You have to go see Carly.
That’s what Ryan Sharp, owner of White Lotus Therapeutics, has been telling me for weeks. In October, he opened a wellness center in Highland that offers massage treatments, yoga classes, and, unexpectedly, consultations in Ayurveda, an Indian branch of medicine that translates to “science (or knowledge) of life.” Carly Beaudin is the Ayurvedic practitioner at White Lotus, and allegedly, she’ll change my life.
I roll my eyes. In three years of covering Denver’s health and wellness scene, I’ve witnessed a lot of strange fads. To my analytical brain, any discipline that’s described as “a stained glass window with countless panes,” as Ayurveda is on White Lotus’ website, seems dubious. But I always say that I’ll try everything twice, so I made an appointment to meet with one of the Mile High City’s few Ayurveda specialists.
Session 1: December 9
As per usual, I walk in a few minutes late after overscheduling my day. Instead of being annoyed by my tardiness, the receptionist offers me tea. (I really love tea.) This is a good way to mollify my doubts.
Before arriving, I filled out an eight-page intake form covering everything from my past medical and family history; alcohol, tobacco, and substance use; regular exercise and spiritual practices; relationship details (“How often do you engage in sexual activity? Include sex with partner and masturbation.”); food choices; liquid intake; daily schedule; allergies; challenging patterns (emotional, digestive, and eliminative); as well as my Ayurvedic history, which includes questions about my bowel movements, average body temperature, and the color and texture of my skin.
I’m fairly certain the IRS knows less about the dark corners of my life.
Fortunately, Beaudin, 32, doesn’t seem like a sinister accountant or, for that matter, a wandering hippie. When she walks into the reception area to greet me, she’s holding a fluffy white dog, who turns out to have his own bed in her lavender-walled office. Her smile is warm, and she exudes an air of controlled energy that has the welcoming effect of making her seem in charge without being intimidating. Her minimalist office—two chairs, a side table, and a desk—conveys a similar equilibrium and sends the message that the focus is on you, not the outside world.
For the next two and a half hours, we take a deep dive into the sparse responses I’d provided on the form. Beaudin patiently unearths my struggles: The insomnia I developed at age 12 when my father sued my mother for visitation rights. My habit of skipping breakfast in an attempt to get to work on time. The depression I developed during senior year of college, fearing that I wouldn’t be able to find a job in my field, and the related loss of my previously relentless drive. The creative outlet I’d recently found in cooking, inherited from my dietitian mom and amateur gourmand dad. All by listening and asking pointed, seemingly intuitive questions, Beaudin chips away at my armor.
When I leave, my head is spinning. I feel exposed, yet relieved.
Session 2: December 16
Beaudin had told me that she never explains Ayurveda during that first session with a client. The experience of therapy on steroids—of sharing an entire lifetime of challenges with a stranger in 150 minutes—is too heavy for anyone to also absorb the details of a discipline that somehow enables her to guess the contents of your soul. The second appointment, made ideally a week after the first, is when she gets into the nitty-gritty of Ayurvedic medicine.
Ayurveda is partly characterized by doshas, or forms of energy that are similar to personality types. There are three of them: vata, kapha, and pitta, and everyone has a little bit of each. Vata is fleeting, bustling; kapha slower and plodding, while pitta is somewhere in between: a thinker who doesn’t wait to take action. Beaudin assesses that when I’m balanced, I am over 60 percent pitta with a smaller dose of vata and a lesser proportion of kapha. Right now, though, Beaudin tells me that vata is in the driver’s seat, pitta is trying to take the wheel, and kapha is tied up in the trunk.
Beaudin focuses on remedying this imbalance. Although she does prescribe herbs, she usually suggests small lifestyle changes you can make yourself, geared toward the three Ayurvedic pillars of sleep, food, and sex. They often involve pursuing the opposite of your current choices—hot instead of cold food, cloudy instead of clear beverages. For instance, she tells me to drink a cup of water with lemon juice—preferably hand-squeezed—in the mornings. Besides being good for digestion, this will create a few moments of calm to start the day, which will better prepare me for the inevitable chaos as the hours wear on.
At night, Beaudin recommends candle gazing: literally staring at a candle for two straight minutes. I’ve tried meditation but found it difficult to keep my mind blank for an extended period of time. “It’s OK,” she says. “You can’t just jump right into meditation. All these new-age apps make it out to be so easy, and it’s really not.” The candle gazing is a preliminary stage, designed to create a single point of focus to help me gradually ease into a more contemplative state of concentration.
Balance does not equate to perfection, though. If I skip a night of candle gazing, it’s not the end of the world. Ayurveda is about figuring out what works for you, within your busy schedule.
As she talks, Beaudin reveals little parts of herself. She, too, studied journalism as an undergraduate and then briefly enrolled in an advanced mathematics program before deciding it wasn’t the right path. She wasn’t even into yoga, which is often thought to be the sister science of Ayurveda, but when a friend forced her to go to a class, one of the teachers mentioned the practice that would soon become her life’s work.
She headed to California to study Ayurvedic medicine at the California College of Ayurveda, but it took a while for her to let her guard down and experiment. She tells me I shouldn’t believe anyone who says “karma,” the concept that your current actions influence your future decisions, is a real thing. Karma, she says, is really just repeatedly making a mistake until you realize the negative consequences of your bad habits. Dating a scummy guy, for instance, is not going to lead to marital bliss. Once you figure that out, you’ve got true karma, baby.
Just as I’m about to be completely convinced by this whole thing, a spider crawls up the wall behind Beaudin. A lifelong arachnophobe, I immediately screech and point it out. She calmly states that she’s won’t kill it because Ayurveda teaches that spiders are the ultimate truth. This immediately pulls me back to Earth, where eight-legged insects are undeniably terrifying and not a deity that seems to embody an obscure form of magic.
But I still go home and gaze at a freaking candle.
Session 3: January 20
Amazingly (but I suppose, not surprisingly), a lot of Beaudin’s suggestions work. The candle flame is endlessly fascinating; I come up with words to describe how it flickers, twists, and spins back and forth, and the two minutes pass quickly. She’d told me to take a few deep breaths before eating, to admire, smell, and appreciate my food, without any distractions from my phone or other surroundings. This allows me to actually enjoy what I’m eating and consume less of it while feeling more satiated. Strangely enough, the lemon juice makes my head feel fuzzy, and Beaudin—who encourages her clients to text her with updates between sessions—advises that I instead switch to hand-squeezed orange juice, which seems to do the trick.
By the time I’m back in Beaudin’s office, she’s thrilled with my progress. Although she believed in me, she confides that she didn’t think I would go after her recommendations so diligently. I get rewarded with a new assignment of three minutes of candle-gazing and paying attention to, of all things, chewing; apparently, most people swallow their bites long before they’ve grinded their mouthfuls down to a uniform consistency, which affects digestion. Lastly, I’m supposed to lather myself in oil (coconut, sesame, etc.) in a toxin-eliminating practice called abhiyanga. Again, I’m a bit suspicious. Examining my body at length seems like the opposite of loving myself. I don’t want to look at my flaws; I’ve successfully ignored them for decades.
The next weekend, I apply an oily salt scrub to my skin and float in the bathtub for 20 minutes. It takes a shower and a half to feel clean, but afterward, I’m enveloped by this coat of warmth that doesn’t go away for hours. This, I think, is what a hug should feel like.
Beaudin’s dog develops an autoimmune disease that means she has to cancel our next appointment, and I’m overwhelmed at work anyway. I take this as a sign that I’m done with my Ayurveda trial.
I didn’t go to Beaudin to fix something in particular—truthfully, I was just checking out her practice for this article. But after our sessions, I realized that I hadn’t dealt with a lot of my issues. Beaudin showed me that it’s necessary to do things just for me—not for work or friends or family—even if it’s something as small as taking the time to drink hot water with orange or enjoying an oil-covered bath. Now, those small moments don’t feel like indulgences to me. Actually, they make me a better person.
A few days later, I go to drinks with a friend who’s a personal trainer. She’s dedicated the last several years to fitness but has realized there’s more to happiness than being in great shape. She wants to find true balance. I tell her how Ayurveda has unwittingly helped me find that, simply by taking better care of myself.
“You,” I say, “have to go see Carly.”
Carly Beaudin will teach a 90-minute introduction to Ayurveda class this Saturday, March 25 at noon. Buy your $10 ticket online at whitelotustherapeutics.com.