Skip to main content
First Person

I tried it: Aura photo

In Sedona, you're supposed to let happy wellness advice wash over you. But what if the advice isn't so happy?

By Schuyler Velasco

“This much yellow, I just know you’re not having any fun.”

This wasn’t what I expected to hear when I sat down for an “aura photo,” a kind of photographic psychic reading. It was the most barbed feedback I’d gotten on my vacation in Sedona, Arizona, where I was having fun suppressing my standard eyeroll and letting dubious health and wellness advice wash over me. I’d smiled as jewelers told me how amethyst stones can cure addiction. I’d nodded along as the guide on our yoga hike raved about celery juice and laid out the mental blocks that keep humans from teleporting.

I had anticipated the same loopy pleasantness here, even though my reader, a woman in her fifties named JoDe Moore who looked like she’d stepped off the Sons of Anarchy set, had warned me that wasn’t her style. “If you’re messy, I’ll tell you,” she said.

‘A strong woman always looks really Yang.’

An aura photo comes from a proprietary camera that hooks up to sensors on a small metal box. You hold the box, and the sensors translate biofeedback, such as body heat and pulse rate, into an array of bright colors. These stand for different emotions and internal qualities (blue=nurturing; orange=creativity, etc.) It’s like putting on a mood ring, though JoDe hates that comparison.

I cradled the box in my lap and JoDe snapped a photo with her web cam. I’d seen a handful of aura photos before, and in the hands of professional photographers, they can be breathtaking. Mine looked like this:

But a pretty photo was beside the point for JoDe, who was likewise uninterested in delivering a reading that merely flattered and encouraged, like a magazine personality quiz. She swore liberally during our pre-reading chit chat, another way of signaling that she wanted to dig in and fix my shit. Doing so generally takes her between 10 and 20 minutes. The more fraught your mental energy, the longer she goes. She’s had couples’ sessions that lasted for over an hour. 

I had 15 minutes worth of shit. JoDe printed out a photo and pointed out the colors surrounding my disembodied face: a large corner of blue offset by a sea of golden yellow. The blue, she said, was a “Mother Theresa vibe” — an impulse to help and fix things. The danger, she warned, is that “you keep trying to clean up everybody’s mess.”

The sheer amount of yellow concerned her.

“Do you realize you’re really in your head, trying to control everything?” she asked.

I’d heard versions of these things in therapy before. JoDe’s reading was genius the way a good horoscope or Myers-Briggs test can be: just vague enough to sound familiar to everyone, just specific enough to feel like she had nailed something essential about me. Still, it caught me off guard. I sat up a little straighter.

“Sure. Of course.”

It wasn’t all bad. Shots of pink, angelic “god energy” were peeking through all of that buzzkill yellow. The photo printout also included readings for my energy levels (low), spiritual “age” (I am 33, but my soul is apparently 47) and my Yin and Yang balance, which JoDe didn’t agree with. “A strong woman always looks really Yang,” she said, in an incisive bit of feminist commentary. “I just think that’s a load of crap.”

We moved on to solutions. JoDe encouraged me to get a “God Box,” where I could symbolically offload the emotional burden of other people’s problems. But her advice was practical, too: do more yoga, set aside time for fun and creativity, drink plenty of water. Unlike the endorsements for healing stones and celery juice, it was counsel I couldn’t argue with – no matter how it was delivered. 

Published on

Schuyler Velasco is senior writer for Experience.

Stories in First Person