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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

Mary Alice Askew can relate to this. She learned she had ADD in high school, and like many girls, her symptoms did not include hyperactivity, which made the diagnosis less obvious but no less debilitating. A bright, capable student, her grades and social relations did not match her potential. Though she studied diligently enough to get straight A's, she instead got C's and D's. During class, Askew reeled between two extremes, either "spaced-out or hyperfocused, with no happy medium," she says.

With her attention system out of control, the transitions from one class to the next were especially hard. Unable to switch activities without getting "mentally disorganized," she felt inadequate and confused. She knew she could perform as well as her peers, but something got in her way.

To determine what, her parents arranged for a battery of psychological tests that led to the diagnosis of ADD. Treatment began immediately, with stimulants for mental clarity and behavioral training to help her get organized. Her symptoms and grades improved, and she went on to college.

Askew thought she would remain dependent on psychopharmaceuticals for life, but a sudden twist of fate brought her to yoga—a breakthrough that redefined her personal therapy and eventually her career. She discovered yoga in her early 20s, after a car accident left her body wracked in pain. Her physical therapist recommended yoga as part of a comprehensive pain management program. She began to study with her physical therapist and also began to practice at home for up to 90 minutes every day.

The asanas helped reduce her pain and yielded a surprising side effect: Her symptoms of ADD improved too. "I noticed that standing postures put me into the perfect mental state for listening and learning," she says. So Askew began standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) at the back of the classroom. "It gave me something to do with my energy, besides fidgeting," says Askew. "It helped me stay in the academic moment."

After graduating with a master's degree in counseling, Askew began treating students with ADD at a public school in North Carolina. She taught them yoga and meditation to prepare for exams. Today, Askew works as a hypnotherapist and incorporates yoga into her work at Haller's Behavioral Arts and Research Clinic in New York City. She says yoga provides several benefits for those with ADD:

  • SELF-AWARENESS. People with ADD lack it, notoriously underreporting their own symptoms. The ADD brain, struggling with an overload of sensory stimuli, lacks the mental space for introspection. By emphasizing physiological self-perception, yoga strengthens self-awareness, which can represent the first step in self-healing. "I used to feel hyper-aware of everything but myself," says Askew. "But yoga helped me get comfortable within my own skin."

  • STRUCTURE. Many with ADD leave considerable creative potential unfulfilled because they can't seem to organize their creative energies. Therefore, positive, life-enhancing routines that establish order can be a very important part of ADD management. Systematic patterns of movement help organize the brain. A highly systematized approach, like Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, for example, provides consistent, reliable patterning along with the progressive challenges that ADD people require to sustain long-term interest in an activity.

  • COORDINATION & PHYSICAL FITNESS. Children with ADD frequently miss out on physical education—not because of physiological limitations but because their inability to "play by the rules" makes them anathema to coaches and unpopular with their peers. Consequently, ADD kids don't develop the same level of physical coordination as other children. Therapists often recommend martial arts for their ADD patients because it offers a disciplined, athletic outlet without the pressures of a team sport.
    Yoga, though, goes one step further, providing physical fitness without competition. The relative safety of yoga allowed Askew to explore her body and gain a sense of physical self-confidence, thus shedding the feeling of awkwardness she'd suffered most of her life. "Having my posture in alignment makes it easier to move in a fluid way, shifting attention without stress," she says.

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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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