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About Sarah

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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)

 

Sarah's Story

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.

I feel honored to share Gut Instinct Wellness™, and this integrative and life-changing method, with you.

 

Success Stories

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I had been suffering with digestive issues for more than 7 years. I had been to many doctors and still did not have a reason or resolution to my problem. I honestly felt like my issues were simply something I had to learn to live with. I was fortunate to meet Sarah, owner of Gut Instinct, and learn about how she helps her clients restore their gut wellness, Sarah listened and help me gain a better understanding of how to heal naturally. I am feeling so much better and that has made for a higher quality of life. I would recommend Sarah to anyone who is suffering with poor gut health. She is truly caring and gifted in her field.
— Veronica C.
Sarah is intelligent, compassionate, and an amazing “Health Detective.” Her program is helping me to correct years of chronic issues that have persisted despite other efforts. She insightfully gets to the root causes of what ails you and helps you navigate through your healing process. For anyone who experiences chronic health issues that interfere with their quality of life, I cannot recommend her highly enough. Thank you Sarah!
— Stephanie R., Business Coach
Sarah REALLY listens, and really cares about your health and guides with compassion and care every step of the way. She is a GEM!!!
— Joanna C., Massage Therapist
This year, I treated myself to two nutritional consultations with Sarah. The knowledge she imparted as part of those sessions has restored my energy, patience, and general state of well being, and I am forever grateful! Sarah helped me establish a plan for combating chronic bloating, pre-diabetes (and related fatigue), and adrenal depletion by suggesting important supplements, offering practical suggestions for foods to include and avoid in my diet, and reminding me of the importance of breath and thanks throughout the day. Sarah personalized her advice to suit my needs, preferences, and lifestyle. She gave me recipes, told me where to buy my nutritious foods and soup bones, spelled out simple rules to live by (i.e. eat fresh veggies with every meal), encouraged me to re-think my exercise choices, and provided me with scientific rational for every piece of advice offered. I felt no judgement from Sarah; only compassion and the objective suggestions of someone extremely competent in her field! Thank you for the information, Sarah, and the inspiration to do something with it.
— Marci T., Biology Instructor
I worked with Sarah after a long and challenging couple of years. I was always tired and fatigued at that time. After a few months of working with Sarah I really noticed a big difference. Sarah’s support and expertise were indispensable in my healing process. I would definitely recommend her!
— Amanda B., Acupuncturist/Herbalist
Sarah Cotten helped me make important decisions about my health. She was thoughtful, thorough, and discreet. Our relationship is ongoing and fun. Sarah is a knowledgeable and wise woman with many years of experience leading others in holistic practices. Thanks for helping me, Sarah!
— Eric W., Elementary School Teacher
Words cannot adequately express the gratitude I feel for Sarah. When I first met with her I was in bad shape. Chronically tired, frequently depressed, imbalanced and cut off from the body was how I had been feeling since I gave birth to my daughter, my second child, and over eight years ago. I have a history of sexual trauma which has interfered with my sense of intimacy, not to mention a more pleasurable and fulfilling experience of life for myself. My sleep was constantly disrupted and I had come to believe that “this was just the way I am now”.

Beginning with the introductory discovery session things started to shift for me and convinced me that I wanted to work with Sarah. Intuitively, I knew that this was what I had hoped was out there but hadn’t known what it was or where to find it. For me, what sets Sarah apart from the many other practitioners and approaches I have tried is how she integrates the science of functional nutrition and hormonal balance with the powerful approach to healing trauma with Somatic Experiencing. Her sound grasp of the science of the body coupled with her reassuring, gentle and supportive presence regarding Somatic Experiencing helped me to safely contact and release trauma patterns that had been disrupting my life so profoundly for so long. I experienced what it was like to “be in my body” in a safe, pleasurable and powerful way for the first time in many, many years. Along with helping to balance my approach to nutrition and proper and appropriate supplements based on urinalysis and exactly what was going on in my hormonal system, the releasing and completing the cycle of years of built up, unresolved trauma has changed my life in the most profound way. I enjoy the embodied life that I didn’t even truly realize I had lost with my trauma and it has changed for the better my personal experience of day to day life both for myself as well as my friends, children and partner. I am no longer completely “stuck in my head” and living a neurotic life and calling it normal. I have lost over 10 pounds of hormonal weight gain due to cortisol imbalance and have the energy to get through the day without crashing completely in the afternoon. I sleep through the night and wake up rested. I am not scared all the time, worrying about my sense of physical safety constantly. And when I am scared i know how to deal with it. I am equipped with the tools and insight to recognize when I am slipping into an unhealthy pattern of mind and body and know how to use Somatic Experiencing techniques to recognize where I actually am rather than be somewhere that years of trauma patterns would tell me that I am, in danger, under threat and needing to escape.

I wholeheartedly recommend that you consider trusting Sarah to assist you in reclaiming your life. She has been nothing short of a blessing to me and my family. I am eternally grateful to her for taking my hand and walking me into the next phase of my life, able to stand on my own two feet. Thank you, Sarah!
— T. Swanson, Tucson Az
Sarah gave me keys to restoring my digestive health when both mainstream doctors and naturopaths were unsuccessful. I searched for three years and feel incredibly fortunate to now have Sarah working with me. Her knowledge of nutrition is extensive and her willingness to personally tailor her guidance makes it very effective. She also provides muscloskeletal assessments and exercise plans matched to your individual goals and needs. The plans are well thought out, realistic and encouraging as is her one-one-one coaching. Thanks for everything, Sarah!
— Deena F, Accountant
At a particularly rough point, Sarah identified that I was experiencing extreme adrenal fatigue and helped me take steps toward creating a manageable lifestyle, something I thought wasn’t possible at the time. She helped guide me back into balance, and gave me the tools and knowledge to be able to stay there. Sarah is amazing.
— Elizabeth F., Teacher
Life is traumatic and stressful for one and all, isn’t it? In my own experience, I worked for years as a night shift nurse. The psychological and physical demands of my work often required that I ignore my body’s cues for rest and healing. The combination of SE work and Sarah’s health detective work has left me feeling more grounded and more able to understand and respond to my body’s cues and needs. It’s really wonderful to be back in touch with my body’s innate guidance! I’m hoping to complete my own SE training in the next few years to help my patients and coworkers. Thank you, Sarah! You’re a game changer!
— Alice W., Registered Nurse
Sarah is gracious, intuitive and most of all, incredibly smart about the body’s needs. What an honor it has been to have her as a compassionate mirror to my well-being!
— Sarah S., Health Coach
Sarah Cotten and Gut Instinct worked directly with me on healing a microbiome originally ravaged by the use of antibiotics for a dental infection. Sometimes one needs to literally “re-boot” their diet and habits quickly when the microbiome gets out of balance. Foods that one consumes daily and thinks to be “healthy” can actually severely aggravate and inflame a compromised microbiome. One can literally be adding “gasoline to fire” with normal diet and habits. Sarah at Gut Instinct worked one on one with me and “saved me from myself” by implementing a diet plan and by assisting with natural supplements for rebuilding a compromised immune system and microbiome. Health is truly mind, body, and spirit and if one gets out of balance the whole deck of cards might fall. Sarah at Gut Instinct will discuss diet, body, and spirit in each session and she will come up with a plan that will revitalize your health and life. I am forever grateful.
— Earl O., Sculptor
Working with Sarah Cotten is a truly wonderful experience. Sarah has a depth of knowledge that really helps to bring the human body into a state of wellness. She provides a wealth of information and resources to help you heal with a nutritious diet, carefully chosen supplements and herbal remedies. Some of the highlights of her practice can help those with adrenal fatigue, digestive disorders and detoxification for balance and well being; and so much more. I highly recommend Sarah as a holistic health coach!
— -Bradford T., Somatic Experiencing® Practitioner/Craniosacral Therapist
I have struggled with digestive issues for over 12 years. They’ve pushed me to make big changes and recognize bad habits; and have sent me on a path of learning, discipline, and self-discovery. Yet even as I worked hard, did the “right” things and learned and changed, my problems persisted in one form or another. Really to be honest, I was stuck and addicted to some of the bad things. I found myself in a cycle of trying things to no avail; trying things and failing—in one form or another—to stick things out. I was frustrated by the lack of results. I tried everything and read about everything.

Working with Sarah—doing lab tests to make accurate assessments, and working in a systematic way to address how different body systems relate—has been totally amazing.

The source of over a decade of digestive issues? A bacterial infection, found on a gastrointestinal lab test run by Sarah. Binging and cravings that felt like food addiction, stress, fatigue, joint pain and a host of other symptoms—all reduced to one simple issue.

There are bumps along every road. When I was self-diagnosing and self-treating these bumps would just totally derail me from my wellness plan. Having Sarah to turn to and to hear her say “that’s normal, it means we need to tweak this and do that instead” has kept me on track and helped me finally break through to feel healthier than I have ever felt. I’m still working on gut repair and detoxification. I know that it’s only going to continue being totally transformative and life-altering as I continue my path with Sarah.
— Julie F., Elementary School Teacher
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