Can Yoga Help Children With ADHD?

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.

The exact cause seems to be a mystery although there are many theories. Certain factors that can increase risk are the mother’s use of alcohol, tobacco, or exposure to lead during her pregnancy. These factors alter the function in the part of the brain that controls impulse and attention. Another theory is that deficiencies in certain vitamins may also contribute.

Children with ADHD generally have problems paying attention or concentrating. They cannot seem to follow directions or focus, and are easily bored or frustrated with tasks. They also tend to move constantly and do not think before they act. Children naturally may possess some of these traits but in children with ADHA it occurs more often than usual and is more severe. To properly diagnose childhood ADHD, the child has to have shown six or more specific symptoms of inactivity and/or hyperactivity on a regular basis for more than six months in more than two settings. There is no single test for ADHD. Some of the signs to look for are:

  • 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.

In examining much of the research that is available it is safe to say that yoga is clearly beneficial as part of a treatment program which includes medication and cognitive behavior therapy. Since children with ADHD have problems with bringing the mind and body into balance, yoga is an excellent way to help them get more in touch with their bodies and also help their ability to focus. Each child should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Some parents and doctors even believe that yoga can lessen and eventually replace the child’s dependence on prescription drugs altogether. Others feel that it should be a complement to medication and therapy. Since there are varying degrees of ADHD there isn’t a one size fits all “prescription,” however, almost all doctors agree that the addition of a daily yoga practice for a child with ADHD should be something that is incorporated into the treatment. I believe that yoga should be part of gym time in elementary, junior and high schools to bring a heightened sense of awareness to its benefits. With all the pressures and expectations on children today they can certainly benefit from yoga and all it has to offer. This can become a regular exercise routine that will get incorporated into their lives and something that will bring balance and health into their adult years.

Namaste,

Maria

 

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