Sarah Cotten, Integrative Health Specialist and founder of
Gut Instinct Wellness™
The art and science of healthy living has been a lifelong passion for Sarah. At an early age she clearly noted the mental and emotional roots in her mother’s struggle with Crohn’s disease and other illnesses. The quest for a deeper understanding of that stress-disease link inspired her training and work in the practice of Somatic Experiencing® trauma resolution and Functional Nutrition. She has been in private practice since 2012.
Education and Background
Certified Functional Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach with FxNA
Somatic Experiencing® Practitioner
Kalish Method Practitioner
Yoga Instructor (1999 - 2014)
I’ve been digging for answers about what true health is, and the stress-disease link, since I was young. For most of my life, my mom was ill. She had Crohn’s disease, lymphoma, and heart disease. She passed away ten years ago when I was 31. From an early age, I had an intuitive understanding that her physical illnesses had their roots in unresolved emotional problems. When I was 11, my mom was hospitalized for severe depression. Two years later, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease. Even though I was just 13, I made the connection between my mom’s continued struggle to find peace in her heart and mind, and the physical illnesses that developed.
I’ve dedicated my life to understanding that intuitive knowledge. I’ve sought out the research that explains the connection between physical illness and emotional pain, trauma and loss. My path has led me to the truly comprehensive, integrative work of visionary doctors and researchers like neurologist, Dr. David Perlmutter, Dr. Robert Sapolsky (author of “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”), nutritionist, Andrea Nakayama, bio-physiologist and psychologist, Dr. Peter Levine, functional medicine practitioner, Chris Kresser, and trauma specialist, Bessel van der Kolk.
Answers have come through my insatiable curiosity in the research.
Those answers have been validated by my own experience of grief, trauma, motherhood, debilitating physical burn-out, and then the slow but steady restoration of my health, resilience, and happiness.
I watched my mother struggle with physical discomfort, illness and emotional issues. For myself, I searched for something different. I started practicing yoga and meditation in high school, which became a lifelong love. After a yoga apprenticeship in Nepal in 1997, I began my career as a yoga instructor. My 23-year practice of yoga has given me an invaluable, visceral understanding of how breath, mindfulness and the nervous system act as foundations for health. I carry this sensitivity with me today in my work with clients at Gut Instinct™.
At age 27, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter, and then five years later my sweet son was born. While I was overjoyed to be a mother, pregnancy, birth, and nursing were hard on me. I tipped into an experience of debilitating fatigue and a lowered immune system. For years, I was exhausted all the time, anxious, had digestive problems, chronic headaches, sleep issues and almost always seemed to be dealing with some kind of cold, flu or other infection, despite leading what I thought was a healthy, organic lifestyle. I kept up my research, but it was really through mothering that the answers came.
When my daughter was seven she developed a sleep disorder—night terrors, which are like having a panic attack while sleepwalking. She was fraught with them every night for a year, which was exhausting and upsetting for all of us. It was obvious she was having some kind of stress related reaction. We tried everything we could think of, short of prescription meds, to help calm the stress response in her little nervous system: hypnosis, acupuncture, cranial sacral therapy… the list goes on. Nothing helped and the night terrors persisted, until, that is, we removed gluten from her diet. That’s right. That was the thing—gluten! Once she stopped eating it, her night terrors went away completely. When she would eat some again, they would come back. I attribute this to the well researched fact that gluten can interfere with brain chemistry and mental health in sensitive individuals.
I was amazed by my daughter’s reversal of symptoms. I also, in solidarity, gave up gluten, along with her. I was surprised to find myself feeling way better as well. My digestion got better, my energy levels improved, I lost 15 pounds, and my anxiety level went down. While my issues didn’t resolve completely at the time, going gluten free was a significant first step to feeling better. A few months later, my husband also removed gluten from his diet. His lifelong severe allergies to pets and other foods subsided significantly, some of them disappearing completely. His need for asthma medication went down by ninety percent. The inflammation in his body visibly subsided, and his energy levels went up. It was fantastic!
My mind was truly blown by the power this one simple diet change had on our family.
While I had always paid attention to healthy eating, I suddenly realized the power of food as medicine. This inspired me to become a nutrition coach in 2012. I started seeing great results—for myself and my clients—with attention to a whole food, Paleo inspired diet. I was still so curious about that question of stress, though, and how it can really run the show in our physiology and symptoms. I wanted to learn more about the intricacies of chronic stress. Going back to what I had observed in my mother’s decline, I had the sense that until I understood the adrenals—the body’s stress response system—I wasn’t really getting to the root of things.
I discovered the work of Dr. Daniel Kalish, a pioneer in the treatment of adrenal issues, and took his intensive mentorship in functional medicine. Learning the in-depth science on adrenal and gut health with Dr. Kalish, gave me a big, important piece of the puzzle. Through holistic lab testing, functional nutrition principles and nutritional supplementation, I was able to truly work on a deep level as a “health detective,” helping my clients resolve long-standing issues and lead happier, healthier lives.
I also benefited enormously by applying the Kalish Method to myself. My immune system became very strong so I was no longer prone to colds and other infections. My gut health improved. The headaches that had plagued me since my first pregnancy diminished. I gained more energy for life, and for a healthy exercise practice.
Even with the incredibly comprehensive tools I gained as a practitioner of the Kalish Method, though, I still felt that I hadn’t cracked the code on the stress-disease link. I wanted to understand more about how the nervous system works, how our bodies process stress, and how mental/emotional states affect overall health. I felt much healthier than I had a few years prior, but I wasn’t as energized, rested and calm as I wished to be. I noticed my clients reaching similar plateaus and saw a theme. About ninety percent of the people coming to see me had a history of trauma, abuse or grief. Without addressing it, I sensed I wasn’t getting to the heart of their health problems. Although the nutrition and wellness work we were doing was very beneficial, I was still looking for some way to work on a deeper level.
Then my father died suddenly. It was a terrible shock and a real heartbreak. I felt a devastation like nothing I’d experienced before. I was suddenly left with no parents, and I felt very lost, groundless.
From that feeling of groundlessness, I was curious, and painful as it was, I seized the opportunity to understand a little more about what it means to be human—how we process trauma and stress, and how that can show up in the physical body.
It was then that I discovered Somatic Experiencing®. Thankfully, with SE, I was able to therapeutically work through the shock and grief of my parents’ deaths. I also was able to address the effects of an abusive relationship in my past, and the stress response that experience was still triggering in me. I learned the fine art of listening to the subtle cues of my body, to gain an understanding of how it reacts to stressful events, and how it also innately knows how to deactivate, relax and release that stress. This experience of deep healing exceeded anything I’d felt with typical talk therapy, yoga, meditation or nutritional therapies.
Through this, I feel I have a fresh identity. A new sense of self that is grounded in my body—more than ever before—as an organism that knows how to bring itself into balance. All along my body was telling me how to do it. With SE, though, I learned its language—its sensations, images and rhythms. I learned to see the fine choreography of my nervous system, like a subtle and intricate dance, designed to guide me into well-being. My immersion in SE has been the missing link. The piece of the puzzle that finally allowed me to come into a state of resonance and true health.
Thanks to the powerful integration of a nutrient dense diet, nutritional supplements that support my physiology, and the art of SE, I feel wholly, and truly well. My energy is steady and full, my immune system amazes me, my chronic headaches are gone, and I no longer feel anxious, but calm and confident instead. I’m incredibly grateful for the brilliant teachers and therapists who have helped me get here.