Non-pharmacological and Lifestyle Approaches to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: 7. Yoga, Meditation and T’ai Chi Ch’uan
It may seem strange that someone with an attentional problem could sit still long enough to do yoga or meditation, but here is some evidence that they can do them and derive long term benefit.
There are hundreds of different types of yoga, but the one that has been examined the most is hatha yoga. The first report of an improvement in ADHD symptoms with relaxation training including a yoga component was published in 1992. There is a small peer-reviewed study of yoga for children with ADHD. It was a six-week open trial of twice weekly hatha yoga lesson for both parents and children. The participants were also encouraged to practice at home. At the end of the six weeks, there were subjective improvements in behavior, and in those who practiced at home there was an improvement in emotional lability.
Another pilot study this time from Heidelberg in Germany suggested that yoga can be an effective complementary or concomitant treatment for ADHD. That was also the conclusion from a recent review article: yoga, like most of the other complementary methods of treatment, may be a good adjunct, but we do not have enough evidence to use it in place of existing treatments.
That being said, many experts and many yoga teachers consistently report that they have students who have improved very markedly when they follow a regular yoga regimen.
Eugene Arnold’s excellent review of unorthodox treatments for ADHD cites two studies from the 1980s that showed significant improvements in the behavior of children who were taught to practice meditation. (Kratter J. The use of meditation in the treatment of attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity. Dissertation Abstracts International 1983;44:1965 and Moretti-Altuna G. The effects of meditation versus medication in the treatment of attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity. Dissertation Abstracts International 1987;47:4658.) Neither of the reports is easily available and the studies were not published in peer-reviews journals. A small six-week pilot study using Sahaja Yoga meditation for children with ADHD and their families reported a small but useful benefit.
Although there is not much published research on the use of meditation and ADHD, there are a great many anecdotal reports, and some good theoretical reasons for thinking that it should help. Research has shown that expert meditators produce both structural and functional changes in their brains, particularly in the regions involved in attention.
T’ai Chi Ch’uan
There are a large number of reports of people with ADHD improving if they practice t’ai chi or qigong, and in the days that I taught them, I have seen some remarkable improvements. But sadly there are few peer-reviewed studies in any of the languages that I can read.
There is a small but interesting study that was published in the Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies and involved 13 adolescents with an average age of 14.5 years. They were taught some basic t’ai chi moves for 30 minutes twice a week for five weeks. The sessions consisted of breathing exercises accompanied by slow raising and lowering of the arms, twisting and turning of the arms and legs, shifting body weight, rotating and changing direction.
The researchers used the 28-item Connors’ Teacher Rating Scale was used to evaluate their behavior prior to the tai chi classes, during the classes and two weeks after the classes ended. The adolescents’ teachers perceived them as less anxious, emotional and hyperactive. These improved scores remained consistent throughout the two-week follow-up period.
Given the anecdotal reports of the benefit of t’ai chi ch’uan and qigong on attention, concentration, depression and anxiety, it is important to do some more research on them n ADHD. In the meantime, there is no known downside of someone with ADHD using these practices in combination with more orthodox approaches.
And if they help, I would like to hear about it!