I forget things. I lose things. I interrupt others while they are talking. I am full of ideas but have a hard time following through. I can’t stand waiting in line… or for anything really. I start tons of books and rarely finish them. Balancing my check book is akin to solving a complex equation… I can speed read through something if it connects to the pleasure center of my brain, but have to read academic paragraphs 10 times before I can go on to the next one, and I have so much going on in my head I have a hard time getting started on anything… I am a multi tasking genius.
Any of this sound familiar? I suffered through chronic adult ADHD most of my life. Actually, it started in childhood, but luckily (or unluckily) I was intelligent enough to glide under the radar all through grade school, high school and college… even grad school. I self diagnosed, and then was confirmed via my doctor in my 30’s that indeed all these things that I struggled with were symptoms of ADHD.
Very recently, NPR’s Talk of the Nation did a wonderful piece on Adult ADHD. It stimulated the desire to piggy back and write an article on Yoga Therapy as a treatment modality for ADHD. This is something I have been working with both for myself and my psychotherapy and coaching clients. As a yoga teacher, yoga psychotherapist, and meditation instructor, I have experienced the benefits of yoga and meditation first hand, passing the resource along to my clients. The NPR piece sparked the flame of a seed that has been germinating for some time now. As Yoga Therapy gains more and more renown as an evidence based practice for treating psychological disorders (see research on yoga as a treatment of ptsd in veterans) and multiple medical conditions, I feel called to share my personal and professional experiences in the hopes that you, or someone you love can learn to not only survive, but thrive in the midst of the challenges presented by ADHD.
Michelle Lee Weldon, LPC, E~RYT
*A note from me: This is a little edgy for me… What if you know I struggle with ADHD? Will you think less of me as a professional? Possibly. The benefits, however, outweigh the risks for me. My hope is that my successful navigation of this disorder will be more inspiring than detrimental to our work together …
And on another note, this is meant to be an introduction to Yoga Therapy for ADHD. More scholarly articles to follow in the future…
The Intellectual Stuff:
ADHD in children and adults is described primarily as a Self Regulation disorder: A disorder of the executive functions of the brain relating to regulation of emotion, impulse control, attention, self restraint, organization, behavior management and time management. There are numerous resources describing and identifying ADHD symptoms, so I will not delve into them here. Rather I want to begin to make some connections for you as to how the practice of yoga can decrease, if not heal some of these self regulatory difficulties.
In yoga we pair breath with movement… Meaning we learn to consciously control our breath as we move through different poses. When we focus on lengthening the inhale and exhale, we are, as a natural consequence, practicing focusing our attention. The breath gives us something tangible on which to focus. We have to do it…it is required for living. It’s not like saying~ ok you have to focus on drawing a straight line over and over. This is not a natural component to our existence… Breathing is. It is always happening. We are already doing it, thus it is a point of focus that is easily accessible at any time. Different types of breath work practices (pranayama) have different effects but primarily work to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and engage communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. While we move through yoga poses and focus our attention on the integration of breath with movement, we practice sustaining attention and control over our actions. This helps rewire our brain to slow down create space between thought and action. “Restless energy” is dispelled through cleansing breaths and the repetition of muscle contraction and expansion.
Yoga Asana (the movement through physical poses of yoga) is in itself, a moving meditation. A sustained focus on breath and attention while moving. This is super accessible to those who have a hard time “sitting” on the proverbial meditation cushion. Countless studies have shown that meditation increases both the neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections) of the brain and increases the accessibility and frequency of the brain’s “alpha wave state,” the state in which the executive part of the brain shows optimal functioning (related to increased immune system, regulation of the sleep/wake cycle, problem solving ability, creativity, overall feelings of calm, among many others.) Increasing both the alpha wave state and the brains neuroplasticity has countless implications for healing and rewiring ADHD self regulation challenges.
Yoga in Western culture has evolved into many different types, including faster moving yoga with music (Vinyasa Yoga), making it appealing to kids and adults alike. Think: moving with a group of friends (or by yourself) to your favorite music 30 minutes a day as an effective tool for self regulation.
The Personal Stuff:
I was really sparked by the description of ADHD as a self regulation issue. This hits a very personal note for me. If you have loved ones who struggle with this, then you know what I’m talking about. I experience it in my daily life and watch my clients work with it as well. Meditation was the first step for me (I actually didn’t have problems with sitting on the cushion). But my yoga practice catapulted my ability to focus. Not in such an obvious way as “all of a sudden I have no more problems” but what I notice is that when I need to focus, I have the ability to return to my breath (because it has become a practiced habit- I don’t have to remember to remember to focus on my breath) for a moment and that quiets my mind, so that if I want to focus, I can. And then for the rest of the time, things just feel smoother… Like that moment when you wake up and everything feels CLEAR, where you still have the remnants of alpha waves in your brain and can streamline your attention. This is from the benefit of regular practice. We know that when you exercise a muscle, it gets stronger. The same goes for the “meditation/yoga” brain. I can follow conversations I am not directly involved in (like when a group of people are talking) and my energy is more sustainable, instead of coming in such high peaks and valleys.
How Can this Help You?
* If you have children who struggle with ADHD… a fun yoga (movement) practice paired with movement can help to build these self regulation pathways in the brain early. *Summer is a great time to start get this ingrained in preparation for the next school year! There are tons of kids yoga classes (at studios) as well as private sessions with me available.
* If You struggle with adult ADHD… a regular yoga practice with a studio and teachers you like and resonate with can begin to build in you the tools and benefits I’ve described above. (I can help you find studios and teachers in your area.)
* Yoga Therapy sessions with me for you or your loved ones… Pairing yoga with psychotherapy and/or life coaching creates the most comprehensive experience. You get the physiological benefits of Yoga in conjunction with personalized practices, coping tools and psycho~education to help with the logistics of navigating ADHD in your life.
I am really passionate spreading the knowledge and increasing everybody’s ability to live the kind of life they were meant to live! To connect with me, schedule a session or learn more about Yoga and ADHD please feel free to find me via any of these modalities: