If, like me, you have ADHD, you will be all too aware of the challenges it presents you with.
Difficulties concentrating, racing thoughts, impulsive behaviour, constant movement to name but a few. While I wouldn’t want to be without my ADHD, it does make life harder than it needs to be in lots of ways, finding effective tools to help manage the worst symptoms is vital.
For me, one of my main tools is Yoga.
Yoga has been my personal lifeline for so many years. It was my path to sobriety after 20 years of addiction, and now the same practices and concepts help me to manage life with the ADHD I was diagnosed with at 46.
There are many ways that Yoga can help as part of an ADHD management strategy. While there isn’t much scientific research into the direct impact of Yoga on ADHD, what research there is does show that Yoga can help, and I hope that more research will be done in the future.
Here are just some of the benefits that I have personally experienced through my Yoga practice.
Issues with attention and focus are among the most commonly known aspects of ADHD. Of course, we who have ADHD know that the problem isn’t that we can’t focus at all. We can’t focus on stuff we’re not interested in, and that we can’t pull our attention away from things we are interested in!
Yoga helps us to direct the attention where we want it to go, at least some of the time. It allows us to become more aware of the times when our attention has wandered, or become fixated on something it maybe shouldn’t be.
Mental and physical stillness
Hyperactivity is part of all types of ADHD. Inattentive type, formerly known as ADD, was renamed to reflect the reality that while the body might be still, the mind pretty much never is.
Yoga allows us to learn to be still(ish), both physically and mentally. I say still-ish, because even after 14 years of Yoga practice, and 6 years as a Yoga teacher, my mind is never still. But when I am on my mat, I can manage my thoughts, I can identify what I am thinking about. I can let go of intrusive or repetitive thoughts, and I can follow the train of thought rather than getting lost at the intersection of 35 thoughts all happening at once.
Improving the mind/body connection
Interoception is one of the internal senses. It is the sense of what is happening in the body. It is how we know, for example, when we are cold, hungry, in need of the toilet to name but a few. This sense is often underdeveloped in people with ADHD. This might explain why we often forget to eat, or just make it to the bathroom in the nick of time!
Yoga practices such as pranayama (breath practices) and asana (postures) help to deepen the mind and body connection. This could allow the development of this interoception, and allowing us to recognise the body’s needs.
Improved emotional regulation
If you ask women with ADHD what their greatest ADHD related challenges are, a huge majority of them will talk about emotional dysregulation. Emotional issues aren’t included in the DSM diagnostic criteria for ADHD, but we all know that they are there.
Yoga is a powerful tool to help soothe and regulate the swirling mass of emotions that ADHD can create. Increasing awareness of mental and emotional activity, learning to calm and soothe through the breath, acceptance and self-compassion, and increased relaxation, and much more. Yoga can do so much to help improve the emotional regulation challenges that make life with ADHD so incredibly challenging.
Greater awareness of thoughts
Emotions, action and attention originate in the thoughts. Most of the time, our thoughts are unconscious, and we react without even being entirely conscious of what we are reacting to. Yoga makes the unconscious conscious, so that we can change the well-worn grooves of habit and instinctive reaction, and live and act more consciously.
Yoga practices help you to become more aware of your thoughts. With this awareness, you can then become more in control of your emotional responses, your attention and your actions. You can become less reactive and more responsive. Less impulsive and more mindful. Less distracted and more present and aware.
It all takes practice, and even yoga teachers with ADHD can still be challenged in these areas. Especially those that have ADHD! But every time you practice, you deepen the grooves of conscious thought and take a little more control over your ADHD brain!
Improved sleep and relaxation
Many people with ADHD struggle with sleep, and generally allowing their minds and bodies to relax. The two go hand in hand. If your body is tense, and your mind is racing, sleep isn’t going to come easy.
Our brains are spectacularly good at serving up some utterly unhelpful thought earworm just as we are trying to get to sleep, ensuring that we will lie in bed for hours ruminating on something silly we said when we were 6 for example.
Or we might find it impossible to switch off from work, social media, binge-watching Schitts Creek on Netflix, or plotting out yet another inspired idea that the squirrel brain has just come up with.
Yoga practices, particularly breath practices, can help with this. If you can calm your breath, you can calm the mind and the body. You can give yourself something else to think about, and while you’re doing that, you’re relaxing your body and helping yourself settle into readiness for sleep.
Self-compassion and acceptance
After a lifetime of ADHD, being criticised for being, well, you, it can be easy for someone with ADHD to fall into endless self-criticism, feelings of being a failure and negativity about themselves. I have lived my entire life there, and know all about how much we can beat ourselves up for the way we are.
Yoga offers a range of practices and tools that can make such a difference in how we see ourselves. Learning self-acceptance and compassion was one of the gifts I received that helped me to achieve sobriety through Yoga. Recognising that I was not to blame for EVERYTHING, that I could let go of much of the shame I carried around with me for so many years was a total game-changer.
While we can go very deep with this, we can also take it at a simple level. Showing up to a Yoga class accepting that your body is yours, and that you don’t need to be able to ‘achieve perfection’ in any of the postures, that if you can reach your knees rather than your toes, if you can hold the posture for 3 seconds rather than 30, then that is fine. Acceptance of where you are right now is the kindest way to approach the yoga class, and every other moment of your life.
The ‘Three Rules of Yoga’ that my teacher gave us on the first day of Yoga teacher training is a great motto to remember.
Don’t judge, don’t compare, don’t beat yourself up.
How would your life improve if you could apply that motto to your days?
Impulsivity is a common, and often devastating trait of ADHD. We are very much ‘act first, ask questions later’ people. This can sometimes lead to great adventures and unexpected opportunities, but it can also sometimes lead to decisions that can have terrible negative consequences for us and those we love.
Yoga gives us tools to be able to take a vital pause. To create space between the stimulus (what is happening) and the response (what we do). In this space, we are able to choose the better course of action. This is particularly helpful for times when emotions are running high. In the heat of an argument, for example, you might say something that could permanently harm the relationship. By creating space, you allow the emotional reaction to subside, and the more measured, helpful response to come.
Reduced stress and improved coping skills
When I started Yoga teacher training in 2014, my only coping strategies were copious amounts of wine, cigarettes, marijuana and yelling. Within 6 months of this, using only the practices I was learning on my course, I quit drinking and smoking, and found other, more helpful ways to cope when upset.
Yoga offers so many tools to help alleviate stress and increase resilience and coping skills. The more we practice these tools, the more they become embodied in us, and become part of who we are. And as Yoga also teaches self-compassion, we can forgive ourselves for the moments when we forget the tools, and succumb to stress, as so often happens with ADHD!
Poor coordination is a lesser-known but common problem in people with ADHD. Although research has tended to focus on children, informal anecdotal evidence from ADHD facebook groups confirms that clumsiness and poor coordination is an issue for adults as well. This makes sense if we have, as mentioned above, less awareness of the body, a reduced mind/body connection.
Research has shown that Yoga can improve coordination, reducing the clumsiness that many people with ADHD experience.
In their new book, ADHD 2.0, Dr Ned Hallowell and Dr John Ratey discuss the benefits of improving balance, and how this can have a positive impact on ADHD symptoms. Lots of Yoga teaches balance. Balance postures such as Vriksha Asana, the Tree, are well recognised even by complete Yoga novices. Balance requires focus, concentration and relaxation. As with all the other practices the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Can Yoga help you manage your ADHD?
Yoga is a powerful tool for managing the more challenging aspects of ADHD. It is a vital part of my self-care toolbox. I am positive that without it, I would have struggled to weather the storms of the last year, with Covid and the challenges it presented, and trying to manage my newly discovered ADHD.
If you would like to see for yourself, you can join me at one of my online classes. Classes run on Mondays at 7pm GMT (1pm EST, 11am PST).
You can pay for a drop in session, or save £1 per class when you block book 5 or 10 classes in advance.
Find out more and book your place here