Yoga has been a part of my life for many years and I am always pontificating about its numerous physical, emotional and spiritual benefits. After wanting to become a yoga teacher for so long I finally did it earlier this year! One of my goals is to help children through yoga. Since ADHD is a term we hear so often I wanted to share some information on the benefits of integrating yoga into the daily life of a child with ADHD.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is also known as “Hyperactivity,” or “Attention Deficit Disorder” (ADD). ADHD is a common condition that affects children and adolescents, while ADD is more common in adults. An estimated 2.5 million children between the ages of four and seven take some form of prescribed drug. While some children are helped with the drugs, such as Ritalin or amphetamines, the FDA concluded that some of these drugs have severe side effects – including thoughts of suicide. In addition, one-third of children do not respond to the drugs.
- A child in constant motion
- A lot of squirming and fidgeting
- Does not listen
- Has difficulty playing quietly
- Talks excessively
- Interrupts or intrudes on others
- Easily distracted
- Does not finish tasks
There are other behaviors such as anxiety or depression which may appear as if it is ADHD but these may be separate disorders that affect a child’s brain function. Getting a proper diagnosis and getting educated is crucial to effectively diagnosing and treating the condition.
There is still a debate as to how many children are affected with ADHD. It depends on which organization does the study. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 3% to 5% of children have ADHD while other experts say ADHD may occur in 8% to 10% of school age children. It was not a term I heard at all as a child but it appears to be more common than once thought. The term used before ADHD and ADD were diagnosed was, “hyperactive,” but no one was ever treated for it. It was the lack of knowledge on the subject that resulted in it being dismissed as a “real condition.”
Since successful treatments are few and the best treatment available currently is medication, which has side effects, parents may be more open to try yoga. The long-term repercussions of the drugs are not fully known yet. Since yoga does not have any negative side affects only benefits there is no harm in trying it. There are numerous research studies that support regular yoga as a possibly treatment. A friend of mine has a daughter with ADHD and I asked her if she would consider taking her daughter to a yoga class. She responded with an overwhelming yes because of the limited treatment options available. Her daughter is on Ritalin and she isn’t happy with it because she said it turns her daughter into a different child. I was told it makes her lethargic and sleepy, almost zombie-like. That being said, this is not everyone’s experience. Many are helped by medication as well.
The benefits to starting a child with ADHD on a yoga program are many. Research states that exploring new body postures and becoming familiar with them enhances brain function. This stimulates both left and right hemispheres of the brain. Yoga also helps an ADHD condition by creating a sense of order with poses that are repetitive and systematic. It improves coordination and physical well-being, which improves self-esteem. In addition, yoga is not competitive and children who get frustrated easily are better off minimizing their involvement or completely staying away from competitive sports. Any exercise or movement that brings together the mind and body sharpens the attention system of the brain. An example of this is martial arts programs. These are all very successful in helping children develop focus and concentration.
According to Pauline Jensen who co-authored the Journal of Attention Disorders, “Yoga can be a lifetime friend. It increases concentration, promotes mental and physical discipline, and induces confidence.” She conducted a study with 8-13 year old boys having them practice yoga once a week for five months and reported that they became less hyperactive. In 2006 a German study found that children that were receiving drug treatment for ADHA would benefit greatly by adding yoga to their day. Forward bends in particular are beneficial since they increase inhalation by lengthening and deepening the breath, which is important in developing concentration. Other studies show that school age boys who were on medication and practiced yoga regularly had improved attendance and behavior versus the boys that were on medication alone. They also did better than boys who did other forms of traditional exercise. Yoga can also help children who do not have ADHD but have behavioral problems.