Meditation for ADHD. Does it really help?
ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is being diagnosed a lot these days. This doesn’t mean that it’s increasing in the population; it just means that there is now a label and an associated diagnosis. People like me who have lived their life never knowing they had it can now find out that that is what made certain things difficult for them and apparently easy for everyone else.
So how did I manage? I’ve done all right without the medication that doctors are proscribing for people with ADHD. Medication seems to be the ‘go-to’ treatment, but I can see now that meditation is my medication. And this isn’t just an idea I’ve got; it’s backed up by research.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurological condition that affects both children and adults. It’s characterized by symptoms such as difficulty focusing, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Managing ADHD can be challenging, but recent research suggests that meditation may offer a valuable tool for people with ADHD to improve their symptoms and overall well-being.
Understanding ADHD and its Challenges
ADHD can significantly impact various cognitive functions, including attention, memory, and executive functions. People with ADHD often struggle with sustaining attention, minimizing distractions, and self-monitoring. These challenges can make it difficult to perform well in academic or professional settings and can also affect personal relationships.
The Benefits of Meditation for ADHD
Research has shown that meditation can have a positive impact on cognitive skills related to ADHD. Studies have found that regular meditation practice can improve attention, reaction time, and memory. For example, Zen practitioners were found to have faster reaction times compared to control subjects[^1]. Additionally, regular meditation has been associated with more accurate, efficient, and flexible visual attention processing[^2]. These findings suggest that meditation may help people with ADHD improve their cognitive abilities and better manage their symptoms.
Furthermore, meditation has been shown to induce structural and functional changes in the brain that are directly related to ADHD. People with ADHD often exhibit hypo-arousal, meaning their brains are underactive, particularly in the frontal lobes. The frontal lobes are responsible for executive functions, such as impulse control and sustained attention, which are commonly affected in people with ADHD[^3]. Meditation has been found to increase activation in the frontal lobes, improving executive functions and reducing ADHD symptoms[^3].
Different Forms of Meditation for ADHD
Meditation encompasses various practices, each with its own focus and technique. For people with ADHD, certain forms of meditation may be particularly beneficial. One such form is focus meditation, which involves holding attention on a single object, such as the breath, a mantra, or a visual image. When the mind wanders, the meditator gently redirects their focus back to the chosen object. This type of meditation specifically trains the skills associated with sustaining attention, minimizing distractions, self-monitoring, and promptly redirecting focus[^4].
This is an engaging one-minute audio visual that can be used as a focus for meditation. I find the image emerging from the starfield and back into it again quite evocative. And watch those eyes! You’ll find more audio visuals that make good focus for meditation for people with ADHD on the Meditations page here.
Research Supporting the Effectiveness of Meditation for ADHD
Several research studies have demonstrated the positive effects of meditation on people with ADHD. One notable study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences implemented a 9-month meditation program with three consecutive modules targeting different meditation-based skills: attention, compassion, and perspective-taking[^8]. The study revealed that each module resulted in different brain changes and improvements in specific skills. The focus-based training module, in particular, led to brain growth in the prefrontal cortex, improved executive attention, and conflict resolution[^5].
These findings, along with numerous other studies, provide strong evidence that meditation can directly influence the brain and reduce ADHD symptoms.
Strategies to Support Meditation Practice for People with ADHD
While meditation has shown promise for people with ADHD, it can be challenging for them to engage in the practice due to their symptoms. However, there are several strategies that can support and enhance their meditation experience:
Guided Meditations: Verbal guidance and direction throughout the practice help keep meditators on track. Click here for guided meditations – includes walking, healing and mantra meditation.
Standing and walking Meditation: To combat feelings of sleepiness, people with ADHD can try standing while meditating. Standing activates the body and helps maintain engagement and focus. Keeping the eyes open while meditating also helps prevent sleepiness.
Movement: Incorporate simple repetitive movements, such as synchronized breathing with gentle movements as in yoga or counting mantra repetitions on beads to keep the mind and body engaged during meditation.
Biofeedback: Combine meditation with biofeedback techniques, such as heart rate variability or EEG biofeedback, to provide immediate feedback and enhance engagement during the practice.
Audio-visual guided meditations, and meditation programs that utilize virtual or augmented reality technology, providing an immersive and visually stimulating environment that can increase engagement and motivation. Platforms like Healium offer VR experiences designed for meditation.
Short and Consistent Practice: Start with shorter meditation sessions, gradually increasing the duration over time. Consistency is key, so setting a regular practice schedule and using a timer can help establish a routine.
Imaginative Meditation for ADHD
For people with ADHD maintaining focus and mental engagement is a challenge, so they need a form of meditation that provides structure and stimulation. A form of meditation that engages both the mind and body is helpful, such as the use of imagination in engaging visuals, repetitive mantras, and a physical component, like counting mantras on mala beads. This form of meditation was particularly suited to this author with ADHD. I practiced it initially under the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, but now I’ve stripped it of its religious trappings and call it imaginative meditation.
If you’d like the visuals provided, along with some music. Here is an audio visual six-minute guided imaginative meditation.
Meditation has the potential to be a valuable tool for people with ADHD, helping them improve attention, reduce distractions, and enhance executive functions. While it may not be a standalone treatment, incorporating meditation into a comprehensive ADHD management plan can provide significant benefits. By implementing various strategies and finding the right type of meditation that suits their needs, people with ADHD can harness the power of meditation to better manage their symptoms and improve their overall well-being.
Remember, each person’s experience with ADHD is unique, and it may take some trial and error to find the meditation techniques and strategies that work best for them.
- Pagnoni, G., & Cekic, M. (2007). Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation. Neurobiology of Aging, 28(10), 1623-1627.
- Hodgins, H., & Adair, K. (2010). Attentional processes and meditation. Consciousness and Cognition, 19(4), 872-878
- Bush, G. (2010). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and attention networks. Neuropsychopharmacology Reviews, 35, 278-300
- Tarrant, J. (2017). Meditation interventions to rewire the brain: Integrating neuroscience strategies for ADHD, anxiety, depression, & PTSD. Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing
- Valk, et al. (2017). Structural plasticity of the social brain: Differential change after socio-affective cognitive mental training. Behavioral Neuroscience, 3(10), e1700489.
Written with AI assistance for research and structure, but edited, added to and checked for accuracy by a very human being.