The word ADHD brings up an image of a hyperactive child running around in a playground, but it also affects adults. On the other hand, the word meditation conjures up images of Buddhist monks meditating in a quiet monastery, but recently it’s become popular and mainstream. The question is: can meditating regularly help an ADHD brain?
Meditation helps with ADHD by increasing our attention, reducing mind-wandering, and improving working memory and executive functioning in just a few weeks of practice. Scientific studies also reveal that mindfulness training is a promising way to improve ADHD symptoms.
Read on to learn the difference between an ADHD and non-ADHD brain, and how meditation helps with ADHD. We’ll also discuss a simple meditation technique so that you can get started and a few tips that’ll help you stick with it.
The ADHD brain
Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological disorder that often begins in childhood and can progress into adulthood. ADHD can show up in three distinct types: inattentive, hyperactivity/impulsive, and combined. Its symptoms include hyperactivity, poor self-control, forgetfulness, and distractibility.
Four functional areas of the brain are impaired in the ADHD brain:
- Frontal cortex: This region controls the executive functions and is responsible for tasks like planning, paying attention, organizing, and remembering.(1)
- Limbic system: Two major structures in the limbic system are the hippocampus and the amygdala. They are responsible for emotional processing and impulsivity.(2)
- Basal ganglia: These are involved in several emotional, cognitive, and movement-related functions. Impaired functioning of basal ganglia causes inattention and impulsivity.(3)
- Reticular activating system: It’s the attention center of the brain. A malfunction in this system may lead to memory issues, difficulties in learning, and a lack of self-control.
We can see that poor attention and executive functioning are common symptoms of ADHD. Children with ADHD also don’t have the same connections between the visual processing area of the brain and the frontal cortex. This means that people with ADHD process information differently.(4)
If meditation can strengthen these areas of the brain and improve our attention, then it can be a natural remedy for ADHD, right? Let’s discuss what research has to say about it.
Meditation for ADHD
Studies reveal that meditation, both short-term and long-term, provides the following benefits. The longer you meditate, the more reward you’ll get out of it. Although even a single meditation session affects the brain positively, it usually takes a few weeks to start noticing the benefits of mindfulness in our day-to-day lives.
Research shows that only five days of mindfulness training improve your attention.(5) Another study shows that four days of meditation practice significantly improves the ability to sustain attention, visuospatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning.(6)
Meditation also thickens your prefrontal cortex, which is a part of the brain that controls planning, focus, and impulse.(7) It also improves emotional regulation by teaching us to mindfully observe our emotional states as impermanent and let them go.(8)
A UCLA study examined the effects of an 8-week mindfulness training program on 24 adults and 8 adolescents with ADHD. After the training, the participants reported improvements in ADHD symptoms. They also performed better on tests measuring attention. Apart from that, the researchers also noted improvements in symptoms of depression and anxiety.(9)
Similar findings have been reported in a study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders.(10) A review published in Behavioral Neurology also suggests that mindfulness could be an effective way to improve ADHD symptoms in adults.(11)
A simple meditation technique
Now that you know how meditation helps relieve ADHD symptoms, let’s discuss a simple practice. Breath-focused meditation is easy to learn, and you can get started with it right away. It involves focusing your attention on your breath while sitting still. Here’s how to do it:
- Set aside a few minutes. I recommend starting with 5-10 minutes and gradually working your way up to 30 minutes.
- Spread a mat or place a cushion on the floor. You can also meditate on a chair, but it’s better to do it while sitting cross-legged on the ground.
- Cross your legs and sit down. Keep your back straight and rest your hands in your lap. If you’re sitting on a chair, you can gently place your hands on your knees.
- Make sure you’re looking straight ahead. A straight spine, neck, and head are the bare essentials of meditation posture. Try to sit still without moving during the entire session.
- Take a few deep breaths to settle in. It’s helpful to relax your mind before starting your practice.
- Watch your breath. Let the body breathe on its own and watch every inhalation and exhalation. Notice the sensations in your nostrils caused by your breaths or the rise and fall of your belly button. The key is to stay with each breath.
- When your mind wanders, gently bring it back. Don’t scold yourself or get angry that you can’t focus. As a beginner, take it as given that you’ll be concentrating only 2-5% of the time. The effort of meditation lies in repeatedly bringing the mind back to your breath.
The beginning is the hardest part. Once you’ve meditated for a month or two, you’ll see improvements in your ability to focus. More importantly, you’ll notice the benefits of meditation in your daily life. Your self-esteem and attention will boost, and you’ll experience increased positive emotions and reduced negativity.
Tips for meditating with ADHD
The thought of sitting still and focusing your mind on a single thing may sound daunting, especially if you’re already inattentive and/or hyperactive. Truth be told, meditation is not an enjoyable experience in the beginning. Here are some tips to help you stick with it:
Make it a routine
Meditation yields result when you practice it regularly. It’s best to incorporate it into your daily routine so that the mind doesn’t get to make excuses. Set your phone to remind you at a specific time, or mark it on your calendar.
Remember that habits are built on cues and rewards. Try attaching meditation to something you already do daily and reward yourself after every session to solidify the routine. Reading the article on 10 practical tips to make meditation a daily habit will give you some ideas on how to go about it.
Try walking meditation
Sitting still and doing nothing may sound like a nightmare for people with ADHD. The good thing is that you don’t always have to sit like a rock to meditate. While sitting still trains the body and the mind, walking meditation is also an excellent way to train our attention and mindfulness while strolling around.
To meditate while walking, wear loose and comfortable clothes and shoes. Take one step at a time, slowly and mindfully. Notice your body’s weight shifting with each step. You can also sync your breath with your steps, breathing in for 2-3 steps, and breathing out for 4-6 steps.
Too many thoughts?
If you’re feeling restless, and thoughts are flooding your mind from all directions, stop meditating. Keep your eyes closed, but stop all efforts to meditate for the moment. Take a few deep breaths. Don’t meditate; just inhale deeply into your belly and exhale slowly. Do it a few times and get back to meditation.
If you’re still having difficulties, it’s okay to get up. The mind isn’t the same every day, and it’s fine if you have to take a little break. You can perhaps do walking meditation for a few minutes and get back to your sitting session when your mind calms down.
ADHD is a childhood-onset neurological disorder that makes a person inattentive or hyperactive. ADHD patients usually have problems paying attention, sitting quietly, or focusing on what’s in front of them.
Mindfulness meditation is an ancient practice that trains our attention by forcing us to focus our minds on a single object. Several scientific studies show that it’s helpful in the treatment of ADHD. Since meditation is simple to learn and costs nothing, there’s no reason for you to not give it a try.
I hope you found this article useful. Good luck and happy meditating 😊