Easing the Symptoms of Childhood ADHD: Yoga Can Help

When a young child is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the diagnosis is often more stressful than the condition, both for the child and the family.

More than 1 in 10 American children have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Children with ADHD have difficulty in attending, sitting still and controlling impulses.  While families work with educators and medical professionals to understand the challenges of ADHD, yoga and Ayurveda can offer therapeutic and energetic assistance.

Louise Goldberg, author of “Yoga Therapy for Children with Autism and Special Needs” (2013), urges parents and educators to integrate yoga into the home and classroom environments.  Since ADHD children are frequently penalized for their behavior, yoga time is an opportunity for success. They can be quiet and noisy, and active and still – just the kind of visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile variety an active child craves, according to Goldberg. 

“Yoga increases attention by capturing the imagination, generates stillness by releasing tension and teaches self-control through breath awareness.  This is empowering to children who may rarely feel in control of their actions or thoughts,” Goldberg said. 

Goldberg recommends teaching children this sequence of three key postures:  Tree pose, Superman and Drawbridge.

Yoga Poses for ADHD

1. Tree Pose for balance, focus and concentration

Tree Pose begins by standing with the palms together, thumbs to sternum. While keeping the palms together, slowly elevate the hands overhead and then lower to the starting position.

Synchronize the upward motion with the inhalation and the downward with the exhalation. Next, turn the attention to the hands, watching them as they move up and down. Breathing in, hands go up; breathing out as hands come down.

Add a balancing component as the child’s comfort with the pose grows. Focus on a spot on the floor about 4 feet away and hook the left toes behind the right ankle. Continue to breathe in and out while holding the pose. Release and switch to the other side.

2.  Superman Pose for body awareness and grounding

Superman Pose begins lying on the belly, the arms stretched overhead and legs straight behind.  Beginners may start first by lifting and lowering the arms slowly, then lifting and lowering the legs slowly. 

When the child is ready for the full posture, lift both the arms and legs off the ground on an inhalation and fly like a super hero. Exhale when lowering the limbs, and repeat. Rest in Child’s Pose for 5-10 breaths when finished.

3.  Drawbridge Pose for calm centering

For Drawbridge Pose, begin lying on the back with arms straight alongside, palms face down. Bend your knees and place your feet on the ground hip width apart close to your sit bones. Press firmly into your feet and hands, inhale, and lift the hips off the ground like a drawbridge. Lower the hips down on an exhale and repeat. Conclude by hugging the knees into the chest for 5-10 breaths. 

Ayurveda: ADHD and Vata Imbalance

Balance is the most important element to maintain in the life of a child with ADHD.  Small adjustments in diet and routine can create soothing comfort for a very active child. Changes can also be disruptive, so it is important to move into adjustments slowly.

Ayurvedic medicine, a sister science to yoga, proposes that each person possesses a unique combination of three energies (or doshas): Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Although a person’s doshic constitution never changes, there are frequent imbalances that can be remedied with diet, exercise and herbal treatments, as well as adjusting lifestyle patterns.

According to Tess Chiodo, Ayurvedic practitioner and yogini in SW Florida, Vata-dominant children are easy to spot when they are babies.  They tend to be picky eaters, and are often temperamental, active, curious and enthusiastic. They are natural multi-taskers, and can often get everything done when properly guided. When Vata is out of balance, their natural proclivities can become disruptive in learning environments. 

Keys for Soothing Vata: Routine and Balance

Chiodo suggests beginning with diet.  A Vata-dominant child’s digestive system is cool, particularly when out of balance.  This child’s diet should revolve around warm or room temperature foods and sour flavors to aid digestion.  Given that icy cold drinks aggravate Vata, a great beverage for imbalance is homemade room-temperature lemonade sweetened with honey.  Instead of cold salads, vegetables in a sauté are more likely to have a balancing effect.  Additionally, it’s wise to cut out all excess sugars and anything else stimulating, particularly caffeine. 

Next, Chiodo recommends looking at the home environment.  Vata-dominant children are naturally wired to be sensitive to sound, so it’s wise to have quiet hours when stereos and televisions are silent.  Be aware that raised voices and industrial sounds outside the windows are going to agitate them. Try experimenting with different music to find wordless tunes that are soothing.  Avoid excess stimulation, particularly prior to bed.

A Vata-dominant child’s bedroom should be warm and calm, not only in terms of temperature, but decorated in earth tones such as warm yellows and golds.  His bedroom should also be clutter-free and preferably without computers and televisions. 

Chiodo urges parents to focus on the positive aspects of their imaginative and active children, and take every opportunity to create routine with strict times for waking and bed as well as play, homework and chores – even on the weekends. 

“Be aware that, as the parent, the first person who needs to be balanced is you.  Understand that you and your child are different, and your responses are not going to be the same,” Chiodo said.

Nancy B. Loughlin is based in SW Florida.  As a writer, she explores yoga, meditation, green living, sustainability and all things funky. As a certified yoga teacher, her practice is dedicated to working with incarcerated children and helping people recover from trauma and PTSD. She’s always interested in applying yogic thinking to wild life experiences including marathons, mountain climbing, and skydiving. Visit her website www.NamasteNancy.com or Twitter @NancyLoughlin.

Louise Goldberg is the author of “Yoga Therapy for Children with Autism and Special Needs (2013) and the upcoming “Classroom Yoga Breaks” (2016), both published by WW Norton.  Visit her website www.yogaforspecialneeds.com.

Tess Chiodo is an Ayruvedic practitioner and teacher of yoga and Primordial Sound Meditation in SW Florida.  Visit her website www.JoyfulYoga.com and take the baby dosha quiz.  

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