If you google Yoga for ADHD there are plenty of articles covering the benefits of Yoga for Children with ADHD. I am speaking today to the adults who have ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.
ADHD is an umbrella term for various kinds of attention issues. As an adult, I was diagnosed with inattentive attention disorder which means that I do not meet the criteria for the hyperactive component. My hyperactivity is thought based meaning, I am always thinking, and I think about a lot of different things!
If you look at the subject matter on my blog, for instance, you might notice that I cover a lot of ground and it can sometimes seem extremely random. I am working on being more organized with my thoughts and making clearer connections so I can effectively communicate to an audience. What may seem random or chaotic to others, connects in my mind.
It can be frustrating to communicate when you have ADHD because thoughts often come and go very quickly. Part way through developing an idea, I will sometimes see a thought-squirrel and off I go!
Why Yoga Helps: 4 Reasons to Practice Yoga for ADHD
To demonstrate the benefits of Yoga I’ve isolated the four major issues that people with ADHD face on a regular basis. There are obviously more aspects involved with the “disorder” and not everyone demonstrates the same symptoms, but these are some biggies!
- Focus, Hyperfocus, Concentration, or Attention Issues
- Hypersensitivity or Emotionality (In some cases, the opposite: Lack of Empathy)
- Impulsivity and/or Hyperactivity
- Stress and Anxiety
You might notice that all of the videos I link to are the same instructor, I did this simply for the sake of preference and consistency. I use Yoga with Adriene most frequently because I like her energy but if you search on YouTube you will find videos relating to all of these issues from various instructors.
1. Awareness: Improves Focus, Hyperfocus, Concentration, or Attention Issues
You don’t have to do a yoga specifically geared toward attention or focus issues like the one below. The practice of Yoga in all of its forms can be extremely helpful for focus.
The key is awareness. Bringing your awareness to your breath is not as easy as it sounds at first but after prolonged practice, the exercise of focusing on breathing becomes more automatic.
Once you become aware of your breathing then you have an example of how to hold one thought or one focus for prolonged periods of time. The key to this is not blocking the other thoughts that come but in thought- observation.
Separating yourself from the thoughts enables you to take note of the thought and let it pass in favour of what has your focus.
These are the techniques of meditation, but for someone with ADHD, having the Hatha practice enables us to ease into meditative states through a kind of gentle multi-tasking.
2. Connection: Developing Emotion Regulation and Empathy
Yoga helps to regulate the emotions through the breathing exercises and by opening up the spine. Our spine is the central nervous systems communication device and it carries messages through the body so naturally when the lines are blocked we experience various forms of disconnect. By opening up the communication lines we can release the thoughts and feelings that are stored in our body.
Building on the awareness that we use for focus we can take a similar approach with connection for dealing with our emotions. If we observe our emotions and allow them to come to the surface, we can connect with them, sit with them and use the same technique with our minds as we do our bodies. Emotional awareness is about identifying the emotion, but it is also about understanding ourselves well enough to know when we are not yet ready for them.
There is nothing the ADHD brain loves more than new information, and Yoga enables us to receive the emotional information we might miss otherwise!
In yoga, we have to have compassion for ourselves and take care not to overextend (literally) or force something we are not ready for. Compassion for ourselves opens us up to having compassion for others. Once you have recognized your struggles you are better able to understand and feel what others feel.
Yoga literally means union, the practice brings together aspects of ourselves: body in union with the mind in union with spirit, or the movement of the body with the breath, etc. In addition, Yoga nurtures the union between the self and the external world. This can be especially helpful for those with hypersensitivity or to teach empathy.
This practice is incredible for releasing those emotions. It doesn’t have to be loneliness, I’ve used this video as a way of simply opening up because I felt like I wanted to cry, I didn’t know why and my tears seemed to be stuck–after doing this practice the tears were flowing!
3. Building: Regulating Impulsivity and/or Hyperactivity
To counteract the impulsivity or hyperactivity we need to find some calm. Yoga practice in itself requires that we be present and it is the practice of building. One pose to another enables us to first prepare our bodies to prevent injury.
You have to walk before you crawl, you have to float before you can swim, there are so many cliches out there to illustrate what I am talking about here.
Impulsivity is I WANT IT AND I WANT IT NOW! and it could be argued that hyperactivity is the body having the same feeling. Yoga teaches you that you will have what you want, but you have to build to get there.
Even when I was writing that I was thinking: UGH that sounds like a lot with a lot of steps to go through, no thank you! But it’s not like that. The best way I can describe this aspect of yoga is that it doesn’t feel like work, you don’t need to see the steps they just appear when you are ready and all you have to do is consistently show up to the mat. Everything is a process whether you want it to be or not!
I chose a “Calm Your Nerves” video because to me, the impulsive drive feels very similar to when I am nervous about something. It is restless and fearful, and almost desperate. It wants something or nothing all at once.
4. Being: Alleviating Stress and Managing Anxiety
I know, stress and anxiety are emotions but I think they are big enough to deserve their own category. Making myself cry or connect with my emotions is somewhat different from calming down after (or preventing) an anxiety attack.
Both Stress and Anxiety are related to time and the passing of time. We worry that we don’t have enough or that it is too much, or there is somewhere else we are supposed to be or something else we are supposed to be doing. With ADHD the stress can be the sheer amount of thoughts and the inability to follow through or accomplish something you want to (unless you are hyper focused and then you might over-accomplish).
Yoga helps to take away that sense of time. The clock is, after all, a man-made thing so that when you are deep in your practice time is relative to your thoughts and bodily sensations: for instance, if you are in a challenging pose, time will pass slower than if you were in child’s pose.
Taking the awareness, connection, and building we add to this Being. Being is simply allowing yourself to be whatever you are, and feel whatever you are feeling in the moment. If you are stressed and you try to fight it then you might perpetuate that feeling by getting stressed about being stressed.
Instead, taking the time to do yoga will give you the chance to actually observe yourself in a state of stress, panic or anxiety and see what thoughts and physical sensations come up as a result.
For more on starting your yoga practice check out the link below.