Interview with Traci Joy Burleigh
Traci Burleigh

In this issue, we talk to Traci Joy Burleigh, an Ayurvedic practitioner, nutritionist, and yoga therapist based in San Francisco, whose practice revolves around a holistic approach to the body and its relationship to food. We discuss her Ayurvedic-influenced perspective on nutrition and how it plays a significant role in not only the physical, but also the mental elements of our everyday lives.

Hi Traci, thanks for making the time to do this interview!

Can you tell us a little about yourself, in particular how did find yourself working as a nutritionist, and what led you to bring Ayurvedic philosophy into your work?

Traci Joy Burleigh

I grew up in a medical family with a mother who was diabetic, and was constantly paying attention to food. We ate 3 meals a day, prepared at home by my parents, with her, and our health in mind. However, as it turned out, I don’t have the enzyme in my gut that digests wheat, so I was still sick a lot from eating all the wheat in an American diet. When I was 18 and otherwise living a healthy lifestyle, I finally went and saw a nutritionist/allergist and was properly diagnosed. Really learning how to cook, and enjoying the growing, preparation, and consumption of [a] wise diet became central to healing my chronic issues. Ultimately, it was the modality of Ayurveda that worked most successfully, and I was sold. I love food, and appreciate that it is so central to Ayurveda, with a lively, colorful, shame-free approach.

For people who aren’t familiar, could you share about some of the building blocks that inform your work and an Ayurvedic approach to nutrition?

Traci Joy Burleigh

I work both as a Western nutritionist and also an Ayurvedic practitioner, who puts food at the center of regaining health. Ayurveda is classical Indian medicine, not terribly different from TCM, or traditional Chinese medicine. Prevention of imbalance is highly valued, and when a client has moved into an actual imbalance or a disease process, we approach firstly from a place of harmonizing [the] diet. There is no one right diet, no one correct choice. Diet should vary from season to season as influences change, person to person, depending on what is going on. We assess individual constitution and then make recommendations for lifestyle excellence.

Flat Lay of Ayurveda Spices (Source: Himalaya Wellness)

The spices & ingredients that make up the classic Ayurvedic dish, Chyavanaprasha | Source: Himalaya Wellness

How would you characterize the role Ayurvedic medicine and nutrition can play in today’s world?

Traci Joy Burleigh

Nutrition is finally taking center stage as a critical element in addressing health and longevity, and it is beginning to be taught at our medical institutions. This is essential, as we are truly made of our food, and the SAD (standard American diet) is just that, wreaking havoc on health and responsible for much of our drastic increases in cardiac disease, immune/autoimmune disorders, and diabetes & metabolic syndrome over the past 3 decades. Ayurveda is just emerging in the country — well tested through 5,000 years of practice in the East — and is a very practical science. It is individualized medicine that works with the foundations of health — primarily diet. It empowers people to take back their health through simple gestures such as meal planning, cooking, [and] meditation. It helps put us back in charge of our health, one step at a time, with an eye to the broadest view of our interconnectedness.

Can you share about how you approach integrating Western and Eastern nutritional philosophy?

Traci Joy Burleigh

Western nutritional theory has been largely based on constantly changing research and lobbying by certain special interests agricultural and consumer groups, thus shifting often, leaving consumers confused and frustrated. Eastern nutrition has a certain stability that has stood the test of time. Now, the merging of the two [philosophies] gives us an opportunity to use current research to globalize and modernize these long standing dietary truths and help people find what is right for them, knowing that [one’s] diet needs to change with age, season, climate, stress levels, travel, and other lifestyle factors. In the West, we tend to demonize and fear certain foods, and others trend as wise [diet choices] only for a limited amount of time. The Eastern practices teach us to be less moralistic and short sighted about food, and to focus on improving the quality of our digestion and our ability to nourish ourselves generally.

Traditional Chinese medicine and harmony of the planet: Lixin Huang at TEDxWWF | Source: © TEDx Talks/YouTube

How do you approach presenting information from the two perspectives to people? Do you find yourself choosing between the two, or trying to integrate them into a cohesive perspective?

Traci Joy Burleigh

I work to get to know the person I am working with, not only in terms of what diet/practices might best suit them, but in how they will best receive information and learn. If someone speaks Western medical language, I start there, and then begin educating about Eastern principles, possibly expanding their range of food interest and knowledge. If someone grew up with Ayurveda in their family, that is my entry point. By finding common ground, and the areas that really intrigue and inspire patients, I ultimately strive for an integrated perspective.

Do you think the popularity of Ayurvedic medicine and nutrition has increased in recent years? If so, why?

Traci Joy Burleigh

Absolutely. It is following the rise of yoga practice in this country (and the world). Ayurveda is the branch of the Vedas that treats the body, [while] yoga [treats] the mind. But we have confused that — we have a population that is famous for overdoing things and many find themselves depleted or injured with yoga, wanting something deeper than a physical practice, but unclear on intentions and best/safe practices. As our national culture continues to embrace improved health, Ayurveda offers simple, foundational principles — it has both a strong folkloric tradition and a strong medical tradition, and that provides access, depending on where people want to enter — from yoga, from nutrition, from mindfulness, etc. Right now, we are still working on national licensure for Ayurveda, and once that happens, I think it will spread as Chinese medicine and naturopathy have.

UNCUT INTERVIEW – Dr. Vasant Lad | Source: FourSeasons Productions/YouTube

What are some of the rewards you find people receive from an Ayurvedic perspective? How do these differ from people working with a more “standard” Western perspective?

Traci Joy Burleigh

People get to learn about and embrace their uniqueness. Many have noticed, over the years, that they might feel better when eating differently from their partner or their kids, and yet we often pressure ourselves in our busy lives to just do what everyone else is doing; to do what is easy. As we refine our understanding of ourselves, we can enjoy things that are truly done to make us feel better, to address what is wrong on a personal level so we can heal and thrive. We love routines and rituals in Ayurveda, and in a world that is more and more devoid of depth and meaning, this can be very empowering and satisfying.

Do you find that you usually work with people who participate in related experiences like yoga and meditation, or do your clients come from a variety of backgrounds?

Traci Joy Burleigh

I teach yoga, yoga therapy, and do research at UCSF, and my practice is strongly word-of-mouth driven, so I do see clients from a variety of backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, etc. Some of my clients are Indian, and [they] remember the wisdom of their ancestors and are looking to reconnect with that in their modern lives. Some people are certainly from the yoga and meditation communities, and others, like my patients at the hospital, are desperate to feel better — and they witness how well Ayurveda works and are drawn to that.

Do you present the information you have to offer differently to people from different backgrounds and with different experiences? How do you approach tailoring this to your audience?

Traci Joy Burleigh

Most definitely. As I mentioned before, I work to speak to the person in front of me, in their language, [and] in a style that is appealing and comfortable. As we get to know each other, I challenge them to the heart of the problems that are occurring [in their lives] and to broaden their views on what is possible and available. I love working in a number of different settings and interacting with various lifestyles.

Women’s Health & Ayurveda with Dr. Claudia Welch | Source: Banyan Botanicals/YouTube

In case anyone reading this has realized they want to learn more about Ayurveda in their own lives, how would you recommend someone look for a practitioner?

Traci Joy Burleigh

As Ayurveda grows in its reach in this country, there are more and more practitioners, but it is still a relatively small population. There are some centers of practice like the Bay Area, Boulder, Albuquerque/Santa Fe, Massachusetts, and Seattle, so if you are in one of these areas, you can go online and search for local Ayurveda. Many of us also maintain clients across the country and the world as sources are limited in many places. I work with clients online and over the phone to great effect. There are also many great books and some online resources — Dr. Robert Svoboda, Dr. Vasant Lad, Acharya Shunya Pratichi Mathur, Dr. Claudia Welch, to name a few.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work and experience?

Traci Joy Burleigh

I encourage people to take their health, including diet, into their own hands, literally. Pay more attention to what you eat, how you eat, when you eat, what you like and don’t like, what makes you feel great and not so. Work on your digestion, so all your lovely investment in food actually benefits you. There is a lot of contrasting information when it comes to diet, and we have to sort it out for ourselves, since there is not one right solution. A good practitioner can help make sense of it all and help you get to know yourself so you can make best possible choices. We truly are what and how we eat. Choose wisely! I have witnessed incredible healing with simple dietary changes, and some radical transformations in chronic disease by more intensive ones. Never underestimate the power of food on the quality of our lives. With so many of us facing broken food traditions in our families/heritage, and a culture of cheap, toxic food, one’s food choices really can be part of a revolution in feeling better and living a higher quality of life. May it be so.

Thank you so much for your time!


Traci Joy Burleigh

is an Ayurvedic consultant, Vipassana practitioner, nutritionist, somatic therapist, medical herbalist, ritualist, chef, and bodyworker. She owns and operates Arts of Balance, a studio in San Francisco that seeks to enrich people’s lives through attentive presence, intuitive insight, technical skill, bold encouragement, humor, and radical embodiment.



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