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Sushama Kirtikar

A flurry of telephone calls to primary care physician’s offices and labs marks the end of a year and the beginning of a new one. When we go for a complete physical checkup, we get every part of our body examined to ensure overall health. Naturally, when we do a full self-evaluation, it seems apropos to examine every facet of our selves.

Envision the ‘self’ as a full circle cleaved into six equal segments: physical self, spiritual self, intellectual self, emotional self, social self and sensual self. These are distinct aspects of the whole person. If we are blessed with these innate attributes, is it not the responsible thing to do to ensure their upkeep? Every part of our ‘self’ needs polishing on an ongoing basis; otherwise, it tends to atrophy like any unused muscle.

The ‘physical self’ gets top billing most of the time, as it is the most tangible and palpable one that we can perceive with ease. Eating wholesome foods listed in the food pyramid that are unprocessed, substantial, energizing and healing is the prescription for proper nutrition. It is essential to avoid foods that contribute to lethargy and nervousness or over activity. Food has a direct bearing on physical health as well as a potent influence on psychological health. Foods rich in protein have a non-essential amino acid tyrosine, which perks up dopamine and norepinephrine – the ‘energy’ neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate mood and fight depression. Foods high in complex carbohydrates have an essential amino acid tryptophan that stimulates serotonin – the ‘well being’ neurotransmitter in the brain that helps soothe anxiety. We all know that a newborn’s cries of distress are easily comforted by suckling at its mother’s breast. The blueprint for a mind-body connection is set in the womb itself.

In India, athleticism received only a cursory glance in the past, as a generally active lifestyle gave a natural boost to physical fitness. However, the sedentary lifestyle of the West pleads for a more conscious exercise routine. It is well-known that cardiovascular fitness is promoted by aerobic exercise. You may be surprised to hear that walking is known to lift depression. It is the natural anti-depressant that can be the prescription in lieu of a pill! A good game of tennis will help release anger and frustration, while swimming long laps in the pool will help relieve stress. During exercise, endorphins are released, which act as organic mood enhancers and create a sense of well being.

For good posture, bone and joint health, toning exercises and weight training are recommended by experts. This helps avert physical pain down the road. Chronic pain is a common complaint, which literally consumes some people’s lives, disrupting harmony and rending families asunder. I see too many people in my office who suffer from fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. If we can spend time and money on, say, dental health, then why can we not do so on the unseen parts of the body? The innards of our body are probably the most neglected, proving the idiom ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Yoga teaches us that mindful breathing exercises oxygenate our inner organs and specific gentle stretches massage them vigorously. Sitting at a desk all day long does little for all the working mechanisms of our intricately crafted body. Let us not take this maze of interconnections for granted.

Insomnia is that pesky cur that nips at our ankles and won’t go away. It leads to irritability, inattention, inertia, loss of productivity and drop in performance. Sadly, popping sleep aids has become the norm. Sleep patterns can be regulated with discipline. Create an atmosphere conducive to rest and avoid reading, watching TV or eating in bed. Reduce stimulants such as caffeine and avoid nicotine. Eat ‘calming’ foods that have tryptophan, a precursor to melatonin in the brain. Learn relaxation techniques using guided imagery. Rejuvenating the body at its cellular level allows restoring our equilibrium. Things look a whole lot better in the morning as the mind is allowed to shed its negative chatter and wake up refreshed. A good night’s sleep is indeed the panacea for many ills.

In the following columns, we will examine each of the remaining segments of the circle. For now, come join me and let us take a deep breath to the count of six and exhale slowly to the count of eight. Breathe! Remember, our breath is the elixir of life, as we know it.

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or e-mail at

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Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran

Your pediatrician has talked to you about getting early intervention services for your child, so you've let your doubts about your his or her development lead you into making a few phone calls about it. You're worried about your child, but you're also concerned that getting help will mean there is something wrong. These five reasons to skip early intervention may be distressing to you, tempting you to just go on and hope for the best. Don't listen. They're bad reasons. Here's why.

1) I don't want to label my child.

The "label" your child gets to qualify for early intervention doesn't go on his "permanent record" – many kids take off from early intervention programs right into regular education preschools and kindergartens. The idea is to label now so that there's no need to label later. Because those labels that come later stick a lot harder. Also, earlier intervention will help with your child’s development.

2) My family thinks it's a bad idea and don’t agree.

Mothers and fathers and in-laws and siblings are always full of advice, but as a parent, the buck stops with you. You spend more time observing your child than anyone, and if you have concerns, they need to be respected – if not by others, then absolutely by yourself. Follow your gut. Also, you or your family isn’t being honest with you because what you see as normal may be mistaken, especially if you are a new parent.

3) My child will catch up on their own.

Maybe, but you're gambling with your child's life here. When your child is 5 years old and still delayed, you're not going to be able to dial things back. Early intervention will do no harm, and may do a great deal to help. Why take a chance when you don't need to?

4) Children need to play and have fun, not do therapy.

Sending your child to early intervention is not like sending him to boot camp. It's fun. Your child will think he's playing as he does things to strengthen his motor skills and gain meaningful language. You'll have fun watching it too, especially if they are making progress.

5) I'll just work with my child myself.

Terrific! Work with your child yourself! There are lots of hours in the day. Doing early intervention doesn't mean doing nothing else. You'll still want and need to work with your child. But chances are the intervention therapists will be able to give you ways to do that much more effectively.

Remember when your child’s pediatrician is giving you advice to seek earlier intervention, especially if you may suspect there is something wrong with your child. Please don’t delay because it will mean the difference in your child’s life.

Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran can be reached at

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