When I was growing up, I was tested, diagnosed and medicated for learning disabilities along with ADD/ADHD. I remember driving far distances with my mom to go through this process and I remember sitting in psychologists offices being “quizzed” and “tested” with different methods like blocks, cards and other methods that would determine my “disease.” I was in the third grade when I started taking the little yellow pill, also known as Ritalin. I spent my elementary years all the way through college taking this little yellow pill (on and off) that was prescribed to me as a “fixer” for my ADD/ADHD. Through my years of taking Ritalin and being categorized as being ADD/ADHD, I noticed my level of anxiety increasing and my body weight dropping. I never had an eating disorder and I was always involved in sports and other physical activities. However, because the Ritalin suppressed my appetite and made me look and feel unhealthy, I was often asked if I had an eating disorder. This assumption only increased my insecurities about feeling different and along with my level of anxiety, I felt like a hot mess. I was not lead to yoga at this time in my life and I know now that had I been doing asana, pranayama, mantra and meditation, then I would not have taken Ritalin nor would my anxiety level have increased. There are so many benefits to yoga and ADD/ADHD and with the rise in children being diagnosed and medicated, it is important to educate parents and teachers of these benefits. It is important not to medicate the child and to expose them to more holistic techniques that will not deplete their energy or their creative abilities.
The little yellow pill was the pill that tuned me into the classroom and allowed me to achieve multiplication and spelling. Math was one of my diagnosed learning disabilities and achieving the subject helped boost my confidence in the classroom. What didn’t feel good was the Ritalin and the coming down off of the drug. This would cause me to act out in emotional outbursts, which left me feeling frustrated beyond words. Every time that I would try and get off the Ritalin and go to school Ritalin free, my grades and performance would drop, which then lead to parent/teacher conferences and then eventually lead to me being held back in the 4th grade.
As I look back, when I was not on Ritalin, I remember only achieving in math, science and social studies when my teacher was on a topic that actually interested me. In the meantime, one thing that was never considered in my diagnosis was the fact that I always achieved in arts, creative writing, gym and recess! It appeared to me that they never considered arts, creative writing and gym as subjects that were important enough skills to develop or have in this left brained world. Although recess may not have been a subject, it still showed that I was social, playful and in love with the outdoors.
If I was such a star student at recess and gym, then I surely would have appreciated doing yoga at school. There are so many benefits to yoga for children with ADD/ADHD.
Benefits for ADD/ADHD from Yoga:
* Relaxation and de-stressing
*Quieting the mind
*Promotes the connection between mind, body and spirit
*Increased strength and flexibility
*Improved respiration and energy level
*Can help promote a sense of need from others.
According to Marsha Wenig’s book Yoga Kids, “since focus is at the very core of yoga, it might seem nearly impossible to convince your attention-deficit child to hold still in a pose for more than a moment, but you’ll find the act of doing yoga is often enough to hold her attention.” It takes regular practice for children with ADD/ADHD to be able to receive the benefits of yoga. These children should practice at least two to three times per week. They will benefit most by doing a full hour of yoga at school or with their parents. As a kids yoga teacher, I find it difficult for the younger children to practice for more than 45 minutes and easier for older children to practice longer. The key to teaching children is to mix it up. Making cards is a good technique because the child/children can pick different poses or groups of poses for each session. As someone who was diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, it seems right that I have created my own games and activities to use in my yoga classes. I have created games and activities centered around memory and brain challenge simply because that is what I remember doing in my diagnosis process/therapy. These games don’t test the child’s brain and attention ability, but rather helps develop it according to their own process.
Children with ADD/ADHD should avoid loud or fast poses because they are likely to become overexcited and over stimulated. They need poses that require a lot of strength and concentration- like the Warrior series and balancing poses. The combination of breathing exercises with asana helps children with ADD/ADHD develop greater body awareness, emotional balance, and concentration, which increases their capacity for school work and creative play.
Why prescribe Ritalin when you can do pranayama? Pranayama is an excellent technique for children with ADD/ADHD because it helps to calm the nervous system, decrease stress and improve focus and the ability to concentrate. Exercises like Bunny Breath help children to boost their energy and clear their minds. This breath gives them a feeling of relaxed alertness, which is an optimum state for learning. It also balances the brain through the rapid intakes of oxygen that provide the brain with essential fuel. There are several other pranayama or breathing techniques that can benefit children with ADD/ADHD. Below is a list of other pranayama techniques and the benefits.
*Sighing Breath: allows the child to release stress by sighing out of the mouth.
*Sun Breath: helps the child feel the rise of the inhale and the gracefulness of the exhale.
*Humming Breath: allows the child to feel the hum in different areas of the body like the chest, face, lips, and throat.
There is no question that we live in an over stimulated world where technology has divided our attention and created an even more demand for meditation. Children are affected by this just as much due to computers, video games and television. It is important to educate the child/children about meditation so that they can learn to still their minds and not become over stimulated. According to the article How meditation helps multitasking “attention is like a muscle that needs to be trained. If the muscle is untrained, the mind wanders all over the place all day long. The same thing applies to any skill- it takes practice. Media multitasking involves the ability to attend to something and make a decision . Part of what kids should learn is to make a choice.” This is related to the fact when children meditate they are more likely to stay focused on a task for longer periods of time without any distraction. They also learn to listen to their inner voice that guides them to slow down and choose the task that is more important versus the one that can wait. Children will not learn these techniques unless they are taught them in places like school.
Another form of mindfulness that children with ADD/ADHD can benefit from is mantra. Sat Dharam Kaur said “while chanting, 84 meridian points on the upper palate are stimulated, creating all kinds of beneficial brain chemistry alterations.” She believes that chanting mantras can help balance neurotransmitters in children with ADD/ADHD. Chanting also helps the frontal lobe activity. The frontal lobe is responsible for Executive Functioning, which is an area of the brain that is underdeveloped by anyone with ADD/ADHD. When this part of the brain is underdeveloped it makes it harder to pull it all together and be successful. Executive Functioning is said to provide the ability to plan, organize, task, control emotions, keep track of time etc.. Studies have indicated that the results are positive when testing this part of the brain at the same time that one is chanting mantras. Chanting and meditation have no side effects and the results last longer than any yellow pill that a doctor prescribes.
As an adult I have used all of the techniques that I mentioned in this paper. I started asana practice while in college and at times still took my Ritalin. After awhile I began to notice the effects of yoga and discontinued the Ritalin. By having a regular yoga practice along with other changes like diet and exercise, I noticed my grades increasing to higher g.p.a’s than when I was on