Caroline Rasmussen loves a challenge. After all, each one is an opportunity for growth.
The onetime NYC-based investment banker and corporate lawyer’s life was turned on its head when her father was diagnosed with early onset dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Suddenly, in her devastation, she became profoundly aware of how her own stressful and unfulfilling lifestyle was detrimental to her health. Back in her native Thailand, she set out to learn more about brain health and also consciousness, training to become an herbalist, Reiki practitioner and a member of the International Association of Counselors & Therapists, focusing on meditation, cognitive neuroscience and hypnosis.
Ultimately, she began creating her own remedies for friends and family and founded Antara, a line of research-backed, herbal brain food nootropics to support short-and long-term brain health. She sees her creation as more than a supplement company, focusing also on mental wellness and “heart minds.”
Here, Rasmussen tells her very personal story, explaining why herbs and gratitude have proven to be the best medicine:
LIVE THE PROCESS: Before your father’s diagnosis, did you know about brain function and/or wellness? What did your life look like?
CAROLINE RASMUSSEN: At the time of my father’s diagnosis, I was working as a corporate lawyer in NYC and, before getting my law degree, I was in investment banking.
I grew up in Bangkok, Thailand and had a carefree adolescence that involved a lot of travel around Southeast Asia. In 2004, I headed to the United States for college. In those years, getting a job in finance or consulting or some aspect of the Wall Street complex was viewed as the thing to do. I didn’t give it too much thought beyond that and beyond the fact that it seemed like it paid well.
Once I started working in BigLaw, my health started declining pretty rapidly. I was just throwing myself into the expectations and demands of the job without thinking about whether it was actually interesting to me beyond the external validation or whether what I was doing was sustainable, mentally or physically. Certainly, I didn’t know anything about brain function. I did try various guided meditation apps and the 8-week MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) course to deal with my growing anxiety—but they didn’t really help me.
LTP: Once you learned about your father’s diagnosis, what was your journey to learning about brain health and wellness?
CR: My father’s diagnosis came as a complete shock, especially at such an early age (in his 50s) and since we have no history of Alzheimer’s or dementia in my family. And, as anyone dealing with this knows, on a personal level, it is devastating to see someone’s mental faculties and selfhood drop away. By this point, I was so depressed and exhausted from the stresses of my lifestyle that it immediately crystallized for me that what I was doing was not how I wanted to be spending my time.
I left law and went back home to Thailand to both restore myself personally and learn more about this diagnosis that had come out of the blue. What I learned from doing research and talking to neuroscientists and integrative medicine practitioners was that cognitive decline actually begins in the brain decades before it’s diagnosed, and it is heavily lifestyle-driven. When we experience things like brain fog, chronic anxiety, depression and inflammation, as I had been, they aren’t only unpleasant in the moment; they’re setting us up for a negative trajectory down the road.
On a practical level, I started training in herbal medicine and meditation, which are mainstays of the traditional Thai healthcare system. And, as I applied what I was learning to myself and my family, I started seeing real improvements in our day-to-day function and experience. My own transformation—combined with all the research around herbs and meditation that substantiated their benefits more broadly—became a passion around mind wellness.
LTP: How did you come to found Antara? What sets your supplements—and mission—apart?
CR: Founding Antara was an organic process that grew out of this personal journey of healing and dealing with my dad’s diagnosis. Once I experienced how effective these herbal therapies and consciousness therapies are in managing the issues that can arise with our brains and our minds, I knew I wanted to work in this area in some way. I kept thinking about all my old colleagues back in NYC trying optimize their performance with things like Adderall. These herbs I was using with my family and friends were so much more sustainable in terms of creating a flow state, while actually helping improve brain health.
I took a close look at what already existed in the market in terms of all-natural supplements for the mind and didn’t find any herbal products that met the standards of something that was prescription grade. While the Antara Brain Foods are based on TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Ayurvedic herbal preparations for the mind, ultimately, the final formulas take account of hundreds of studies on each herb to identify the most clinically proven and bioavailable extracts. They also make use of the full spectrum of traditional nootropic herbs and brain botanicals, not just adaptogens. Nootropics are substances that improve cognitive function, while adaptogens help modulate the cortisol and stress response over time. While these are certainly related and several herbs fall into both categories, many products marketed for focus and energy are primarily composed of adaptogens and leave out important nootropics for enhancing concentration and mental stamina—or include them in dosages or forms that aren’t very effective. Those products can be beneficial, but they will tend not to produce that immediate noticeable improvement in mental function that people are generally looking for and associate with nootropics.
The other thing that sets Antara apart is that I never envisioned it only as an herbal supplements business focused on brain health, but rather as a lifestyle to help people improve their mental wellness more holistically. Taking products alone without better understanding our “heartminds,” as they say in Thailand, isn’t enough to lead a better life. The next step for Antara will be expanding the meditation and consciousness trainings that I currently do into a retreat format, which I'm very excited about.
LTP: What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience, not to do with herbs and medicine? But in terms of your emotional journey?
CR: I’ve done a lot of exploration into the nature of consciousness over the past several years and had the opportunity to establish a strong meditation practice. My biggest takeaway has been the importance of remaining grateful in both the highs and the lows. It’s easier said than done and takes effort and time to cultivate, but it’s such a great feeling when you observe that, in the midst of something challenging, your internal energy isn’t one of anxiety or fear, but one of balance and even excitement about what the challenge is presenting. Getting familiar with this place is what has enabled me to deal with the challenges of my father’s illness, the challenges of starting my own business and just the challenges of modern life. I would never wish dementia on anyone, but, looking back at it all, I can see where it has brought me and how the “positive” and “negative” experiences are just two sides of life’s coin, not really good or bad in the way that I used to think.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
CR: To me, happiness looks like maintaining that emotional balance and being connected to my personal purpose. Those things allow me to show up for myself and others in the best way I can. But, as you can see from that description, it’s a big process to wrangle and it’s constantly changing. So, I also like to look for flashes of joy in each day, where I’m just feeling good or appreciating beauty. It’s much simpler and more immediate. Ultimately, it’s really about the small and simple moments.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
CR: We all have goals, but, when we’re really worried about or overly attached to an outcome, not only will it make the process less enjoyable, but it hampers our ability to reach that outcome. “Living the process” is such a wonderful phrase because it really is about the journey and not the destination, no matter what our culture says. Let somebody else tell you, “Wow! You’ve made it or you’re number one or you’re the first to achieve X.” Find that space where your passion and what you’re good at naturally align. Enjoy and stay in the flow of what you're doing, even as you recognize and accept that life has its ups and downs, and success will come.
We humans are planning creatures by nature, but, if we expend all our attention and energy strategizing about getting to there instead of being here, we’ll miss all the fun and opportunities along the way. Allow your definition of success to be elastic and make sure it’s your definition and not somebody else’s. Leave room for the unexpected in your work and your life and, when it comes, be curious instead of threatened by it. We’re each in continual evolution and when we embrace that process instead of always trying to control or stop it, we really step into our own power.
Artwork Alexis Christodoulou