alyssa decided to focus her final paper on the health effects of being a modern woman living in a patriarchy. She examined our current system and society, which too often doesn’t value women for who they are.

Alyssa’s research led her, in a round about way, towards women’s relationships with their own sexuality. She found that this relationship was pivotal in a woman’s sense of self….and yet, this wasn’t being addressed! Even in her integrative health courses, Alyssa hadn’t had any significant course work about women’s health and sexuality.

She set out to remedy this by enrolling in two courses on this subject. In the year she spent devoted to these programs, she feels she had the most transforming and liberating experience of her life! Taking responsibly for her own pleasure finally ended the cycle of burn out she had been trapped in before.

Empowered women change the world. This belief inspires and motivates Alyssa’s work and coaching approach. She truly believes that when women are empowered, they are equipped to create massive change. Maybe women who experience pleasure as medicine are on the path to becoming world changers!

Self-Awareness

Here in quarantine, we are naturally all more self-reflective. (If only because we are stuck with ourselves at the moment!) This is a great time to get in tune with who we truly are.

Alyssa suggests that sometimes, activity and interaction are things we use to avoid traveling inside and getting to know ourselves more deeply. Why? We might be uncertain, or even afraid, about what it would mean to really get to know who we really are.

One of the first tools she suggests for getting to know yourself better is the Enneagram. There are many variations out there, but she recommends the work of Beatrice Chestnut! The Enneagram can help you feel deeply seen and validated, and offers a lot of insight about what motivates you, and what you value. In addition, it provides clarity around opportunity for growth and improvement. Alyssa also points out that the Enneagram can be a tool for identifying underdeveloped parts of yourself.

Another starting place might be the work of Dr. Kristin Neff, whose work revolved around self-compassion and mindfulness. If you’re trying to connect to yourself mindfully and with compassion, her work is extraordinary helpful. (And she has a great book, which you could read while socially isolating.)

Dr. Gabor Mate’s work is really helpful when considering trauma and harmful messages that have been internalized. Alyssa found that some of her eating patterns were triggered by other emotional needs. By recognizing these patterns, she was able to better understand herself and her needs.

Through all this work, Alyssa recognized that she also had shame and repression regarding sexuality. She found there is an immense power available when we are able to integrate our full Selves, including our sexuality and sexual expression.

Pleasure as Medicine

One thing I’ve loved about the quarantine has been seeing so many people getting back to the roots of what they love. From baking, sewing, music, painting, and more…it’s so exciting to see people embrace things they’ve forgotten about themselves! I find that many of my intuitive eating clients DO spend time talking with me about food. However, we ALSO spend lot’s of time learning more about the things they truly love and enjoy.

Alyssa’s newest group course is called Pleasure as Medicine, and she believes that pleasure is an underutilized asset in many of our lives. When she was writing her thesis about reclaiming the feminine, she learned more about the amazing hormones that are released during bodily pleasure. Those pleasures include hugs, massage, and even orgasms.

When we release pleasure hormones, we counteract cortisol (the stress hormone) in our bodies! Alyssa realized that pleasure is the perfect antipode, or medicine, for stressed out women! By connecting to what feels good and pleasurable for your own body, you can decrease the impact of stress.

One of Alyssa’s clients pointed out that pleasure may be the perfect antidote to stress…but it’s also the first thing to go when stress hits. Corporate ladies, busy moms, bosses – they all need help making pleasure a priority for themselves.

During Covid-19, accessing your own pleasure can be a FREE, easy way to help yourself destress and relax. (Listen in to the full episode to hear details on something immediate you could do right NOW to tap into pleasure.)

Various Types of Pleasure

Alyssa considers herself a pleasure advocate! She loves to find ways to increase her client’s experience of pleasure.

Sensory Pleasure: This practice is about engaging your senses (like touch, taste, and sight) in order to experience pleasure. By bringing all of your attention towards one sense and truly giving yourself over to that sense, you can experience amazing amounts of pleasure.

Taking time helps you get so much more satisfaction and enjoyment out of something that seems small or simple. Alyssa reminds us that we can find pleasure in EVERYTHING.

Energetic Pleasure: Alyssa suggests using breath work to get into a state ready for transformation. Doing a full body breath practice can help your whole body prepare for pleasure and experience sensation.

Primal Pleasure: Strong emotions like anger and sadness can get repressed a lot. Primal pleasure is all about release as you fully experience whatever you may be feeling. This may include sounding or movement, like dance, in order to help us get into our bodies and feel amazing.

Final Tips

These are stressful times, even if you’re working hard to stay even keeled. It can be hard to stay positive at home!

Alyssa shares that her and her partner used their whiteboard to brainstorm lists of things to do during social isolation. They thought up a list of fun and easy things, as well as a list of productive things that would provide a feeling of accomplishment.

Taking time to consider all of the simple, accessible options that are available to them has eased some of the stress from this extended homestay!

You can find Alyssa online www.alyssatennant.com (where you can get her free morning ritual!), as well as on IG @Alyssa.tennant.

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