One doctor of Chinese medicine cites the silver in the ground as the source of Aspen's palpable buzz, other references the ayurvedic theory of vata dosha. One thing is for certain: spiritual gurus of all stripes agree this is an intense place - and paradoxically home to a new wave of healing practitioners ready to balance you out.
Most people who visit Aspen have probably experienced it in one way or another: a tangible energy that makes the town feel almost alive, a buzz of electricity that runs through the atmosphere at a higher frequency than most other places. That might be part of the reason Aspen draws so many holistic healers, yogis, energy workers and other spiritual leaders into its midst each year. According to some, this wellness renaissance might be out of necessity, a way to help people find balance in the face of Aspen’s frenetic frequency.
That intense energy is something David Hatfield, a doctor of Chinese medicine and licensed massage therapist, detected almost immediately upon his arrival to Aspen in the early ’90s. “I thought, this town is just mental, and it’s not just me. There must be something else to it.”
As an acupuncturist, Hatfield manipulates the flow of electric energy through the body with needles or his fingers, and could detect Aspen’s energy the same way he might read energy flow in the human body. He believes the town of Aspen is like a cauldron, a big bowl of silver underneath the earth. (Geologically speaking, he’s not wrong. The silver boom of the late 19th century died because of a shift in monetary policy, not because we ran out.)
Aspen Mountain has a positive charge and Red Mountain has a receptive charge, Hatfield explains, and that creates a spin, counterclockwise. “In Chinese medicine, silver is associated with the mind and mental body. This spin brings the mental energy up and out.” He says it’s essential to balance that mental energy or it can be too intense, something he’s witnessed living in Aspen for more than 20 years. “When things are a bit too much, take a break and get out of Aspen’s energy—it is intense.”
That idea is part of why Gina Murdock founded the organization Lead with Love (formerly Aspen City of Wellbeing). “People see the beautiful exterior of Aspen, but Gina knows what’s on the underbelly, issues with addiction, suicide and mental health issues,” says Jess Ewart, executive director of Lead with Love. “She thought it’s not a city of well-being yet, but maybe someday it could be.” The organization’s mission is to create a series of programs that enhance well-being for everyone, from city employees and hospital workers to the Pitkin County jail. These programs focus on concepts like mindfulness, yoga-inspired movement and healthy eating, those practices that are the heart of wellness.
Ewart, who also studied ayurvedic medicine, explains Aspen’s energy in much the same way Hatfield does, but with different language. “In ayurveda, doshas are different biological energies. Vata dosha is comprised of air and space and is very dominant in places that are cold, dry and windy, especially places at high altitude,” she explains. Ewart says vata dosha is associated with creativity and isn’t grounded, but swirling and frenetic. “People with a lot of vata walk fast, talk fast, and are almost like idea factories. That’s what draws people to Aspen energetically—that creative force.” Like Hatfield, Ewart believes it’s important to find a way to balance this intense energy. “There’s some kind of magic alchemy here, and it’s not manufactured,” Ewart says. “I think that’s what draws so many people to our events.”
Aspen Shakti founder Jayne Gottlieb helps others navigate Aspen’s intense energy through offering a yoga practice that focuses on balance. “People here work really hard and play hard, and it’s this culture of people with high intensity, and that is a very masculine quality. To balance that out, it’s natural that we would attract healers and creatives as these are feminine qualities. This balance helps keep us from blowing out our nervous systems.”
Gottlieb describes her studio as a feminine space, partly because it’s underground. “It’s grounded, a place to go inside and heal and find a little bit of solace from the bright extreme light and the massive Aspen air and intense culture,” she says.
For Ute Sundance Chief Kenny Frost, it’s a lot simpler than all of that. “People may label it as energy, but it’s the feeling you get from the beauty of the land. Which is what drew the Ute tribe to the Aspen Valley many years ago. That beauty was of great power to the Utes. That’s what brings that good feeling to you—that sacredness.”