Meditating mindfully when you have the hallmark inattentiveness of ADHD may seem counterintuitive. But research suggests it’s all in your approach.
You tell yourself: sit, work, finish. You find yourself: scrolling, rising, wandering.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, or a mix of both.
Within the brain, frontal lobe differences found in those with ADHD can affect emotional regulation and executive functioning (task completion).
While medications can be used to treat ADHD, behavioral interventions are also worth considering. Mindful meditation offers an accessible, gentle approach to increasing task completion ability, focus, and stress reduction.
Shelley Arthur, a Washington, D.C.-based certified yoga instructor, shares her testimonial about how meditation helps with her ADHD symptom management.
Arthur says she always felt different, and when she was growing up in the 1950s, “ADHD wasn’t in the lexicon.” Without treatment, she turned to nonprescription amphetamines to help with focus and developed an addiction.
These days, in long-standing recovery, Arthur practices meditation and yoga for the following benefits:
- reduced anger, fear, and anxiety
Is meditation harder for folks with ADHD?
In his YouTube video, Jude Star, a meditation teacher and therapist with ADHD, suggests ADHD involves a dopamine deficiency, which causes the body and mind to be restless in its search for pleasure.
He says meditation potentially addresses the dopamine shortage by teaching you to relax into the discomfort. Here’s his approach in guiding meditation for folks with ADHD:
Dr. Manijeh Motaghy, an organizational psychologist and mindfulness teacher at UCLA, explains that meditating challenges folks with ADHD.
She says sometimes people hyperfocus on their topic of interest to the exclusion of other stimuli, finding it hard to intentionally anchor their attention.
Motaghy believes practicing awareness of these challenges — an awareness often learned through mindfulness training — is a first step in addressing them.
At the beginning of any meditation, you might try grounding yourself so as not to mentally float away. Consider strengthening a connection with your physical environment by:
- Observing the surface you’re sitting on. Is it hard? Soft?
- Going barefoot to better take in the sensations of the ground.
- Spending a little extra time washing your hands in warm water to fully appreciate the sensation.
You may find your mind rockets to another planet when you meditate. It may help to remember:
- Wandering thoughts are inevitable.
- Beating yourself up for inattention only makes it worse.
- Awareness of wandering thoughts shows you’re learning to meditate. You can watch thoughts drift in and out like clouds.
Scanning the body can be a way of paying attention to whatever the mind wants to avoid.
Star recommends scanning for restlessness in the body, perhaps your jaw or shoulders. What does it look and feel like?
Once you find discomfort, you could see if you can send your breath to it with a deep inhale, softening that area a bit. But don’t worry if you can’t.
How to address derailment
Compassion is the best way to approach your runaway thoughts while meditating.
Arthur suggests inviting meandering thoughts back to your breath, body, or physical environment by:
- minding the expansion of the belly when you inhale, the contraction on the exhale
- repeating a mantra or chant
- using a tea light as a point of visual focus
When living with ADHD, the best mindfulness strategies encourage attention monitoring and acceptance. You might consider:
- Mindfully working. When performing tedious tasks, observe your boredom. Settle into it.
- Journaling. Motaghy tells her students to do a simple breathing exercise 3 times a day. Next, they are to write for 5 to 10 minutes about how their attention follows stimuli in unfolding time. Doing this for a week creates awareness of challenges and changes, she says.
- Exercising. Yoga or tai chi can build awareness of breath and body.
- Taking a technology detox. No phone notifications and no social media mean no unintentional time sucks.
Deep breathing means taking slow, intentional breaths, inhaling through your nose, and exhaling through your mouth.
This breathing technique can be done anywhere to calm your nervous system and soothe the anxiety that sometimes accompanies ADHD.
Specific, easy deep breathing methods, including box and pursed-lip breathing, are summarized here.
“Behavioral modification” for your ADHD doesn’t have to mean aggressively changing yourself. Mindful meditation offers a gentler possibility: Acceptance of symptoms for greater flow and focus.