ADHD Symptoms & Mindfulness Meditation
Why Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is the most effective way to reduce ADHD symptoms because it’s an open and receptive type of attention training. There are numerous types of meditation, many of which require a focused attention on a single thought, word or object. This type of meditative practice can be very challenging for people with ADHD since it requires a substantial amount of focus.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, allows the practitioner to simply sit and observe the flow of his thoughts, feelings and other impulses without having to block out or suppress stray, incoming stimuli. In a number of meditation benefit studies, mindfulness appeared to have a more holistic effect on people than more focus-oriented practices.
One study (Brown and Engler, 1980) revealed that people adept at mindfulness who where subjected to the Rorschach test gave plentiful responses with rich associations, while those adept at one-pointedness gave sparse, unimaginative responses (ref. The Meditative Mind by Daniel Goleman). I’m therefore inclined to believe that mindfulness is a more flexible practice that keeps one’s energy fluid and facilitates a transcendent state of being.
In recent years, more people appear to be discovering how beneficial mindfulness can be in the treatment of ADHD symptoms. Consider the book “The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD” by psychiatrist Lidia Zylowksi, a highly practical and insightful work highlighting mindfulness-based approaches to mental health specifically geared towards people with ADHD. It includes an audio program with guided exercises, an ideal formula for those interested in getting started with a mindful approach to ADHD healing.
When to practice and for how long?
Practice Mindfulness Meditation:
- In the early morning and/or before you go to sleep
- Start with 5 to 10 minutes a day (build up to 20, 30 mins or more)
Making mindfulness meditation part of your daily routine will produce results that noticeably affect your ADHD symptoms. So where to start? The best times to meditate are in the early morning and before you go to sleep. If you can only practice once a day, the morning may be preferable since it can be difficult to motivate yourself after a long and active day.
You can practice this meditation while sitting upright in bed or arrange a cozy, designated spot in the house specifically for meditating. (You can practice this technique wherever and whenever you desire, but in the beginning it may be good to set a clear intention do it in a specific location and at a specific time at least once a day.)
Start with something manageable by practicing just 5 to 10 minutes a day. Once you’ve established a routine, you can then increase the amount of time you commit to 15 minutes or more. I suggest not to get hung up on the amount of time you practice; rather focus on that peaceful stretch of time that you create for yourself, whatever its length may be. Allow this meditation be your designated moment to release all tension. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
I’ve personally engaged in mindfulness meditation for many years. Whereas sometimes my meditation can last for an hour or more, sometimes it’s as brief 15 minutes. While I set a clear intention to meditate every morning (and once more later in the day if possible), I don’t follow a clock. I’ve found that it takes my focus away from the actual experience of meditating.
However, if you’re concerned that you might fall asleep during an extended meditation, you can set a timer. Be flexible. Don’t come down on yourself if it takes a while to set up a daily routine or if you skip a day. Every successful session, no matter how brief, is a step in the right direction.
A Different Kind of Attention
During mindfulness meditation, you gradually train yourself to monitor the focus of your attention. You also learn to observe the nature of your thoughts without getting caught up in them; you become capable of objectively observing the contents of your mind. Over time, this type of attention training strengthens your ability to make transitions in focus – you begin to notice how certain thoughts and actions are repetitive, negative or redundant.
This new awareness allows you to consciously choose where to place your attention. Instead of being a victim of wandering thoughts, you firmly place yourself back in the driver’s seat. Remain aware that this is a natural consequence of mindfulness meditation and NOT something to strive for. Make the purpose of your meditation the act of meditation itself. Avoid attaching goals to this practice.
A Simple Visual Aid
As I mentioned, mindfulness meditation is the practice of detaching judgement from what you observe within and around you. In essence, you practice objective awareness. A simple analogy can help define this concept more clearly: Imagine a crystal blue sky with the occasional cloud floating by. The sky represents a detached, pure, open and objective awareness while the clouds represent passing thoughts, feelings, images and sensations.
As you meditate, you remain objectively aware (like the sky) while you allow whatever catches your attention (the clouds) to float by. When you first begin practicing, you may become overwhelmed with thoughts and impulses. This is normal, so don’t be discouraged. You will gradually learn to create more distance between your thoughts so that a peaceful, calm and regenerative space will emerge.
Mindfulness Meditation: The Practice
The following is a basic description of the mindfulness meditation process. First, sit in a comfortable position with a straight back and with your eyes closed.
1.Take a deep breath and allow your body to relax: Release tension from your muscles by breathing out any excess physical blocks. Do this a few times and then continue to breathe slowly.
2.Gently bring your attention to the movement of your breath in the present moment: Feel your abdomen moving up and down. Let your breath flow in and out, slowly and naturally. Allow yourself to be in the present moment.
3.Practice non-attachment: When thoughts, feelings, sensations and other impulses (sounds, smells,…) surface, observe them with a sense of detachment and interest. No matter what comes your way, observe it with kindness and let it be, just as it is. There’s no need to push thoughts away or deny them. Just acknowledge their presence…
4.Gently bring your attention back to your breathing: Once you have acknowledged and observed surfacing thoughts (or other impulses) with a sense of detachment, gently bring your attention back to your breathing in the present moment.
5.Repeat: Repeat this process within a predetermined timespan (preferably 5 mins or more) or for as long as you like.
There will always be times (many times!) when your mind refuses to stay still. This is normal. Gently acknowledge that your mind is wandering and observe the flow of thoughts. When you are ready, simply and slowly bring your attention back to the breath. Don’t judge yourself – I can’t emphasize this enough – just remain present and aware of whatever is happening during the experience.
Don’t Judge Your Judgement!
There will always be times where you can’t help but judge yourself. This is also normal. Thoughts like “I can’t do this,””Why am I so tense?”, “Why can’t I just relax?”, “Why are my thoughts racing?” etc may pop up. Don’t judge these thoughts, just observe them. Once you allow yourself to accept this inner resistance, you will eventually be able to overcome its influence.