I’d like to share the essay I wrote for my Yoga Teacher Training.
Yoga and Meditation for ADD/ADHD and Impulsivity in Children
ADD/ADHD can present in many forms; inattentiveness, impulsivity, and the inability to
stay still are a just a few of the defining characteristics. As these symptoms mirror typical
childish behavior, the disorder can initially be overlooked. When it is overlooked, affected
children can be held to a standard that they cannot easily meet. These misunderstood kids may
be labeled as hyperactive, or even destructive instead of being given strategies to learn to
manage as an atypical person in a typical world. Introducing Yoga, meditation and mindfulness
could have an enormously positive influence on the mind, body, and spirit of these potentially
Yoga can, and should, be introduced to children as early as possible. Yoga promotes
body awareness, conscious breathing, and the practice of checking in. Many children come to
these expressions of self-awareness in their own time, but children with impulsivity issues
sometimes don’t have these innate understandings. These children can benefit immensely from
abstract ideas like self-calming and emotional regulation being intentional and thoughtfully
addressed within yoga and meditation.
Because ADHD is a highly genetic, brain-based syndrome that has to do with the
regulation of a particular set of brain functions and related behaviors (1), introducing breathing
and intentional movement early is an important step to promote self- reliance. Introducing the
idea that subconscious functions, like breathing and movement, are somewhat controllable
through practice can be a powerful realization for children.
One common problem for ADD/ADHD children is hyper-focus and/or repetitive
thoughts. When the children’s mind is”captured”by these inconvenient distractions, they can
suffer from lost time and fall behind in the task at hand. Yoga, mindful breathing, and
mediation can help them address these internal interruptions and develop strategies to control,
divert or reassign the “capture”
Another bothersome aspect of ADD/ADHD is the constant distraction of everyday
external stimuli. When the brain is flooded with nonsense information it is less able to function
to the best of its ability. The regular practice of mindfulness based meditation and yoga with
slow, deep breathing to calm the nervous system can introduce a way to “create space”to sort
and prioritize thoughts. This process can equip children with a plan to stay calm and to be less
reactive when faced with stressful situations.
Children with ADHD have core deficits associated with inhibitory control and a
decreased ability to pay attention (2) and can benefit greatly from the core-building exercises
within yoga and yogic breathing. Building a strong core can also help decrease fidgeting which is
often an unwelcome characteristic of ADD/ADHD. The careful cultivation of an intentional yoga practice can also help children understand
the world around them. For instance, a Sun Salutation A flow is usually a predictable flow;
mountain, upward salute, forward fold, half forward fold, plank, chaturanga, upward dog, downward dog, half forward fold, upward salute mountain. This can encourage a greater understanding of sequential thinking and can be applied to many areas of their life i.e. feelings;
I feel frustrated or overwhelmed I may become angry and then unable to complete a task or stay on track. These applied insights are affirming to the child as well as invaluable skills for children that struggle with inattention and focus.
The greatest benefit of yoga for children is that it is a fun, acceptable place to get up and
move your body! A simple well planned yoga practice allows children to be actively engaged while enjoying
movement. Yoga incorporates long, deep stretches which are generally gentle enough to feel deeply satisfying while also being invigorating. Yoga improves circulation in our bodies which promotes clear thinking and improved memory. As schools choose to shorten recess and
effectively remove physical education programs, it is crucial that we promote activity wherever
Anxiety is often a side effect of ADD/ADHD. An anxiety disorder in an ADHD child may
be difficult to recognize, because the ADD/ADHD child will often internalize their guilt, fear, or irritation to avoid attracting any more negative attention. This can lead to feeling isolated, alone, and unhappy. Yoga and meditation, in their purest forms, are inclusive in that they promote acceptance of each person’s own personal journey. They allow us to interact with others in a respectful, honorable way. Yoga is a way to create space in our mind and bodies that
we can fill with love and kindness. We can create a community intent on promoting physical and spiritual wellness.
Yoga and meditation for the ADD/ADHD child can help them recognize and identify emotions. It can be overwhelming for any child to cope with feelings that they do not fully understand, but even more so for the easily distracted child. As we help them label and identify
these emotions through carefully created yoga lessons, and then address their emergence and management. In this way, we create understanding and understanding brings peace. Practicing
the management of emotions during periods of calm will allow them to access coping skills in times of stress. When we teach a child with impulsivity issues and/or ADD/ADHD how to slow down and that it is okay to slow down, we are inviting them to recognize the importance of self-care.
Yoga is a place to learn about the feelings that shape us. If we address these feelings
and emotions in a safe place, we allow a sense of freedom to fail and to learn from that failure.
Yoga gives us a stage to teach our students how to respect and strengthen their bodies, their
minds and themselves. Our children see how we treat them, each other and ourselves and it shapes their perception of how they should treat others and how they should expect to be treated. When we teach children to cultivate compassion, kindness, and generosity we inspire them to be their best selves. This is proven at the end of each yoga class we say Namaste,
“My soul honors your soul. I honor the place in you where the entire Universe resides. I
honor the light, love, truth, beauty, and peace within you, because it is also within me. In
sharing these things, we are united, we are the same, we are one.”
This basic yoga tenet reinforces the idea that we are all on the same path and share
many of the same thoughts and ideals. This idea of belonging can be an inspiration for an ADD/ADHD child.
My Yoga Inspiration
I did not think I could “do“yoga because I have ADHD. I did not think I could ever sit
quietly for long periods of time saying OM. However, I had neck and shoulder pain from stress
and recreational running, so I started and continued with yoga even though it was mentally
difficult for me. I began mediation to increase my yoga ability. The combination became an
intensely positive aspect of my life, but I did not truly understand how impactful yoga could be
to the life of my family until I read this quote:
If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world
within one generation. Dalai Lama
I realized that if children were taught the importance of the mind/body connection with
the same intensity that they were taught the ABC’s and 123’s, it would allow for a more
efficient learning experience for everyone involved.
As a child I was labelel “hyper”, defiant” and “disruptive” and I never stopped moving.
When I was diagnosed with ADHD as a young adult, I was uncomfortable with the diagnosis as it
was misunderstood and stigmatized at that time. I could manage the disorder but it made my
life harder. My daughter was diagnosed at eight and medication helped her but she still
struggled throughout her entire educational experience. I truly believed that had we been armed
with the tools that yoga provides as a child or a young parent it would have a profound impact
my life and my daughter’s life.
My youngest child was diagnosed with a combination of ADD/ADHD last year, and I
realized it was time for me to take responsibility for the change I wanted to see. I began
practicing both yoga and meditation with my son and have seen an enormously positive effect
on his behavior. I was inspired to not only follow my goal to become a registered yoga teacher,
but also return to college for my Behavioral Science Certification and complete a Mindfulness-
Based Stress Reduction program. I’m grateful for the opportunity to receive my yoga teacher
certification and look forward to furthering my yoga certification with a child-focus certification in 2017.
1. https://add.org/adhd-facts/ 2. Mathew Pontifex, a professor of kinesiology at Michigan State University, http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/01/25/improving-your-childs-adhd-with-exercise/