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Focusing on A.D.D

Adults and children living with Attention Deficit Disorder know the daily struggles of hyperactivity, social isolation, and drug side effects. But yoga may help control these symptoms as well as reduce long-term dependency on medication.

By Fernando Pagés Ruiz

One Child's Class

It takes a special yoga teacher to work with ADD kids. "The teacher must have access to a variety of specialized techniques for dealing with anger, distractibility, and impulsivity, as well as a solid foundation in yoga," says Sonia Sumar, author of Yoga for the Special Child (Special Yoga Publications, 1998). Sumar trains and certifies yoga teachers, like Randolph, to work with developmentally challenged children. Randolph combines Sumar's special education approach with 30 years of hatha yoga practice in her classes with Clayton.

She works patiently, often one-on-one for several months, before integrating a child with ADD into a group setting, which includes two or three kids at the most. "These kids can be very intense," says Randolph. "A yoga teacher who works with children with ADD must develop patience, boundless energy, and a keen focus herself. These children need someone who can think faster and more creatively than they do; otherwise, they soon get bored."

Every Thursday, Clayton steps into Randolph's studio at The Yoga Center in Reno, Nevada. "Sometimes it's a struggle to get him there," says his mother, Nancy Petersen, "but in the end, he's always glad he went." Children with ADD struggle with transitions, so Randolph enlists a brief ritual, including candles and incense, to help Clayton shift into yoga mode. The structure of Clayton's classes generally follows the same basic pattern every week, with a few alternating poses chosen for variety.

ADD children do best in a well-organized environment, as their internal sense of structure lacks coherence. The Yoga Center has a sunny room with large windows and mirrored walls, but Clayton's classes take place in Randolph's basement studio, where the ivory-yellow paint and sienna carpet keep distractions to a minimum. Since the ADD brain functions too slowly while processing sensory information, concentration comes more easily when the stimulation level remains low.

To encourage body awareness, Randolph begins by asking Clayton how tight his body feels and how much warm-up he needs. Depending on the answer, Randolph begins with Suryanamaskar (Sun Salutation) in either a 12- or 28-posture sequence. This cycle challenges Clayton's ability to focus and helps increase his attention span. Learning a complex series like Sun Salutation "recruits a lot of nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex," says Ratey. "The brain is like a muscle: When you strain it, you strengthen it." But purely intellectual endeavors, like learning multiplication tables, don't promote what Ratey jokingly calls "neurological Miracle-Gro" to the extent that complex movement patterns do.

Following Sun Salutation, Randolph leads Clayton through a succession of forward bends, lateral bends, triangle poses, and backbends. In addition to their psychological benefits, these yoga poses help children with ADD learn to coordinate their bodies in space, which is important since they tend to have higher injury rates than their peers. Similar to the work of a physical therapist, carefully performed asanas engage alignment, balance, and coordination to train a child's sensory-motor system. Balancing poses like Vrksasana (Tree Pose) are Clayton's favorites, and he frequently practices them outside of class. Says Randolph, "Kids gravitate toward play that involves balance," such as skateboards, pogo sticks, swings, merry-go-rounds, and tumbling, because it excites what physiologists call the vestibular system. The inner ear's vestibular system allows you to judge your position in space and informs the brain to keep you upright.

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Reader Comments

Meaghan

A great intro presentation about yoga:
http://www.wepapers.com/Papers/92152/YOGA.ppt

Ann

I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 34, just this year. I went through life with no self-esteem, self-worth, or confidence.
Like Mary Alice, I was lost and disorganized from class to class. I unfortunately went undiagnosed and by the time I was 22 I was in and out of hospitals and therapy sessions and treated for mental problems I did not have.
My son is ADHD, I recognized it quckily and have been struggling with his behavioral problems and everything involved with being a parent of an ADHD child.
I started doing Vinyasha Yoga about 3 months ago. I had tried Power Yoga but it agitated my mind and tension in my body more than it helped, so I dropped out of it.
I am on Adderall for the ADHD and I had to adjust to a sudden peace with in my mind. I was scared to death of the silence, then I decided to go to the yoga class offered at the gym. It has changed my body and mind as described in the article. I do have a long way to go to achieve the state Mary Alice has come to find. However, I am always thrilled by yoga, I go into it excited and ready but holding on to worries and other problems, but by the end of a practice or class I am alive and awake in my mind, body, and soul but also wrapped in calm. Just recently I have started practice everyday at home inbetween classes. It is greatly reducing my everyday stress.
After I read this article I was able to understand many things I have questioned lately. I mentioned to my husband a couple of days ago about the fact that I have stuck to the practice of Vinyasha and how it has affected me. He pointed out the fact that I have become happy with my body as well. Not just mentally and spiritually it has, as put in the article, made me aware of myself and comfortable in my own skin. Typing that made my eyes tear up.
I am going to get the DVD for yoga for special children and work my son into it. There are no yoga classes around here for his age group, they do have it for 6-8 and 13-16 but nothing inbetween. Until then I will have to assist with poses and breathe before we can practice together. He does like trying poses already. I was practicing The Crane the first time it was introduced to me in class, my son comes along and starts doing the same movements I was and the little stinker did it on the first try. We laughed and for a moment were able to connect.
Your article was full of answers and possibilities for myself but it also pointed me in the right direction for helping my son but not leaving me blinded to the hardships and time it will take to see the benefits it will have for him in the long run.
Thank you.

Gail

Can anyone tell me the date of this article???

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