Delicious Living caught up with Heather Baines, an Ayurveda practitioner at Roots of Wellness Ayurveda in Boulder, Colorado. She has been practicing and teaching Ayurveda for five years. We asked Heather to introduce us to the basics.

Delicious Living: What is Ayurveda?

Heather Baines: Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest systems of medicine, and the word Ayurveda itself is the combination of two Sanskrit words: 1) Ayu, which is often simply interpreted as “life,” and 2) Veda, which means “knowledge.”

Ayurveda is a time-tested system of medicine aimed at the totality of health—a healthy mind, a healthy body and a vibrant spirit.

DL: What are the pillars of Ayurveda health?

HB: The three pillars of Ayurveda health are as simple as a grandmother’s advice: Get sound sleep, feed yourself well and cultivate healthy relationships (with yourself, your environment and others).

DL: How is food regarded in Ayurveda?

HB: Food is medicine, and the pantry is as good as the medicine cabinet to manage and reverse illness and disease. Ayurveda recognizes that anything and everything in the universe can be used as life-giving elixir—or can become poison, depending on the context of its use, quantity and timeliness.

Fundamental tastes describe all medicine, and food therefore has medicinal qualities according to the six tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent (spicy). We have an overabundance of sweet and salty flavors in American cuisine. The goal with using food as medicine is to introduce the balance of bitter, astringent and pungent flavors as preventive medicine to ensure longevity and vibrant health.

DL: We've heard that our dosha should guide our food choices. What is a dosha? And how does our dosha relate to food?

HB: As food is composed of the six tastes, the six tastes themselves are made up of a combination of five indivisible elements: Earth, Fire, Water, Air and Space. These five elements make up everything—and everyone—in various proportions. The balance, or proportions, of these five elements are expressed in a person's constitution, or makeup, in terms of three doshas: vata, pitta or kapha.

Vata dosha is a function of the elements of Air and Space. It is dry, cold and rough. Pitta dosha is primarily defined by its heat, a quality of the element of Fire. Kapha dosha is a combination of the elements Water and Earth.

Foods that have the qualities of vata (Air and Space) increase the body’s vata qualities. Similarly, foods with the qualities of pitta (Fire) increase pitta in the body. And heavy, moist, dense or sweet foods with the qualities of kapha (Water and Earth) increase kapha in the body.

Without this understanding, we can easily get carried away with eating too many foods with one kind of quality, and thereby disturb the balance of the doshas in our bodies. Practicing Ayurveda teaches you about your body, how to observe and identify the balance of the doshas that are unique to your constitution, and how to choose foods with qualities that support your health.