Meditation as An Antidote for ADHD 

The above article is about a study on using “Meditation against ADHD”.  In case the link ever fails, just google for “meditation adhd” and you should find a list of articles about the subject.

According to wikipedia, ADHD, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is “a neurobehavioral developmental disorder[1][2][3] affecting about 3-5% of the world’s population under the age of 19″.  If you are living states-side, you would have heard of it for awhile, but if you are in Asia, this may be a new ‘thingie’ in recent years.

As the good doctor prescribed, ADHD is a medical condition (whether neurological, psychological or physiological or XYZlogical) and needs a treatment.  If you have met a child or teenager with ADHD, he/she will tell you that he has inability to learn in class or focus and requires medication, therapy and a special class.  He will also be unable to cope emotionally or intellectually with his peers. He may be frustrated internally, being unable to deal with these problems, and so may exhibit some anger or tantrum, and we should be understanding.

Meeting Michael

I met one such teenager when I was in US.  I was at the Albuquerque airport (ABQ International Sunport), New Mexico picking up a fellow brother monk coming back to the monastery (Fa Yun Monastery) in Taos.  The teenager, let’s call him Michael (not his real name … ok, it’s been years, and I cannot remember! :p), was with his girlfriend and girlfriend’s friend, and was also waiting for a friend to return home.  They got curious and came over to say hello and ask about me being a monk and all.

It is not uncommon to see folks going around in costumes, but still not so common to see someone dressed as a shaven monk wearing chinese garb!  Ok, so I was in my winter robes and brown slip-on sports shoes (try wearing the traditional Chinese monastic shoes/sandals in winter up in the mountain!), and maybe the sunshades got him curious.  In any case, we started talking and I shared with him about Buddhism and stuffs.  He asked about the monastic life of a Buddhist monk and I tipped him in on the daily practices we did.

The chat came around to meditation and we decided to just do a short one there and then in the airport. Guiding them through like 5~10 mins of meditation, we stopped and shared their experiences of it.  Interestingly, the girlfriend and her friend both felt calm and were able to focus on their breath fairly well except for occasional drifting away of the mind.  Michael on the other hand, felt that his mind was constantly on the run and was unable to focus much.  He did however observe the breath for awhile in the session of meditation.  Then he shared that his ADHD condition prevents him from focusing and so he is unable to meditate.

What is Normal?

If you are unable to focus like Michael did, you may feel inept to meditate.  You may even feel that you have a medical condition such as ADHD where you are not able to focus like ‘normal’ people.  Guess what?  ‘Normal’ people can mostly focus for awhile before drifting away into their thoughts as well.  If you
cannot focus easily, I think you are quite normal.

In schools, the “in phrase” nowadays is “short attention span”.  The solution?  Shorter lessons with breaks in between so that the students can focus.  Come again?  Let me draw a parallel.  You go for yoga class.  The yoga instructor goes through the sets with you but after a few sessions, you tell him that it’s too tough.  So she skips the difficult poses for you.  After a few sessions, you still tell him that it’s too difficult.  She stops asking you to stretch yourself or to maintain those poses beyond a few seconds while others maintain them for minutes when required.  This continues until you are just lying down on the yoga mat for the whole session.  Ah … now you can do yoga without breaking a sweat nor feel any stretch.  Is that still yoga?

The solution to have shorter session may produce short term results.  Students may appear to be able to focus, and indeed they can, within their limited ability to focus, their ability to sustain their interest.  But doing this does nothing to improve or extend their focus.  You don’t become better at something by lowering the bar.  You stretch yourself and apply effort to improve.  You strengthen your mental strength to focus in class.

We’ve got to stop this madness!

The mass media is tuned to tap into whatever little attention span we have, in order to sell us things.  News network sell us political and social ideas, advertisements sell us products while tv and movies sell us entertainment.  Even documentaries or science programmes are perpetuating this cycle to ever shorter attention span.  I remember documentaries that go for an hour with one or two commercial breaks.  Documentaries with stuffs, made to educate and open up our minds.  Most of these are gone now.  In their place are popular tv science shows.  In our whole society’s frenzy into making a dime out of everything, even science shows have to vie for viewership!  In the end, we have 30 mins shows with 15 mins of advertisements and 10 mins of content repeated in fragments throughout the timeslot.

We’ve got to stop this madness!

The way to slow down this trend and possibly reverse it has to come from ourselves.  We have to start.  And having shorter of everything is not helping.  Books -> magazines -> web sites -> blogs -> 140char tweets … have we really come down to this?

No, I will write long articles with long sentences.  That was short!  Now even longer sentences are seen as taboo and unreadable by some.  We must realise our march towards the cliff and turn this around before we start communicating only in bits of 1s and 0s.  *yikes*

Start meditating today.

Learn to focus, training the mind gradually.  Learn to be ok with the ‘boring’ breath.  Remember, this ‘boring’ breath is what keep us alive!  And while we meditate, the ‘monkey mind’ can be our source of reminder to be mindful.  When it leaps around, grasping onto this and that, we learn to watch it and not identify with it.  Observe the present tendency for it to move.  Note it.  Gently apply effort to observe the bodily sensation of the breathing itself, be it the contact of the breath with the nose-tip, the chest, or the abdomen.

When we get bored, don’t just think “I’m so bored, this is so boring”.  Recognise how “boredom” feels like.  Boredom is actually active as well.  It drives us to want to do something.  It can become the cause or intention to do something else.  Out of boredom, if we are not mindful, our mind may unconsciously think of this and that.  Or it may come as an urge or impulse to move.  That’s causality, that’s normal.  We don’t have to be frustrated or to give up.  Instead, challenge ourselves this way.  What if we don’t act on the impetus arising?  What if instead of just succumbing to boredom, we just watch it, note it but not act on it.  See what happens?  We don’t have
to act on every single impulse or urge that arise in us do we?

Many have tried and succeeded, and so can you.  If only you apply effort and try.  Over time, we can conquer boredom, recognising it as merely another mental formation that we do not have to identify with or act upon.  Mindfulness becomes strengthened and attention span longer.

But don’t think it’s easy.  No, it’s not. Like doing yoga, it is harder to stretch ourselves compared to simply laying on the mat and sleeping (not the sleeping yoga!).  Meditation initially will require us to apply effort and it is not easy or trivial but the fruits will be long term welfare and benefit.

Stop ADHD today!  Start meditating!