Mindfulness with ADHD
You’re reading this, which means you are probably curious about mindfulness. Maybe you’re wondering what’s the point? How on earth am I going to sit still and focus? Do I really have to turn off my mind? HOW DO I DO IT?
If you’re in the ‘what’s the point’ category let’s try an exercise. Notice where you’re sitting, how the chair or floor feels under you. Notice 5 things you see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear. There, you already experienced some mindfulness, now was it really that bad?
Mindfulness is teaching you to pay attention to paying attention.
So, let’s get to what I presume might be your first question.
What is mindfulness and how is it going to help me with my ADHD?
Mindfulness is a way to pay attention to the present moment without judgment, there are many ways to practice mindfulness, meditation is one of many. It is a way to train the brain (yes, even the hyperactive and inattentive and impulsive brains!) to be more aware, which can be particularly helpful for focus. It can reduce impulsivity, reduce over-reactivity, enhance self-acceptance, decrease distractibility, increase gratitude, calmness, and positivity. And who doesn't want to replace their chaotic feelings with more good feelings?
Can people with ADHD meditate?
The answer is simply, YES. There are a few tricks that are going to make it a bit easier to get started. Maybe in your ideal vision of yourself meditating you envision a glowing Zen buddha on a mountain top, sitting still in total and utter bliss. Well, that’s probably not how this is going to look. It might look more like setting a timer in your living room while your cat and children crawl over your head and that is perfectly okay. The best thing I learned as I went through yoga teacher training was that there really isn’t a right or wrong way to meditate. Trying something new is hard for ADHDers, if you take 30 seconds to practice that’s a huge win, if you find meditation isn’t for you there are many other ways to practice and benefit from mindfulness.
Schedule: Start with 2 to 5 minutes a day, but try to make this a habit and make it realistic. Get clear on when and how often you plan to do this. I recommend finding 2-5 minutes a day to start. If that doesn’t sound realistic to you it doesn’t have to be 7 days a week. I find meditation helpful first thing in the morning or right before bed to help wind down.
Duration: Once you have decided on your time and day, set an alarm, or find a natural prompt to remind you to meditate (this can be like pairing your morning coffee/tea or putting a cushion on the floor beside your bed). In fact, if you open the alarm on your phone right now, I suggest adding an alarm called “meditate” or “practice mindfulness” or something playful like “Mind your moment you sexy beast” or whatever works for you, and set it for the time you decided would be best.
Environment: Get comfortable. Personally, I like being warm, so I put on some socks and grab a warm drink to hold. I find it helpful to sit on a cushion on the floor with your knees lower than your hips, or sit on a chair with your feet firmly planted. However, you may wish to stand or even walk. A quiet space is ideal, but that is sometimes easier said than done. You’ll want to avoid as many distractions as possible, so you may wish to mute your phone or leave it in the other room. If you have a partner, remind them that you're meditating, or get your child to practice along. As for that pesky cat that loves to crawl all over you for attention, that’s okay, this is part of the practice.
Strategies: For the first week or two keep the timer down to a few minutes, the first week you might want to aim for 3 minutes, and the second week aim for 5. It can be helpful to follow along with guided imagery, there are many free resources on YouTube and on InsightTimer.
Being inconsistent with our habits is a common experience for people with ADHD, so remember it’s okay when you fall off track - try not to judge yourself harshly, and get back into it when you can.
Types of Meditation
Seated meditation - Now that you have the right setting and environment, soften your gaze or close your eyes. Bring attention to your breath, inhale 5 counts, and exhale for 7 counts. Try to focus on the pattern of your breath, continuing until the timer goes off. If your mind wanders, notice the thoughts that are coming up, then draw your attention back to breathing. It can be helpful to imagine your breath is a cloud blowing the thought away out of view.
Walking meditation - Set your timer and begin by taking slow steps. With your first step take a slow breath in, with the next step take a slow breath out. After you've done this for a few minutes, try adding a mantra to match the breath, such as inhaling with the thought “I am” and exhaling “calm”. Be very aware of each step and the way your foot touches the ground, heel to toe, heel to toe.
There is no time like the present to practice presence. If you give it a try let me know how it goes!
Kaitlyn is an ADHD Coach, yoga teacher, and somatic practitioner.
She uses a compassionate, open approach to help the folks she supports with reaching their wellness goals.