506: Dr. Elizabeth Guthrie’s Guide to Herbal Wellness, Somatics, and Healing
In this engaging podcast episode, host Ashley recounts her personal journey of discovering the transformative power of herbs, essential oils, and holistic wellness practices. Her guest, Dr. Elizabeth Guthrie, a seasoned herbalist, joins the conversation in part one, providing insight into trauma-informed practices and their intersection with herbal remedies. Drawing from her background as a 911 dispatcher and her own experiences of trauma, Dr. Guthrie explores the intricate relationship between trauma, herbs, and somatic experiences, shedding light on how trauma can reshape our responses to herbs and meditation. Her expertise underscores the importance of trauma-informed care and the diverse manifestations of trauma in individual lives. As Ashley and Dr. Guthrie share their wisdom, listeners are invited to embrace the multifaceted realm of herbalism as a pathway to holistic healing and self-discovery. This episode offers a tantalizing glimpse into the symbiotic dance between nature's remedies and the human journey toward well-being and resilience.
Explore the transformative power of your unique plant allies as you harness nature’s wisdom for healing and resilience — and embark on a journey of self-discovery, connecting you deeply with the natural world. Sign up now for the free training— learntruehealth.com/plants
Ashley James & Dr. Elizabeth Guthrie
- Ashley recounts her introduction to holistic spa experiences in the 90s, where she discovered high-quality essential oils and their potential benefits
- The profound connection between trauma, herbs, and somatic experiences
- The nuanced ways trauma reshapes individuals' responses to herbs and holistic practices
- The wide spectrum of trauma manifestations
- The importance of trauma-informed care in herbal wellness approaches
- Herbal medicine's potential for promoting resilience, holistic healing, and self-discovery
- The intricate interplay between nature's remedies and trauma-informed practices
Hello, true health seeker, and welcome to another exciting episode of the Learn True Health podcast. Before we jump into today's episode, there are a few things that you need to know about, and that is that my guest today has a free online event coming up where she's going to teach an hour-long class, and I want to make sure that you know about it so you can attend and gobble up all those amazing information that she's giving for free, in this hour-long live training that she's doing. In this training, you're going to learn how to choose the right plants for you to accelerate your healing. You're going to learn somatic practices to calm your nervous system and help you to gain access to tools to support your body's ability to heal itself. And isn't that what the Learn True Health podcast is all about? It's helping us to learn how to support the body's ability to heal itself emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically. Health encompasses our entire life. Taking a moment to see that there's nature around us that we can utilize and connect to, even something as simple as a cup of tea can help us and gently push the body in the right direction. And that's what Dr. Elizabeth Guthrie comes here today to share. So I want to make sure that you know that you can jump in. Go to learntruehealth.com/plants and sign up for the free talk that she's giving on Saturday, August 5th, at 10 a.m. Pacific time. And if you don't think you can make it, still sign up because a lot of times, these talks are recorded, and then they send the recording out. This is totally free. She does also offer a course that will be offered at a later date. But right now, she is just out there sharing and caring, and teaching.
This episode today is part one. The next episode I'm going to be publishing is Episode #507. That one will be part two because we have a continued story, an update from Dr. Guthrie. So enjoy today's episode. Please share with those in your life who would love to learn how to utilize nature and the plants around them to support them in healing trauma and healing themselves both physically, emotionally, and mentally. One more thing I want to guide you to, and that's my last episode was about using the modern science of ancient wisdom with Dr. John Douillard, Episode #505, and he specializes in Ayurvedic medicine and using herbs from all around the world to support the body's ability to heal itself, and he has an amazing store, and there's some free stuff to check out in his store as well — his four-day cleanse which he gives for free on his website. You can go to learntruehealth.com/lifespa. I got a 10% off coupon code for you guys every time you order there as long as you order $50 or more, which I think you have to buy two or three bottles. You would definitely be able to get that 10% off. The coupon code is LTH, as in Learn True Health. Go to learntruehealth.com/lifespa. I love his stuff. His herbs are wonderful. His experience is amazing. So tapping into utilizing herbs to support the body's ability to heal itself, I have learned from Dr. Guthrie, our guest today, about how to incorporate herbs in my daily life, and it has really enriched my life and my health and helped me as I've been on my journey of healing emotionally and physically. So I hope that you also gain those tools today as I have. Make sure you go to learntruehealth.com/plants and sign up for her free class. And enjoy today's episode.
[0:04:17.7] Ashley James: Welcome to the Learn True Health podcast. I'm your host, Ashley James. This is Episode #506.
I'm so excited for today's guest. We have, back on the show, Elisabeth Guthrie, who is now a PhD candidate. Congratulations. Elizabeth, you were on the show five years ago, Episode #201. So we're going to do a bit of a catch-up. We're going to play catch-up and discover what has happened in your life in the last five years. I know when we talked to you, we were just diving even more into studying. And now you're at the point where you're just waiting to hear back. You've submitted everything required for your Ph.D. So that's really exciting. But catch us up, and of course, you've published your latest book, The Trauma Informed Herbalist, the discussion around effectively supporting clients who are struggling with trauma, which I think is so cool. And you got another book coming out next year, so I'm sure we'll be hearing — you're not going to wait another five years before you come on the show. Let's just put it that way. But you've been busy both working in the field and also as a student to get to the point where you're now just a few moments away from officially being a Ph.D. So exciting. So catch us up with what has happened in the last five years.
[0:05:43.0] Elizabeth Guthrie: Oh, so much. So, I finished my undergraduate work in Complementary Medicine. I know we had talked that I was interested in becoming a naturopathic doctor, and fate had different ideas for me, and I ended up with a Master's in Public Health with a concentration in Functional Nutrition. And as you mentioned, I am finishing up my Ph.D. As a matter of fact, I said I'm finishing. I have finished all of my work for the Ph.D. I'm just waiting to hear back about the final exam. The final exam was a thousand questions and took over 18 hours to complete. So I understand why it's taking them so long, but I've got my fingers crossed, I hear something back very soon because I'm very excited.
I worked for a while at the integrative medicine clinic at UAB Hospital here in Birmingham, Alabama, and learned a lot about research and how conventional research strategies sometimes don't match what we see in the field. Of course, some of that I got through my public health degree, but a lot of the more hands-on understanding of how to approach natural remedies in research came from that time with Dr. Salvador at the integrative clinic. And, of course, I have my own practice, and I've recently written — you said another book, but this is actually my first book — The Trauma-Informed Herbalist, and you can read about it at my website, traumainformedherbalist.com. I do have it available for bookstores. So if you're a bookstore owner and you want to get a copy, you can go through New Leaf Distribution for that. And yes, I am doing a second book. So many people were fascinated by the chapter on aromatherapy. I actually originally had kind of a companion guide to this that was going to come out. But so many people came to me about aromatherapy and said I really want to understand more. So I put the companion guide to the side and started work on the trauma and essential oils book that will be out in April of 2023.
[0:07:49.4] Ashley James: Was it another? Because I didn't know if you knew, but I looked into this crystal ball, and you've published many books in your life. And so, I just got confused as to which one was the first one.
[0:07:59.7] Elizabeth Guthrie: Right. Well, I've written so much. But this is my first real book.
[0:08:05.5] Ashley James: Yey. Well, it's such a labor of love, and I love that you got feedback, and so you're just taking the feedback and what to write next based on the feedback. I think that books on aromatherapy are really important because it's such an underutilized modality. Back when I was a teenager, I had such a really fun and interesting childhood. Now, looking back as an adult and as a mom, I'm looking back. And as a teenager, my mom introduced me to her friend who ran a holistic spa. Back then, that wasn't really as common. But it was called beauty comes naturally, and it was a hundred percent organic and natural. This is back in the 90s spa, and there are no chemicals and everything like that. And so I interviewed for a job there, a summer job, and every summer, I worked there, and I studied and learned about essential oils because we had a bunch of them. And I was the receptionist, and I was also the salesperson just helping people buy stuff, and there's all kinds of goodies. You would love this spa because it was kind of like a health food store mixed with a spa. This was back when Aveda was like from the original creator of Aveda, and it was really crunchy, and they were focusing on a lot of just pure, no chemicals. So there was a huge wall of essential oils and different brands. And I started to get a nose for the really high quality because this store had low-end, medium-end, and then high-end essential oils based on people's budgets. And you could really smell. You can smell the difference. And I can, to this day, really smell the difference between low-quality and high-quality essential oil. But I became really interested when — because I thought it was like this is just smelly stuff. I didn't know what it was. But one morning, I woke up, and I had gastritis. I was about fifteen, fifteen, or sixteen years old, and I was throwing up. I was nauseous, and I had a fever. I was really, really sick. And my mom called her friend and said, “Ashley can't make it today.” And so my mom's friend needed someone to be there for a few hours. My mom, who's on vacation, went in and helped out in her store.
And then my mom came home with lavender and peppermint from the spa. Her name was Carrie Foreman. She's still around. Her name is Carrie Foreman, and she said, “I want you to take some olive oil.” Because I think that's the only oil we had. “Take some olive oil. I want you to put a few drops of the lavender in olive oil. Rub it all over her chest and her tummy, and I want you to brew some hot water. Put one or two drops of peppermint in the water and let her smell it, and let her sip it. Now, I've been non-stop vomiting. Immediately, once I smelled the peppermint and sipped it, the vomiting stopped. When she rubbed the lavender on my chest and my tummy, I fell asleep. When I woke up, the fever had broken, and I was fine. Of course, I spent the rest of the day resting because it was pretty intense. But that quick of a transformation, for me in the past, homeopathy was very quick for me to have that kind of effect. But have essential oils go boom, like nausea gone, boom! Fall asleep, boom! Fever broke. Like it was supporting my body's own healing mechanism, and that's why I became obsessed with learning and studying it, and I loved it.
So many times, I came in as far as, “You have to try this. You have to smell it. Did you know this absorbs into your skin and goes into your lymph system, and it helps with the communication between cells and it's antimicrobial?” I'd go on and on and on. I'd geek out. You and other listeners know I just geek out at all this health stuff. But can you imagine this teenager just going on and on and on about how cool it is? People would walk out having bought hundreds of dollars. Carrie, the owner, must have loved it. I've sold hundreds and hundreds of dollars every day for these essential oils. But I believed in them, and it's herbal medicine. But because they're sold in spas, and they smell good, it's kind of fun. And when we think about it, this is like massage oil, right? It's not even an oil, which is a misnomer. But we give it this idea that it's some kind of frou-frou luxury spa thing when it's, in fact, really concentrated powerful herbal medicine.
So since that's something you're working on for your next book, and it's in The Trauma Informed Herbalist, I'd love for you to definitely talk more about that because we all want to learn more about essential oils. It's an easy herbal medicine that you can practice at home, that you can use at home, and that's already made for you as opposed to having to get a bunch of leaves and brew some tea or make some mixtures. It's less messy and cumbersome that way. So yeah, that's really exciting. And I love the name of your book because a lot of us have been through trauma the last few years, and many of us recognize now, looking back on our childhoods, I think we all have something to heal from. But I'd love to know why you named your book, The Trauma Informed Herbalist. What happened in the last five years that you went, “Aha, this is what I'm going to write about.”?
[0:13:20.6] Elizabeth Guthrie: Ah, storytime. Thank you for sharing that. It's actually interesting because a lot of people like you said, see that as frivolous, and I think we see that with some herbs in general, but really with the essential oils, a lot of people see it as a treat or as something that is not a requirement in order to heal. And in some cases, it might be an add-on. But in some cases, there are a lot of instances where essential oils are the main thing that gets somebody up over the hump and back towards healing. So I really love that you mentioned that.
Where to start with the whole trauma-informed discussion? So about a decade ago, I was working as a 911 dispatcher, and that alone can create secondary trauma. At the time, they didn't want to admit it. At the time, they were like, we were just listening to stuff on the phone. How bad could it be? And since then, we have discovered that, especially since you don't have any control, all you can do is try to speak to somebody and try to help them from a distance, but you have no physical control, and you're stuck sitting in the chair. And you don't have a whole lot of any sort of control over the situation, and you can't give in to your fight or flight response that occurs during some of the calls. There are a lot more dispatchers that have PTSD than people want to admit. On top of that, I loved the job. I loved it. I felt like I was able to help people, but what changed is I ended up in an abusive relationship. The man that I was with at the time kind of isolated me from everybody and was initially just emotionally abusive, but he became physically abusive. And I started having a lot of issues after I got out of that relationship, and it's really interesting.
Again, when you have trauma, sometimes you don't have any of the symptoms until you're safe again because your body starts to recognize that it's in a place where it can process through some of the stuff. And so some of the more obvious symptoms don't occur until you're safe again. And I had my adrenal episodes which I think we talked about last time. I had my adrenal episodes pretty soon after leaving that relationship and getting out of that scenario. And another thing that I noticed around that time was that I had a change in the way that things like meditation, certain herbs, especially adaptogenic herbs, and the way that my body responded to them completely changed. I've been around herbs for the majority of my life. I was in some form of energy work from the time I was 12 years old on. We did a lot of Qigong as a child, and I got into Reiki very early on in my late teens, and all of that was great. The meditation was amazing. I could take all kinds of herbs and feel like a superhero until I went through trauma.
And then some of it still helped, but some of it made things worse. Meditation was one of the first things that I noticed, and I would sit there, and I could meditate. But then I would start; I thought I was hitting enlightenment. I'll be honest, Ashley, I really was like, “Oh, man, I have figured this out,” because I would space out so badly, and I would get bragged on by the people at the facility because we would have these all-day Sunday retreats where you would sit there and meditate and I could go all day. But what was happening was I was dissociating. And the reason that I found out it was dissociation is because I couldn't come back into my body afterward.
So, when you are doing meditation, most people feel a little fuzzy afterward. That's expected. But if two or three days later, you're still feeling dissociated from your body; then there may be something going on that you need to try to figure out. Is this trauma-related, or is this something else? But in my case, it was trauma-related. And there were other instances where I couldn't get into a meditative state, specifically because my brain was on high alert and was trying to pay attention to what was going on, not in the room, but actually out around us to make sure that we stayed safe. So there's a lot of really odd things like that where I couldn't refocus on what I was doing because I was going into these heightened states of alertness or full-out dissociation.
And then, the herbs started bothering me. And the first one that really struck me was Rhodiola. Rhodiola is this amazingly beautiful adaptogen. I love the smell of the tincture. The Latin name is Rhodiola rosea, and it has that very rose-type scent to it, a very spicy smell, and I loved it after exercise. But what was happening was I would take it, because normally you would take it after exercise and it would help you to recover faster. It has all kinds of good benefits for your body and everything. But instead, it was throwing me further into a panic attack.
And so I started asking around about this. Are other people experiencing this? And I would kind of get the side-eye from some of my mentors. There would be a couple of people who would be like, “Yeah, you know, I've had something like that happen.” But for the most part, people were like, “That's not what's happening. It has to be something else. You have to be misinterpreting it. And we do that sometimes, right? Sometimes, coincidentally, we will get sick at the same time. We take something, and then we'll think that that's what made us sick, and in reality, it had nothing to do with it. That happens. But this was happening frequently enough to where I knew something else had to be going on.
And as I continued to study, I had this feeling that something was wrong with me. Like, I am wrong. Here I am; I'm an herbalist; I've done this. I've been in some form of herbalism my whole life, but I've done clinical herbalism for the majority of my adult life. And here I am; I can't even take the herbs because I have these weird responses to some of them. And then, I stumbled across the work of Dr. Peter Levine. Dr. Peter Levine talks about somatic experiences in the body and what we feel in the body. The more popular version, which I read after Dr. Levine, is Dr. Bessel van der Kolk's book The Body Keeps the Score. And these people have started to teach us about how our body, when we have an experience that creates trauma in our body, the brain, and the body is reacting in order to keep us safe. And the body is having these responses that don't have anything to do with you overpowering it with your mind. They occur because the body has biochemically changed. There are physical changes that occur in the brain when we go through trauma, and it takes time to rewire these things.
So, I do want to clarify real quick about trauma. When I talk about trauma here, of course, we can talk about trauma in the form of if you physically injure yourself, you have physical trauma. And some people call trauma the event that has occurred. But when we discuss trauma and a trauma-informed environment is what I'm trying to help practitioners to be able to understand a little bit better. Some people are already starting to see these things and already starting to find their way with this. But there are a lot of people who didn't even know that this was a thing. And so I'm really trying to help people to understand our field. And trauma in a trauma-informed environment is defined as the body's response to an event that felt overwhelming. So that's why something that happens to you could cause trauma in your body. But I did not experience it the same way, and therefore, I do not have trauma from it. And that's why when I experience something that creates trauma for me, the person sitting next to me may not have had that overwhelming sensation. They may have felt more in control at that moment, and their body may not have created a reaction that is meant to keep us safe. But once it goes a little bit too far and becomes a chronic thing, now we're no longer safe. We're just having the trauma response. So that doesn't make you weak. It doesn't mean that you have failed at biohacking your brain in order to be better. It just means that you went through something that's extremely difficult and that your body and your brain have done what they think is best to help keep you safe. And now, it's just a matter of working to rewire what has happened in order to help your body know when that response is an appropriate response. Was that a lot?
[0:23:08.9] Ashley James: No, no. It's a great way of putting into perspective that trauma is more about whether you feel out of control at that moment. That's interesting because two people can go through the same experience, and one ends up very traumatized. Just like when people come home from war, not everyone had shell shocked. I mean, not everyone went through the exact same experience, but there were some that felt more fragile than others. I don't mean the word fragile in a negative way. It's just there are some people who really broke them. I have witnessed; I've been with vets who were in full-on PTSD, and it takes them hours to get out of it. So whatever they saw or did in those moments was very lasting. And then there are others who have been through similar experiences, and I always think, “Are they just burying it?” Does everyone who comes home from the war really, really traumatized, and some bury it? But maybe not. Maybe some are not traumatized that they didn't feel out of control in those moments. So that's interesting.
[0:24:37.4] Elizabeth Guthrie: It brings up another interesting point because when I say trauma-informed, I don't mean that you have personally been through trauma, and now you think you know how to work with everybody who's had trauma. There are a lot of different imbalances in the body, and once you've been through it, it makes you a better practitioner. So, for instance, if you have fibromyalgia and you learn the different imbalances that are occurring in your body that have made fibromyalgia an issue, other people who have similar imbalances that create similar symptoms can benefit from your knowledge. But in trauma, my response to trauma is different from your response to trauma. So one vet may bury it down, and he may go home, and he may be a horror behind closed doors, or he may not be a horror behind closed doors. He may absolutely be bottled up and miserable and sick and can't do anything about it. It's not that he lashes out, but he's almost imploded and withdrawn from it. Whereas another person may be out in public and have an anxiety attack. All of these can be responses to trauma. And so, when a practitioner has gone through a traumatic experience, that can help open the door to explore the different ways that trauma comes to people. There are different types of trauma, and there are different layers of trauma that occur. Depending on the different types and the different layers, a person's personality, maybe even their constitution, or even their inflammation level can change how they respond to these events. And so it's a much more broad study than, and not that, the personal experience doesn't matter. Because obviously, my personal experience brought me to this and other people who have personal experience study and understand this, and then they're able to help people more. But personal experience is just the first step when it comes to trauma, whereas with some other things, personal experience can be what makes you the expert in that matter.
[0:26:57.7] Ashley James: I really like working with practitioners who have empathy. They don't have to have the exact same problems that I'm struggling with. But the fact that they're open enough to share what they've gone through, how that level of empathy, of understanding, like when on the outside it's so hard to see what people are struggling with on the inside. I remember the first day I left the house and went on my own and ran an errand after our daughter died. I was standing in line at Chipotle, and I looked over at everyone. I texted my midwife, and I said, “I just wish I had a neon sign over my head that told everyone how I felt on the inside so that people knew.” Because I looked around, I'm like, everyone is standing in line. Everyone is serving food. Everybody is eating food. There could be people in this room that are hurting as much as I am right now. that are in as much grief as I am. And if we had some kind of neon sign above our heads, that's kind of like The Sims video games. If we could just walk around knowing a bit more about the inner workings. Imagine if you walked across the street and someone was on the street, and the little signs above their head showed just how hurt they are; you would just stop and be like, “Can I give you a hug?” And I just wanted that. I wanted everyone around me just to know and share what I was going through. And I'd love that. I'd love to be able to just look at others with compassion and be like, “Hey, I know what you're going through.” But of course, we don't have these neon signs above our heads, and we all walk around like everything's fine.
If someone asks, how are you, we always say fine, no matter what. And that just feels so inauthentic. I actually remember in the last year just hating it when people ask me, “How are you doing?” I hate being asked that question because do you really want to know? That's what I want to say, “Do you really want to know how I'm doing?” Of course, I'm doing much better now, thank you. I had a discussion yesterday with a friend, and I said, “You know, I feel really, really happy now.” I'm in a really good place. But I can look back on the last 18 months, and I've been through stuff. Now, of course, I have a way deeper level of empathy. I may have lost my parents. I've lost friends, so I've been through loss. But I have a level of empathy. But that's what I want from a practitioner. I really don't like it when practitioners act cold and professional. Of course, I want professionalism, but cold professionalism, distance, and a wall — that makes me very uncomfortable because, I don't know, I feel judged. I feel like I'm the crazy, messy mom. And this person is looking at me, going, “What's wrong with you? Why can't you keep it all together?” So I want a practitioner to be like a little bit of a hot mess. I wanted them to be good at their job. But I want my practitioner to be still having some little baby throw up on their shoulder or something. Just show me your humanity. Show me you're real. Show me your humanity and have that empathy.
A lot of practitioners feel like they have to wait to be perfect in order to help people. I did not wait to be perfect to start my podcast. I'm still on my health journey. I've healed a lot, and I'm sure about that. I've reversed many health conditions, and I'm still on my health journey. I'm still not like Mount Everest of Health, like the peak of Mount Everest. So I'm still working on myself. We're all on a journey. But I really got that if we all waited to be perfect — like if someone is listening as a practitioner, or a coach or something and they're still working through their emotional trauma, don't wait to be perfect. If you have the capacity to want to help people, it's okay. If you're still struggling with your fibromyalgia, but you want to help people, do what you can, and like you said, let your trauma inform you. Let your healing be that way of further helping other people heal themselves because you can be that mirror. You can show them like. “Hey, I can still live a life while I'm healing. I can still help people. I can still make a difference. And so can you.” So, as a practitioner, by you being authentic, you actually encourage other people to heal even further because you allow them the space like it's okay not to be perfect. We all can just be a work-in-progress together.
[0:31:40.7] Elizabeth Guthrie: And that's the beauty of this. When you find yourself in a situation where you had trauma, and you start learning about how to recognize trauma and how trauma affects people, you start seeing yourself in certain pieces, and you start being able to recognize how other people might be affected differently. When we look at trauma, you've actually described some different types of trauma here, right? Acute trauma is something that happens very quickly. There may be repercussions for months or years afterward, but they've usually lasted a couple of days. They're very sudden, a sudden death of a loved one, physical attacks — things like that are all considered acute trauma. And that's the stuff that we normally look at and say, “Ahh, that's traumatic.” But we also have chronic trauma, and they are usually more subtle. And some people may not be able to recognize them right off the bat — things like living in an unsafe neighborhood where you're constantly on alert and unsure of who's safe and who's not. Is that car safe? Are they going to give me trouble?– that kind of thing. Discrimination in general, when you have people who are in group sitters are discriminated against — that can create forms of trauma, and those are chronic traumas. And another thing that speaks to some of what you and I have been dealing with is a chronic illness, which can create trauma. And a lot of people who have chronic illnesses have been in situations where they feel isolated, where they feel like they cannot get what they need.
I know, from my journey with long COVID this year — I got sick in December of last year, and by January, I was having to strategically plan trips to the bathroom — and I remember that there have been times when I wasn't in a position to get myself a drink of water, and I had to wait on somebody to be available to help me with that. And those moments can add up. Not everybody is going to walk away from chronic illness or trauma. But a lot of people who have chronic illnesses have chronic trauma, and they don't even know it because nobody has ever said to them that, yes, this is a form of trauma. Trauma thrives in isolation. When someone is isolated — when they feel like they're unheard, when they feel like they're not connected to others, which has also been the reality for most people for the last two years — trauma thrives in that environment. And you end up with a lot of people who have complex trauma. C-PTSD, that's complex PTSD, that's usually when multiple sources of trauma have occurred, and it can create other types of symptoms that are very specific to complex trauma situations like a very, very strong inner critic that just berates you. That's a very C-PTSD-type symptom.
So, there are all these different types of trauma. And then, of course, that's not even getting into the layers of trauma where you have generational trauma. Maybe it's something that's happened to your parents or grandparents, and it affects the way that they treat you. For instance, I have an aunt who died of leukemia, and I actually share her birthday, and I can tell, looking back on my childhood, how that changed the way that my grandparents and my parents treated me because of the trauma that came from Catherine dying. And it wasn't bad. It wasn't that they created more trauma for me. It just changed my environment growing up. And there are times when it just changes your environment. And then, sometimes, our generational trauma begets more generational trauma. And we see that a lot where the abused becomes the abuser, and we see that through the generations. And then of course, community trauma and things like that. So there are all kinds of different ways that trauma can occur for people. And the easiest thing to remember is if you feel isolated, if you feel alone, or if you feel helpless, those are moments that can make you more susceptible to trauma. And if you have felt that and you feel like you've had trauma symptoms afterward, you may not be diagnosed with PTSD, but there may be some trauma things that if you start looking at it like, “Well, how can I adjust things to bring myself back into a place where I feel more connected, where I feel calm and safe with people?” That can bring you to a place of better healing.
[0:36:34.3] Ashley James: Now we have laid out some ideas about trauma because a lot of people didn't know. So I was emotionally, mentally, but never physically abused, but in some cases, it would have been easier if you'd just hit me because then I could have ended it. If someone tries to physically abuse me, I'm not going to take it. I studied martial arts for many years. I’m not looking to pick fights, but I'm going to defend myself. I'm going to block. I'm going to throw you because I studied Jiu-Jitsu, and I'm going to sit on top of you until the cops come.
[0:37:13.7] Elizabeth Guthrie: Which is you being able to honor your fight or flight response? And you can’t do that as well with emotional trauma.
[0:37:19.5] Ashley James: Right, right. So I didn’t actually recognize it, and I could not really see that it was emotional and mental abuse until I got out of it and left the country to move to the States. And then, looking back, I was like, I had to get distance, and I became a master practitioner trainer of neuro-linguistic programming, timeline therapy, and hypnosis. One of my friends who also went through the same courses, we'd often help each other get perspective because when it's our own life, it's better to talk about it, get it out of you, like talk therapy. As long as it’s a safe person to talk to, sometimes it's just good to just get it out because when you hear yourself say it, you’re like, you just got a different perspective. And we were talking, and I realized just how abusive it was, just how manipulative and controlling and how bad it was. But at the time, when we’re young, you just want to be loved, and I was like a martyr. I just wanted to do whatever just to make him happy. That kind of thing. And then I was. “Wow, that was a really messed-up relationship for five years.” Like you said, he’s isolating you from other people, not letting you have friends controlling where you go. It got bad, and I'm so glad I'm out of it because now I know how to healthfully enforce my boundaries. Those relationships allow us to learn what we want and what we don't want, and it allows us to learn how to support healthy boundaries when we experience them. That’s what I don’t want. Now I know how to teach people how to treat me because I know what I don't want.
So looking back, sometimes you’re just listening — I'm sure as people are listening to us talk, they're going, “Oh, wow. Maybe I was in some of those situations in my past, in my childhood, where we didn't feel safe.” Those kinds of things. So we have emotional trauma trapped in the body. I've had several interviews where people have touched on this, including the man who invented Emotion Code, and that's really amazing how he detected and saw it as practice — that people had trapped unresolved emotions in the body and how to resolve them, how to release them from the body. And then, the subsequent physical healing that would occur because of that, or their pain or chronic pain would immediately disappear. Those kinds of things were really fascinating. We have to understand that we can see physical bodies, so we honor it, like, yes, the physical body exists. But we don't see emotions like we all see the mental body, the emotional body, and the energetic or spiritual body — we don’t see it. But it is there nonetheless, and each one affects our physical body.
We can tell very clearly that we can hook our bodies up to machines. We watch a stressful movie, like a zombie movie or something, and we can see that even though you know you're safe in a movie theater, you know you're safe. If you watch a stressful movie like Schindler’s List or something, you're living through something. Even though you know you're safe, your stress hormones will go up. Your heart rate will go up. Your physical body is being affected by this experience. I know some listeners might be too young to remember 9/11 or at least have had an emotional impact on themselves. But for years, I felt that there was an impact that, collectively, we had trauma. And then, in the last almost three years now, collectively, we are all sharing in some degree of trauma. I don't believe in supporting the victim mentality. What I mean by victim mentality is holding on to it and being like, “This is why this is happening to me,” and then not giving them the tools or supporting them in the tools to allow them to step into their power so that they can heal. We don't need to be stuck in this trauma. Acknowledging it or recognizing it is a good step, but then, of course, your whole book is now, how do we support them — and I don't want to use the word empower because actually, the root of empower means that they don't have the part of themselves and you're lending them your power. I want to help them step into their own power so that they are able to use these tools to help them along their healing journey. So, I'd love for you to go through some of the things in your book that really helped people to step into their power.
[0:42:26.0] Elizabeth Guthrie: Right. So one of the things that I mentioned earlier in passing is that I see this is a form of rewiring, so you're not going to balance something back real quick. Normally when we look at emotional things or a lot of the energetic work that I've done in the past with the chakras and things like that, there's a lot of balancing that occurs, and balance is good. We want to come back into that place of homeostasis, or on a more ethereal level, and be back in alignment so that everything slows the way that it should. But then there's a rewiring that has to take place when it comes to trauma, so we can get the physical body back in balance. But then we have to really take some time and recognize that. Whereas with balance, maybe like a seesaw, you may just put one thing on it, and the seesaw comes back to a balanced state. Rewiring is more like — have you ever walked into one of those server rooms where all the wires look tangled up, and you're never going to know where one goes unless you follow it with your fingers? What we do when you have trauma, and you have to eat to help your body come back to a better state is, we're now taking those wires, and we're untangling them and putting them back in order so that it's very nice and organized, and that takes time. So, when you first come out of a situation where you've had trauma, you may start noticing — if you've already been using herbs, essential oils, mindfulness yoga, anything — you may find that you’re responding differently to the natural remedies. Or if you're a practitioner and you're working with somebody, and you suspect there may be some trauma whether they've revealed it or not, then you may start to realize that they're not responding to the recommendations that you've made in the same way that you would expect. And there are a lot of things that can come into play here. A lot of the time, when trauma is involved, it makes it harder for somebody to hold down a job. They might struggle financially if they weren't already in a situation to begin with because people who are in disenfranchised groups tend to have more trauma. So there may be things like that that are causing them to not feel like they can afford the remedies. They may not feel like they can keep making the recommendations that you've made, or they may physically be having an odd reaction, an anomalous reaction, if you will, to what you've recommended.
And so, it's really important to recognize that this is not making an excuse for people. Like I actually said, we're not looking to support an idea of victim mentality. “Oh, whoah, it’s me. Nothing can be done. Look how awful my life is.” That's not what we're after here. But what we can recognize is for a lot of people, what we would consider the “normal options” aren't necessarily going to work if they've been through trauma. So if somebody comes to you and says, “Hey, I've used this, and it's making me anxious.” Valerian is one of those. But sometimes, somebody would come to me and be like, “I'm anxious on it now,” and we can shift to other things that have similar properties that maybe will work better for them. And to me, that is the big thing, and I'll talk here for a few minutes about some different herbs and things. But I really want to get people to recognize that a lot of the times, what I'm saying about these different herbs can be helpful for people, but we also have to recognize that we need to honor when somebody comes to us or if you're doing this for yourself and if you're trying some things for your body. Just because I said that passion flower is relaxing for the majority of the population, if passion flower is not working for you, change it up and find another nervine. You don't have to go with something just because I think that it's a wonderful option. However, the most important part of this in my mind is to pivot, to be ready to change. If you need to adjust something, adjust it. The dangerous thing here isn't moving forward, changing, running into roadblocks, and having to shift. The dangerous thing here is to stop altogether and allow yourself to stagnate, throw up your hands and say, “I give up. I'm not going to find the connection I'm looking for.”
So, before I get into the herbs, I did want to say one more thing about polyvagal theory because, to me, this is the important piece that will help because you can say, “Well, okay, Elizabeth, I hear your truth. I hear what you're saying. But how do I know when something is helping me come into a state that's going to help me heal from trauma?” Because when I go to my therapist, and I talk, and I come out of there — I have a talk therapist that I've had for, oh gosh, I don't know. Six years now. I love her to death. I don't even know how long it's been. It's been at least six years. And that has been some of the best spaces for me to go and clear my head and come up with new things to help me. And she helps me process through the why of what's occurring. Why is my brain going this way? Why am I having this response to this conversation? But a lot of the time, the work of what — what is it that I'm experiencing, what is it that I'm feeling, and how do I process what's happening in my physical body — is what I'm doing as an herbalist. And a lot of that comes into play through the polyvagal theory.
So Dr. Stephen Porges created the polyvagal theory, which helps to explain the way that our parasympathetic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system respond to stress. And this is a very, very quick overview. I'm not going to say that this is the end of it. Doctor Porges has written several books on it. Deb Dana has also written some very practical guides to utilize polyvagal theory. For those of you who are therapists or do some of this work already, she's got some really interesting stuff on that. But to summarize, the polyvagal theory indicates that we have three different states of being when it comes to our nervous system and the response to the environment around us, whether it’s dangerous or not. Our response to the environment around us is either sympathetic, dorsal vagal, or ventral vagal.
The sympathetic state is your fight-or-flight state. It’s where we're heightened. It's where we feel like we can fight back. It's the place where if we can run, we're going to run. The adrenaline is pumping, and we’re ready to go. The dorsal vagal state is the place where we feel trapped, and it's the freeze response, or in complex trauma, sometimes it creates a fawn response, which is where a person doesn't necessarily want to give in to what their abuser is suggesting. But they give in to it in order to try to keep themselves safe. That kind of comes from a dorsal vagal response as well. And that is where we don't feel like we can fight anymore. We don't feel like we have the ability to flee the situation. We're stuck, and our body freezes up. And then we have the ventral vagal state. If you can't remember sympathetic and dorsal, that's fine. Don't worry about it. One just means fight-or-flight. The other really means freezer fawn. Again, it’s very simple, but for the purposes of this discussion, that's all you need to know. The ventral vagal state is the important state because that is the place where we are calm, where we are connected, and that's where healing occurs.
So when we're looking for herbs, and we're looking for essential oils, and we're looking for flower essences or activities, we want to find things that help us to return to the ventral vagal state. For some people, this is yoga movement, and it can be different types of yoga. I have some clients that when we work together, we do a lot of restorative yoga poses and just lay in a position where we're fully supported for several minutes at a time. I have other clients who, if I did that with them, they would run out of the room screaming because that puts them in a place where their brain is almost like it starts to come up with all the ways that things could be going wrong. And because you calmed everything else down, now the alarm bell starts going off in the brain, and it can become very overwhelming. So instead, for those people, restorative may not be the answer. We may go for something like a gentle flow. Something that is a little bit more Vinyasa in nature. There's a lot more movement to it. So that the mind is focused on the movement of the body and not focused on what alarm bells could go off if we sat there long enough. And we do the same thing with herbs.
So there are certain people who have a lot of fantastic benefits from the nervines and the adaptogens. Depending on how your body responds, depending on whether you find yourself in that fight or flight or the freeze and fawn response, it can determine which herbs might be better for you. And that's where a lot of the herbalism work goes for me. And I will say this because it never is as simple as if you're in this group, go to this. If you're in this group, go to this. There are always people where it's the opposite, and that's okay. What I'm encouraging you to do when we're talking about these things is to try something, and if you find it's helping, stick with it. And if not, then adjust and try something else. So nervine herbs are things like passion flower, lavender, and valerian. There are several different options. Skullcap and hops — these are all different options for nervine herbs that are available. Most nervines tend to be pretty relaxed. There are some stimulating nervines, but most of them are very relaxing, and you're going to find them in things like sleepy tea or de-stress teas. I love Starwest Botanicals. They are probably my favorite herb option in the area. If I'm going to order something, I’ll probably order it from Starwest. But you don't necessarily have to go order yourself a bunch of cut herbs and put it together. You could actually go to the grocery store just to start, just to try it the first time. Go to the grocery store and pick out a couple of relaxing teas. Brew yourself a cup of the tea, and then spend some time just mindfully smelling it, noticing how it feels. Sipping on it, noticing how it tastes, and spending a few minutes after you're done with the cup and see where your body lands. Do you notice yourself feeling a little bit more grounded and a little bit more focused? Do you find yourself starting to fall asleep? That happens sometimes. But see where it lands with your body and spend that mindful few moments seeing what happens with your body and seeing if that's the right tea, and try another one. Try two or three different types of tea. It’s even more fun if you’ve got a couple of friends that you can sit down and talk this through with, and you all can each buy a box and do a tea swap where you get two or three packets of each of the teas. Then you get to try them and see what tea blends work really well for you. And you might notice, what are the herbs that we see in those tea blends? There might be certain herbs that you decide, “Oh, you know what, I could grow that in the garden.” And that might be an herb that you keep on hand. But start with tea. Start with that area and just see, are there nervine teas that could be helpful for me?
[0:55:25.9] Ashley James: Can you spell this? Is it ‘nerving' teas or ‘nervine' teas? I'm really down, but I wasn't sure what you were saying.
[0:55:35.4] Elizabeth Guthrie: My Southern accent says ‘nervine'. It's n-e-r-v-i-n-e. And if you all hear me on other discussions, I slip into ‘nervine'. I believe the majority of people call them ‘nervine', but you will hear me call them nervine. I'm talking about the same thing. I'm just from the Deep South.
[0:55:58.2] Ashley James: I appreciate all accents. I've been in the States long enough that I can pass for an American. But then, once in a while, I say ‘house' or ‘about'. But everyone knows where I'm from. I can't say ‘about' like an American. How do you say ‘about'?
[0:56:15.0] Elizabeth Guthrie: It's very nasally. So you're doing it, like, in your throat. ‘Almost' and ‘about' is up in your nasal passage.
[0:56:22.3] Ashley James: It feels so weird in my mouth. I appreciate everyone's accent, and I love your Alabama accent. It's so much fun. But nervine — I've written it down so I know what it is — that's so great. I love those combination teas. We don't get sick often, but when we do, I am right there with the Breathe Easy tea and the Throat Coat tea, especially if I'm waking up in the morning and I have an interview, and my throat starts to feel scratchy. I'm going to get four bags of Throat Coat tea and throw them in the pot and brew a big pot of it. And I really like those Sleepytime teas. They do a number on me. My body is like, “Yes, give it to me.” So I can feel it.
When I am in the ventral vagal state, I know it. I know it because I've done in the past years, like you said, Qigong. I'm not great at meditating. I've got to admit. I appreciate those who can meditate. But I love prayer, and I love yoga. It's movement, moving, and stretching. I'm one of those people. I love Qigong and Tai Chi, just the slow-moving, and that is good for me. I feel a difference there. I can feel the calmness, and it's almost like someone is taking a weight off my shoulders and a weight off my chest. Because my mom was like a type A personality, go, go, go, go, go, she used to say don't wear your shoulders as earrings because you start getting tense. When you're in that fight-or-flight, and your shoulders just get tense, and they start creeping up towards your ears. Just remind yourself, don't wear your shoulders as earrings. Just let them drop, pull them back, and relax. But there's a hurry variability, a lot of the smartwatches now and those little devices, all those kinds of things, can track your hurry variability, which is a really great way of measuring your stress levels. It's kind of like measuring your basal metabolic rate. We can measure our base stress rates, and our base stress levels.
Maybe you could coach us a bit for those who haven't done years of yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi and are not as in touch with their body. I noticed it because stress is not an emotion like it's easy to know, “Oh, I'm in anxiety.” Sometimes people don't even know they're in anxiety. They're just feeling like a lot of stuff, but they're not recognizing what emotion it is, like, when you're happy, when you're sad when you're angry. We know when we're happy, sad, and angry typically, but because stress is not an emotion, it's harder to say, “Oh, I can definitely feel that I'm in this healing state, this ventral vagal state. “I'm in the rest and digest state,” unless we have these devices telling us. But could you share with us what are clear signs that we're in that state? Let's say we've had that tea, gone for a walk in the woods, did a two-minute hug with our loved one, rolled on the ground laughing, and had a dance party with your kid. It doesn't always have to be this calm moment. They could be loud if that's what your nervous system likes. But what can we see, feel, or know to inform us that we have switched from fight or flight to rest and digest?
[1:00:31.3] Elizabeth Guthrie: A lot of the time, it's a matter of how present you feel. I'm the worst interview guest ever because everything is, ‘it depends'.
[1:00:43.1] Ashley James: You know it's okay. Everyone says that. We're not cookie-cutter. But you're going to give us some examples, and everyone takes away what works for them, so don't worry about it.
[1:00:53.7] Elizabeth Guthrie: A lot of the time, what I have found to be helpful is how in your body do you feel. Because a lot of the time, we get into a place where we feel calm and soothed. But even with all of the somatic work that I've done, and like you said, the Qigong and things like that, there are even times for me where I have to kind of check-in like, “Am I in the moment? Or am I going into that dorsal vagal or that freeze response?” If I feel like I have control over how alert I am, that's a big one for me. If I find myself in a place and I'm like, “I don't really know if I feel ventral vagal right now that calm and connected place.” I'll see if I can bring myself back into a little bit more of an alert state and do I have the ability to soften back into almost sympathetic and dorsal vagal responses. Those are healthy responses. But it's when we get stuck in them that the sympathetic becomes fight or flight, and the dorsal vagal becomes freezer fine. So if we can find ourselves having some level of control over how alert we are and how well we are interacting with our environment, that's usually a pretty good sign that we are in a ventral vagal space. So if you don't have any idea and you're out of touch with your body, which is very common, the intero and extero reception gets really messed up when you have trauma. One of the easiest things to do is just notice, “Am I able to come back into focus or allow myself to relax back into a little more fuzzy state?” And when you catch yourself in those moments — Deb Dana called some glimmers of the ventral vagal state where just for a moment we feel really connected, something just feels right. Notice what you feel in your body. It's like you're saying, “Are you wearing your shoulders as your rings?” At that point, your shoulders are usually relaxed and may be back a little bit. They may be hunched for it if your posture is generally not good. But if they're relaxed and down, notice that. And so when you find yourself at the sympathetic or the dorsal vagal state, and you notice your shoulders coming up like you mentioned, relax them back down. Or you may notice that you feel a warm sensation in your stomach. There are all kinds of different ways that you would feel the ventral vagal state in your body.
So for me, the key is noticing when I first have the moments of ventral vagal connection and then where do I feel it in my body. Noticing when I feel in control of my state of alertness, and then noticing when I'm in that control, where do I feel it in my body? How can I hang onto that for just a second longer? You were talking about different types of ways to bring yourself back into that. One of the things that we see is group activities and connections with others through group activities. It can be very helpful to bring us into a ventral vagal state. One of my friends, Dr. Jessica Ogle, just did her Ph.D., and her thesis was on drumming. It's not just a drum circle. She was actually using drums in a therapeutic setting. But drum circles can help people come into a ventral vagal state. Yeah, there's some really cool stuff out there. And if you find yourself getting into a ventral vagal state and you really want to stick with it, you're like, “Okay, I'm feeling it today. I really want something to help me stick with it,” that's when I start encouraging my clients to look at adaptogens.
So Adaptogens are herbs that help the body adapt to stress. And there are different forms. There are stimulating adaptogens, and there are relaxing adaptogens. The three I mentioned in my book are probably my top three favorites for working with people who may be dealing with some sort of trauma response. The first one being holy basil which is also known as tulsi, and it's not officially an adaptogen for herbal purists out there. Technically, we say that it has adaptogenic qualities. It's not been labeled an adaptogen, but it has very similar qualities, and it's really nice. First of all, holy basil grows like wildfire here. I love it. And it's got a very rich taste. I used to love prunella for the same reason. It has this rich, spicy flavor to it. And if somebody is dealing with a lot of brain fog, that tends to be my go-to for them to work with the holy basil.
And we have Ashwagandha, which is nice because it has anti-inflammatory properties, and we haven't had a chance to talk about information yet. But inflammation is a big thing when it comes to trauma response. And Ashwagandha is really helpful, just pretty much in general. It's a wonderful adaptogen, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties. You're seeing it become a lot more popular now because people have caught on to how great it is. But just be aware that if you go and you decide to get yourself a supplement of Ashwagandha, check on the label and make sure it's not blended with other things because there are a lot of supplements that are called Ashwagandha and when you look at the label it's blended with other adaptogens, and you don't want to get Rhodiola and whatever. Not that Rhodiola is bad, but if you have a natural tendency towards that fight or flight response, Rhodiola may amplify it.
And then the last one that I wanted to mention was Shatavari. It is an ayurvedic herb as well as these other two, and it's the one that I go to when somebody has just been beaten down over and over and over again, and they're like, “That's it. There's nothing left. Like I don't even know how to heal at this point because I've been through so much that I don't even remember what it feels like to feel normal. I don't remember what it feels like to be able to have a safe connection with people.” So those are my three kinds of adaptogens that can help when you're trying to get more and more into that ventral vagal state.
[1:07:39.0] Ashley James: I love Ashwagandha.
[1:07:41.2] Elizabeth Guthrie: Ah yeah, it's a great one. I was just going to recap. Nervines have a lot of good, relaxing properties. They help the nervous system to bring things back into balance. And then, once you're starting to get glimpses of the ventral vagal state, finding yourself an adaptogen that you like to help amplify those times when you are in the ventral vagal state can really help with that rewiring process.
[1:08:07.8] Ashley James: For those who don't know, could you explain what the word adaptogen means in the context of turning on the rest and digest response?
[1:08:17.2] Elizabeth Guthrie: Yes. So adaptogens help our body to adapt to stress, which I think I kind of said earlier. We're getting into the window of tolerance discussion now, and we didn't talk about this earlier. But we have what's called the window of tolerance. And if you imagine a tiny little window and you have to stay within that window in order to stay in what would be considered the ventral vagal state, adaptogens help to stretch that window out. So there are different things that help to stretch our window of tolerance, like therapists are trained to stretch us to the edge of the window of tolerance when we're processing through things, and they help us to stretch into build resilience. And the adaptogens do a similar thing on a physiological and ethereal level. It is helping to open up that window of tolerance and make it bigger.
[1:09:18.5] Ashley James: I first learned about adaptogens from a friend of mine years ago, a naturopath who used to call me Ashwagandha because my name starts with Ash. “Ashwagandha, how's it going?” He's like, “Actually, I think you should take Ashwagandha.” And I love making moon tea with Ashwagandha. And I learned this really great technique where you can make a concentrate of moon tea. So it's a can of coconut milk. I'll see if I can put the recipe in the show notes of the podcast. I actually made a whole video. It's on my website in this thing called Learn True Health Home Kitchen. But it's a can of coconut cream, and then we measure out all the different herbs and spices, and it's antimicrobial, so it's anti-parasitic. And it's great for when you want to just bring yourself gently down into a wonderful sleep. My body responds so well to Ashwagandha. So we'll mix in or blend in the Ashwagandha, the coconut cream, some clove, some cinnamon, some turmeric, and some pepper. I'll put the whole recipe in the show notes. And so, yeah, not peppermint. I meant to say pepper because the pepper activates the turmeric. And then we mix it up together. And then what we do is we need to concentrate, leave it in the fridge. It lasts for a while, like weeks. And then at night time, I take a mug with hot water, and I take a big heaping spoonful of the stuff and mix it in, and then if you want sweetener, you don't have to, but if you want sweetener, you can do whatever floats your boat like honey or maple syrup, or monk fruit, whatever floats your boat, to taste. But the largest herb there is the Ashwagandha. But we do put a lot of other warm and spicy herbs that just bring a nice heat to the body, and, like I said, it's also anti-parasitic. So it's anything to prevent worms, those little creepy crawlies we don't want in our gut and unhappy about. But yeah, it originates from India. But I love making the concentrate, and I learned that from a friend of mine because he's sitting there and having these twelve jars and having to like to put it all together every night. It's just like a pain in the butt. So he just makes it once, and then it lasts for a few weeks. Just that, oh man, it's really just deep, deeper sleep.
But the first time I did adaptogens, it was a blend, and maybe Rhodiola was in it, I don't remember. This was over twelve or thirteen years ago. It made my heart race, and I thought I was going to die. I was so terrified, and I was really, really scared for many years. I have waited all the adaptogens until my friend was like, “Listen here, Ashwagandha, you need to try some Ashwagandha.” So I was like, “Okay, not every adaptogen is bad. But like you said, try one at a time instead of a blend because I did, and that really freaked my body out, and my body went into complete panic mode. I had a huge adrenaline dump. It's like we have to have the same reverence and respect for herbs as we would do walking into a pharmacy. It wouldn't be like, “I was going to take a handful of whatever random pills.” So you don't do that. Herbs have their place, and they're amazing. We should reach herbs first. But we have to be really careful in terms of dose and know how our body responds to it. So would you say start out small, be more conservative, and be like trying a teaspoon? Yes, let's talk about dosing.
[1:13:33.8] Elizabeth Guthrie: Okay, so first, let me finish that little bit by saying you're right on track with that. So a lot of people who naturally run into a fight or flight response with their stress will have that kind of response to stimulating adaptogens, like what you're talking about. Whereas if somebody naturally runs into a freeze response, their normal instinct is to freeze when dealing with stress. Then stimulating adaptogens can sometimes be very helpful for them. So it really does depend on, again, we're back to sympathetic versus dorsal vagal and how it works with the herbs. But yes, dosing — okay, let me caveat this by saying I have had clinical herbalists who think that I am looney and that I have no business suggesting such low doses because — those of you who are listening to this and know what I'm talking about, please don't hate me — but there are some people who really believed in the physical capacities of herbs, and that's really as far as their training has gone. There are very good herbalists, and if you have somebody that works with you and they go from that angle, I'm not suggesting you should leave. But they don't like the way that I recommend doing dosing because my dosing method is focused more on the ethereal side of things, and I believe that you should do a very low quantity to start. That's why I start people with tea. I don't start people with tinctures which have a higher dose to them. And usually, when I start people on tinctures who have dealt with a lot of trauma, I start with drop dosing or very low dosing with tinctures. The reason for this is that if we're focused on what your symptom set is, and is it indicating that there's a lot of heat that needs cooling? Then I'm working on cooling herbs, and I'm going to be using a much lower dose. Is there a lot of cold that needs warming back up? Then we will be doing warming herbs, and it's not going to need this high of a dose because it is, again, kind of energetic based. And I believe that this is best for most people who have dealt with high levels of trauma because, like you were talking about where you had tried that adaptogenic blend, and when you were done with it, you thought you were going to die because it just blew your body's response up.
For people who have been through trauma, their resilience level is lower, and that window of tolerance — remember, we're talking about the way that would be adaptogens — can be stretched a little bit. Usually, when you first start to heal from trauma, that window of tolerance is a lot smaller. So when somebody's window of tolerance is very small, and then they have a few herbs in their system that causes them to have a response that they don't like, instead of it being a slight inconvenience, it becomes a much larger feeling of being overwhelmed. And so if we start with a smaller dose, if there is a response like that, then there's not as much of a response, and it doesn't feel as overwhelming. Plus, like I said, a lot of what I work with when I work with people is more on an energetic level anyway, and I focus on the energetic. And the funny thing is, when we do that, a lot of the time, the therapeutics tend to fall into place. You tend to end up with the right physical therapeutics as well. But because I focus on the energetics, I do suggest starting with a much lower dose.
That's why I like it if you're going to try this for yourself; if you are a practitioner, I have classes. We talked about this. You can get the book and start there and kind of see if it's something that makes sense for you. But if you're trying this for yourself, then I encourage you to start with teas or just a very small dose of something in whatever form you can. If it's Ashwagandha, you're probably going to find it in capsules and things like that. But that helps you to determine, “Do I feel a little bit good, or do I feel a little discomfort?” Determine from there. Is that what you want to continue using? If you're feeling a little bit good, maybe go up to the full dose and see how that feels. Sometimes the full dose can be a little too much, and it can start to feel a little over-stimulating. And so you find, “I'm just going to stick with the half dose,” or whatever you chose to begin with. So yes, I definitely encourage you to start with a lower dose and work your way up.
It's the same thing I do with essential oils, minimum effective dosing. The smallest amount possible to get the best results. First of all, it's cost-efficient. You're not spending a whole lot of money overusing a substance, but you're also minimizing the chance that you're going to have a response to something that makes you uncomfortable and makes you go, “Maybe this is not for me.”
[1:18:42.7] Ashley James: I like that very solid advice. Start with teas like the entry-level, nice, safe dose. On the other side of the spectrum, it's the concentrate, which is like tinctures and essential oils. And the capsules are somewhere in the middle because you can regulate that. Once I know I like something like Ashwagandha, I'll get a whole bag of it, an organic, good source, big bag of it in bulk because, like I shared, I can then make my tea with it. And you can get a machine to encapsulate your own stuff if you want to save money. But I'm just throwing in smoothies. Just scoop it up, throw it in there, blend it in, cover it up. You can do that with lots of mushrooms. There are so many good tonifying mushrooms for the nervous system. That's really helped me as well. Do you touch on that? I know you are teaching your courses, and I definitely want to make sure the listeners know about that. They can work with you in that capacity. But do you have anything to say about mushrooms?
[1:19:54.1] Elizabeth Guthrie: Yeah. Actually, it's interesting because I almost forgot to talk about the autoimmune discussion. So one of the things that we have found, and there are a lot of different things that point to this, is that there may be a connection to somebody having this lasting trauma response and having high levels of inflammatory markers in their body. And so we're beginning to see that there's some sort of connection between inflammation and trauma setting into the body and making it harder to heal from trauma. And I have several clients who we end up — I almost feel bad for him because they come to me, thinking we're going to do a lot of nervous system herbs, and then we end up totally down the immune path, and they're like, “What's happening? This is not what I signed up for.” Sometimes that is what is standing between people and their healing. It is an inflammatory response. It's out of control and is making it impossible for their nervous system to ever get to a point where it can heal because the inflammation response is blocking it.
So, a lot of the mushrooms have immunomodulatory properties, and those immunomodulatory properties can help to bring things back into balance and to help with an inflammatory response. Now, of course, there are other things you can do. You can look at healing leaky gut. I know you've had some good people on here talking about inflammation in the past, so you all may want to look up those episodes as well. But as far as herbs, any kind of immunomodulatory herb, a couple of cups of green tea, if the caffeine doesn't bother you if it does, then stay away from it, but the L-theanine in the green tea is a fantastic option to help with calming and relaxing. So, for most people, if you drink a cup of green tea, then you're getting a balance between the two. But things like stinging nettles can be immunomodulatory and very helpful, or like you said, the reishi mushrooms, that kind of thing, could be extremely useful for immunomodulation. So if you think that you have an inflammatory load that is higher, then that may be a good thing to be doing alongside some of these nervous system herbs that we've discussed.
[1:22:25.5] Ashley James: Are there cultures that have noticeably lower rates of autoimmune inflammation? Do you know of any? I'm just thinking of, for example, Asia, which probably consumes the most amount of green tea. They are naturally getting good amounts of L-theanine, and then also, Asia loves reishi. They are widely accepted and taken mushrooms. I just wonder if certain cultures, because they include these foods and beverages in their daily life and in their culture, like, “See here, these guys are doing this, and they have 25% less autoimmune than those in America,” for example, who consume less amounts of these things. I wonder if we can look at each nation and see which ones have significantly higher rates. Of course, who's tracking all this? But it would be interesting. I know that cardiologists have done studies of the Japanese population versus the American population when it comes to heart disease or cancer rates. And so I just wonder if we're tracking autoimmune now as well, as we tracked those other issues?
[1:23:50.4] Elizabeth Guthrie: So interesting because as you were talking through that, I was Googling. Google is the best and worst thing ever, right? But hey, so I actually found some information. I'll try to send you this link so it can be in the show notes for anybody who's interested. But on statista.com, there is a prevalence of diagnosed autoimmune conditions in selected countries, and it is not very many countries. But since we're talking about the United States and Japan, it's showing a 2% rate in Japan and a 7% rate in the United States in 2019. Now, does that mean that it's absolutely that, or maybe they're not diagnosing it? We'd have to look at their structure and how they chose to diagnose because, obviously, undiagnosed stuff happens all the time. But I suspect that you're probably on to a bit of something there.
[1:24:46.6] Ashley James: Well, yeah, and I've had several guests on how to reverse autoimmune, and it's largely diet. Surprise, surprise. Largely with diet, we can wreck a lot of major issues and discussions, and that's why we listen to this show and learn from these guests in how to take control — and there's that word again — the feeling of being in control. We're giving that feeling back to the person who is listening because “Here's something you can do. You can go to the store. You can buy this tea. You can take it.” Like now, they feel like they've got something they can do. So many times, I've heard so many stories of people going to their medical doctor. The medical doctor is basically saying, “You just got to live with this and just deal with it.”
Again, I'm not ripping on all medical doctors. You can't do a mass generalization, nor do I. However, with our observation of their education, we have to understand that their education has informed them, and they see through a lens that is different from those who have been holistically trained. It's a different lens to look through, and they really will have the hubris to believe that they have the answer and no other answers exist outside of their body of knowledge. Not all MDs, but there's been so many cases, and so many people have just, like you said, thrown your hands up and given up because you've been told by the authorities that what you have is something you'll always have. And that's not the case. There are so many answers out there. A medical doctor that I interviewed was really interesting. She ended up going a hundred percent holistic and became a functional medicine practitioner because she became incredibly sick, and no medical doctor that she went to could solve her problem. And they basically said, “Well, now you're just going to have to live with this,” and she was just bedridden. And so it took natural medicine, and she was infuriated because she spent almost half a million dollars and up to twelve years of her life becoming this highly specialized medical doctor, and that all went out the window. Now, that education would help you stop an artery from bleeding out and help someone recover from a stroke or heart attack, broken bones, and certain infections. There's a time and a place for this amazing emergency medicine that I value and trust, and I will be the first person to go to a hospital in those emergency situations. But you don't take your car to a plumber. Why are we always going to the same? And this is the system that we live in because it's a for-profit system. So they've set themselves up as the only doctor to see.
And that's why we have to reach out to podcasts like this, to learn from people like you, so that we can take matters into our own hands and start to explore. We can do this on a daily basis to improve our health through nutrition, herbs, whatever practices like going for a walk in nature. Move your body in a way that brings you joy. Like I said, I love Tai Chi and Qigong, and you can do it in a structured way, or you could just throw on some music and dance. These things really do affect your hormone levels. They really do matter. They really can bring down inflammation. These activities in your life — when you go to sleep, when you wake up, when you enter nature, and what you eat — all play a major role in affecting your body and honoring that. And then this doctor, I asked her, “Why is it that so many medical doctors — not all of them, I'm not throwing them all in the same category — act as if natural medicine either doesn't exist or that it's some snake oil quackery, and that pharmaceutical-based medicine, that allopathic medical system, is the only medicine?” And she said, “Listen, we invested almost half a million dollars and eight to twelve years of our life, just depending on specialties and stuff, invested a huge amount of time, a huge amount of energy, a huge amount of blood, sweat, and tears, essentially, and we come out of this believing that we must have been taught everything that matters. And if they didn't teach it in the last eight years and half a million dollars in education, then it isn't important.” And that is what every medical school is pushing, right?
And so what we have to do is understand that the practitioner you go to is incredibly important in what you choose. And also, do not let their opinion be the end-all-be-all. Do not let them dictate your healing because I was told I'd never have kids by an endocrinologist. After a battery of tests, I was told that I was barren, and that's ridiculous. We have a wonderful boy that's almost eight years old, and it was a natural medicine that brought my fertility back. I reversed a hundred percent of my polycystic ovarian syndrome, and I was told by many people that you cannot reverse it. And I'm like, well, I'm about to show you.
[1:30:02.0] Elizabeth Guthrie: And so, when you're coming to all of this, and you have had trauma. It's interesting when we're talking about nutrition, and my Master's Degree, there was a focus on functional nutrition, and there is a strong movement that says that autoimmune concerns are a nutrition thing. Diet, diet, diet. And that is true for a lot of people. But there are also a lot of people who have trauma around food, and they may have an eating disorder, or there may be nutritional concerns that make it difficult for them to hit that from that angle. And if that's the case, be aware, and listen to what Ashley has said about it. There are other things. There's Tai Chi, yoga, and there are herbs that can help. There are ways that you can focus on your health that don't include nutrition.
Now, for those of you who are able to work with nutrition and it works for you, there are some amazing options there, but don't feel like that is it. This is what I'm talking about with trauma-informed care — pivot, pivot, pivot. If you have an eating disorder, or like a lot of people with adoption trauma, they have concerns around food, and they may be fighting food, hoarding, and things like that. There are a lot of restrictive diets that are used to help people heal up the leaky gut and things that can actually activate those responses where somebody now is struggling to fight the need to hoard food in their room because they can't have certain things. So all these little nuances like that, if you're listening to this and you're hearing the things, don't get stuck on just one thing. Recognize that there are other things that we are talking about and don't hear, “Oh, it has to be nutrition,” because Ashley mentioned all these other things too. That's the kind of thing that I am trying to help practitioners to notice and to recognize because there's a lot of stuff that we've been taught that we see as, “Well, this is the way.” And then, we have to recognize that we can become creative and we can still stay evidence-informed. We can recognize that there's empirical evidence for these other methods that maybe aren't as simple as looking at something from a nutritional angle. There may be a little bit more complex. There may be a little more nuance that we have to wrestle with. But when we do that, we are becoming more accessible to other people.
So there's amazing stuff that's being done. And what I encourage you, as practitioners who are listening to this, is to constantly be willing to expand your horizons. Look at different options, and learn about new things. If you can't carry it, then find people in your area that you trust, or find people who work virtually, like I do, that can help you as a referral system. Build your referral network when necessary. And then, of course, those of you who are listening have hope that there are options available. It just may take some time to find what works for you with the situation that you have dealt with. You told me about homeopathy at the beginning of this, and it may be something like that. It may not be something that has a physical component. It may be something that is purely energetic, like flower essences, which is not exactly homeopathy, but it's kind of a form of it. And what I work with a lot are flower essences and aromatherapy, and herbs. The flower essences help a lot when somebody has struggled on the physical front.
[1:33:40.2] Ashley James: I love that you keep preaching the willingness to try new things. I don't want to say get out of your comfort zone because that can kind of trigger the fight or flight response. But think of it from this perspective of being in control because, like you said, that's calming when you're feeling like you're in control. So you get to brew the tea, you get to sip the tea. You could put on a YouTube video just to see what basic Tai Chi is. It's really fun, actually, stroking the horse's mane. I went and did Tai chi. I remember this was like 20 years ago, and I was heavily into studying martial arts, to study Okinawan goju-ryu karate, and jiu-jitsu. And then we did a little bit of gōngfu and some Tai chi. And I go with my sensei to this town that only has like 100 people, and it's small. I was in rural Canada. And it was in the senior center, and it would be a senior center gymnasium filled with eight-year-olds, and he would lead the class. It was so cool just to be there and do this in rural Canada with a bunch of seniors when I was in my early twenties.
It feels really interesting because how many times in our life do we breathe and move slowly like sloths? We never do that, but what an interesting thing for a nervous system because, especially for me, I'm a busy mom. I'm running around doing so many things. I always kind of catch myself going, “Wow, I feel really crazy right now.” You know what I mean? I feel not crazy, but I feel really like a mom with her head cut off, like a chicken with its head cut off. I'm making food. I'm packing food. I'm taking the kid here. I'm homeschooling there. Go to this class, go to that class. I feel really productive and great, but even though you're still having fun and being productive, how many times are we surviving on fight or flight? Many women I talk to believe that, “I need this adrenaline. I need this cortisol to get through the day.” I need to be in fight or flight to get through the day, to be productive.” And they think that they need it to be productive.
And to do something like Tai Chi or Qigong, where you intentionally move slowly to something we don't do, and you intentionally breathe controlled and deep and really oxygenate your body, especially in the last few years, so many of us really do need that. And what happens is the nervous system goes, “Oh, okay. We're not freaking out. We're not putting out fires. Wow, there are no fires to put out.” And then you just feel your body, like you said, come into the now and relax. If you can hold on to that while you're being busy through the day, you not only really enjoy being productive. You'll just be, like you said, centered, calm in the now, and you can be busy and productive, but you hold on to that state where you're telling your body, telling your nervous system, that everything's okay. That you're safe, that everything is fine. So you don't have to trigger the fight or flight, and your body can continue healing and assimilating food. Being in a fight or flight, sometimes we lose our hunger, or when we eat, it sits in our stomach, just like a pit in our stomach because our body is not digesting it. You're not digesting when you're in fight or flight. And so if you can eat a meal and you feel like you really digested — it's not sitting there, and it's not stagnating in your gut — that is so good because your body is able to assimilate those nutrients.
So I love the little tips you gave us. Start with the tea, then get experimental, but have fun with it. Choose something that you don't feel is scary. But trying new things from the standpoint of it is going to be fun. This is going to be an experiment. Maybe include your girlfriends, like you said. Everyone buys a different tea and you can all share with each other. I love that. Or essential oils — you and your friends could take some different essential oils and share them, and you have an essential oils party. There are so many things that we can do together to make it fun. Making it fun is not triggering the fight or flight response. If you can make it fun, then it's not threatening.
[1:38:21.6] Elizabeth Guthrie: It's fine if it's a healthy expression of the sympathetic nervous system. And I love that you've mentioned that because, to me, it is so important to come to a place where things are enjoyable. We want to be able to dip into the dorsal vagal, which becomes a freeze response when we're dealing with trauma. But we want to be able to settle in front of a fire, surrounded by loved ones, and be in almost a meditative state. I don't want to call it a dull state because I'm not trying to call it negative. But it is almost like the mind becomes a little fuzzy, and you are just able to sit and be with people. That is a little bit of an expression of dorsal vagal. And we want to be able to have those fun moments of a little bit of sympathetic expression. They're supposed to be there, but it's being tempered by the ventral vagal and coming back into that connection.
And another thing that I mentioned in the book is there are ways to make your own flower essences with the flowers that you have. And so, if you have a flower that you're particularly fond of, you can make essences. You can do it direct if it's something that's edible. If it's something you shouldn't be eating, you don't have to do a direct flower essence. You can actually put the water next to the plant. So there are all kinds of different ways to make this interactive. The book, of course, is called The Trauma-Informed Herbalist: A discussion around effectively supporting clients who are struggling with trauma. But I had a lot of people read it who aren't practitioners and who love it because I am talking to practitioners through a lot of this and talking about being willing to be flexible and find other things. But my whole essential oils chapter has a whole list of different oils and the ways that I have found them to be emotionally useful for people. Or the plant spirit connections and digging into trying to find more aetheric ways to connect with plant medicine. And when you do that, you are reclaiming that autonomy when you are making those choices. That's where you will find yourself able to get back into a place of ventral vagal connection more frequently.
[1:40:39.2] Ashley James: Love it, love it. Thank you so much for coming to the show and sharing those things. I want you to tell us how we can take your courses.
[1:40:49.4] Elizabeth Guthrie: If you go to traumainformedherbalist.com, you will see at the top and or the bottom that there's a place where you can go to my classes under Empathic Coaches Academy. It is the name of the school. And if you go to traumainformedherbalist.com, you'll be able to see about my work about the book if you're interested. The classes range from — like, I have one class that's specifically trauma-informed aromatherapy. I'd love for us to get on that topic next time because that is a fun topic. It's a six-hour class that digs into trauma-informed care from an essential oil standpoint. I'm currently teaching trauma-informed herbalism, so you can go, and you will find that there as well. And then, of course, I have my full practitioner program that's available for people who are looking to dig even deeper.
[1:41:43.9] Ashley James: Love it. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Is there anything you want to leave us with? Any homework, maybe?
[1:41:52.5] Elizabeth Guthrie: My homework to you is to try something. I'm not going to tell you that you need to go do the tea activity, even though that mindful tea activity is my favorite thing, where you drink the tea and you smell it, and you just spend some time with it. I encourage you to take one thing from this session and go this week and try it out. See what you notice about how you feel when you try it. And from that, what would you do differently or the same? So if it is the tea and you go, and you get three or four of your friends together, and you all do a tea swap, did it work? Did you find something that you felt was really good for you? How does that change what you're going to do from here on out? Making these small little steps is the way to rewire. Remember the visual I gave you at the beginning? We're not looking to balance a seesaw and fix things overnight. We are unplugging one thing, untangling it, and plugging it back in. Unplugging the next, untangling it, plugging it back in. Slow and steady is what's important when it comes to healing from trauma.
If you have questions, don't hesitate to reach out to me at any time. I am here to support you all as much as I can. But I genuinely feel like your best decision is to brainstorm some of the stuff that you've heard today. Brainstorm it, take it, and try something out and see what you can find that can bring yourself back into more of that ventral vagal connection.
[1:43:28.6] Ashley James: Awesome. Awesome. Let's all go do that. I love it. I love it. You know what? I think what I'm going to do is I'm going to write a little sticky note that says ventral vagal stimulation or something to remind me, are you in the rest and digest? And I'm going to put that on the fridge or something. Sometimes it's nice to have little reminders. I write notes to myself and put them on the fridge. Oh yeah, put it in the bathroom. Just remind yourself and go to the toilet. You can put a sticky note right across the hall, or whatever wall is in front of you or near you, or near the toilet paper, because you're sitting there for 30 seconds to minutes, or however long you're there. You've got some time to check in with yourself, check in with your body, do some deep breathing, and maybe visualize what you want to have to happen.
That's a big thing I teach people when I teach them to get out of their anxiety. It is to imagine what you want to have to happen because we are always imagining so much of what we don't want to have to happen, which triggers the anxiety response. Imagine what you do want to have happened today. And that tells the body that we're not under attack. We are in a safe place where you can imagine what you want to have happen. Even if it's like, “Oh, I imagine making myself some moon tea tonight, having had a really good day.” Just imagine yourself making it, sipping it, having it hot, and smiling to yourself at how great today went. That's it. You don't have to imagine the whole day. Just imagine that, at the end of the day, you're saying, “Hey, this was a really good day.” That's enough to tell your body, “Oh, I'm not under threat right now.” Taking those times to just check-in. So I love this whole discussion, and there are so many actual things, so much homework that we can do. So, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing with us today.
[1:45:29.1] Elizabeth Guthrie: Thank you, Ashley. I'm thrilled that I've been able to do this. This has been amazing. And I hope that as people begin to find themselves more and more in the ventral vagal state, they're able to make connections with each other. And that's how we're going to eventually heal a lot of the wounds that have happened over the last few years. It is to bond together in safe and effective communities. So I thank you and thank you to everyone who is listening to this because we've covered a lot. It's been a lot of material. But you people are the ones that are making this change. We're sitting here, we're discussing these ideas, but when you go out, and you make those changes, and you start healing yourself and your families and your communities, that's where the real legacy stands. So, thank you.
[1:46:17.9] Ashley James: I hope you enjoyed today's episode with PhD candidate, Elizabeth Guthrie. Looking forward to Part 2, which will be the next episode that I publish, in which you will hear the update from this last interview. You can go to learntruehealth.com/plants to sign up for the free webinar that Elizabeth is putting on. She's going to be teaching a really interesting herbal, somatic, aromatherapy, clinical herbalism. It's all really interesting. So if you like today's interview, it just gives you a whole new thing to add to your tool belt — this idea that you could add essential oils and teas. You don't even have to get into the heavy-hitting stuff like tinctures and extracts. You could really work very gently with herbs to nourish the body and support the body in emotional, mental, and physical well-being. And so you're going to want to sign up for the free talk that she's giving. It's a webinar. It's coming up Saturday, August 5th, at 10 a.m. Go to learntruehealth.com/plants and just sign up for the free thing. Even if this is after August 5th, still go to that link because I'm going to be making sure that we get the link to her ongoing stuff that she's doing and making sure that we link to that because she's giving ongoing talks and training. This is a free webinar that she's giving, but she also does paid courses that you can take in the comfort of your own home. And you, too, can become an at-home herbalist to support yourself and your family in amazing health and healing. Thank you so much for being a listener. Thank you so much for sharing this podcast with those you care about. Please share this episode with those in your life who you think would love to use plants around them to support them in healing emotionally, mentally, and physically. Have yourself a fantastic rest of your day.
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Health Coach, Podcast Creator, Homeschooling Mom, Passionate About God & Healing
Ashley James is a Holistic Health Coach, Podcaster, Rapid Anxiety Cessation Expert, and avid Whole Food Plant-Based Home Chef. Since 2005 Ashley has worked with clients to transform their lives as a Master Practitioner and Trainer of Neuro-linguistic Programming.
Her health struggles led her to study under the world’s top holistic doctors, where she reversed her type 2 diabetes, PCOS, infertility, chronic infections, and debilitating adrenal fatigue.
In 2016, Ashley launched her podcast Learn True Health with Ashley James to spread the TRUTH about health and healing. You no longer need to suffer; your body CAN and WILL heal itself when we give it what it needs and stop what is harming it!
The Learn True Health Podcast has been celebrated as one of the top holistic health shows today because of Ashley’s passion for extracting the right information from leading experts and doctors of holistic health and Naturopathic medicine
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