Namaste Yogis!! May I Have Your Attention, Please!
It is not news to anyone that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder….ADHD…. has reached alarmingly high proportions among our children – and - among our adults.

The exact cause is unknown.....there seem to be many factors at play.....The jury is still out as to whether sugar can contribute. Most experts believe that the link is not a strong one and that removing sugar from the diet will not impact significantly on the condition. The reasons are controversial and varied. There is no question that there is a genetic component, as a child with ADHD is four times as likely to have had a relative who has been diagnosed with ADHD.

Some experts suggest that a lack of Omega 3 fatty acids are responsible for ADHD. These substances are necessary for brain development. Fish oil supplements appear to alleviate ADHD in some people. Maternal smoking may be a link. Lead exposure has been suggested as a possible link.

It would appear that many elements are at play....Genetics, brain structure, food allergies and environmental toxicity. It is likely that there is no single cause, even in each individual child. People with this condition seem to have lower levels of dopamine in the brain. One could hypothesize that the impulses crossing the synaptic gap are in some way disturbed.....but one thing seems clear – the haste at which most of us are living these days is reaching the speed of light. We are being encouraged to do more in less time, to attain more, and technology has grown to the point where new information is forthcoming faster than it can be absorbed. However, the eptimology of this condition is not meant to be the main reason for this writing.

A few facts:
ADHD is a neurological disorder that is characterized primarily by inattention, easy distractibility, disorganization, procrastination, and forgetfulness. Different countries have used different ways of diagnosing ADHD. In the UK, diagnosis is based on quite a narrow set of symptoms, and about 0.5–1% of children are thought to have attention or hyperactivity problems. The USA used a much broader definition of the term ADHD. As a result, up to 10% of children in the USA were described as having ADHD. Current estimates suggest that ADHD is present throughout the world in about 1–5% of the population, although some estimate that this is a very low stat. About three times more boys than girls are diagnosed with ADHD. MRI’s of both adults and children show a unique pattern of brain activity not seen in those without the disorder. More research is currently being carried out at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City.

The treatment of choice for many with ADHD is medication. Dr. Jennifer Rae, (my daughter) is a physician at Queen’s University in Kingston. She sees many patients with ADHD. “I think it speaks volumes about our society that for some people to function successfully we need to drug them.” The medications of which she speaks include two classes of drugs, stimulants and non-stimulants. Drugs for ADHD are divided into first-line medications and second-line medications. First-line medications include several of the stimulants, and tend to have a higher response rate and effect size than second-line medications. Although medication can help improve concentration, it does not cure ADHD and the symptoms will come back once the medication stops.

Interestingly, those with this condition are often well advised to begin an exercise program to help them build mental discipline, confidence, and to improve their social skills. Physical activity boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels - and all these neurotransmitters affect focus and attention. Careful thought should be given to selection of a specific exercise program as some may be too challenging and would add frustration. Exercise is an ideal way to channel excess physical energy but yoga helps ADHD in that it combines physical activity with mental focus in a way that is not seen in many other types of exercise. Yoga sharpens concentration and focus while working the body.

Research Studies with Yoga
Effects of yoga on the attention of boys with ADHD. In one study two groups of boys were divided into 2 groups. One group was prescribed 20 sessions of yoga group...while the other group was prescribed medication. The boys were assessed pre and post sessions. Significant improvements were found in the yoga group in the following areas: Hyperactivity, anxiety and shyness and social problems. Importantly, positive changes were associated with the number of sessions attended. Those in the yoga group who engaged in home practice as well as lessons showed significant improvement.(1)

In yet another study, improvements were found in restlessness, impulsivity, oppositional behaviour and emotional ability.

Because meditation techniques emphasize training the mind to hold its attention, a study is currently underway, sponsored by the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies and by Dr. Susan Smalley at the UCLA Institute for Behavioral Genetics, to evaluate the effectiveness of Buddhist contemplative techniques in benefiting children with ADHD.

These studies are most encouraging as they suggest that yoga has much promise in this area.

(1) Journal of Attention Disorders 2004. The effects of yoga on the attention and behaviour of boys with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. (Jensen and Kenney)