Meditation and Adult ADHD
How Meditation Can Help Improve Your Life Skills and Happiness
Perhaps you have heard of meditation and its benefits. Perhaps you have heard that meditation can be one of the most helpful activities that a person with ADHD can do for improved life outcomes.
You may say, “Sounds good. How can I get started?” If so, then please read on.
Concentration meditation to develop focus
One great starting place for a meditation practice is to choose a technique that emphasizes developing concentration. When doing such methods, we first pick something to focus our attention on and then do our best to experience the full, vivid texture of it. We will, however, probably soon notice that our mind has wandered away into thinking and other distractions. The instruction then is to choose to patiently shepherd awareness back to the chosen object of focus. If, after a bit, we notice that we have gotten distracted again, we patiently return again. Time after time, again and again, we notice how our mind has drifted from our chosen object of meditation, and we gently bring it back.
This repeated returning of awareness can be simple, repetitive, and at times boring work, like lifting a weight or practicing piano scales. However, it develops our power of concentration, our ability to intend to pay attention to something and have attention actually stay there. This is a capability that many people usually consider to be just a matter of chance or luck, but is actually something that we can improve. And, thankfully, the more we work at it, the easier it becomes.
A classic first meditation practice is to develop concentration by focusing our mind on our breathing, often as we feel it in our nostrils or in the pit of our belly. Another classic focus choice is to unify our full attention in the soles of our feet while walking.
A settled, unified, and concentrated mind is an important and useful building block for doing most other meditation techniques. Developing concentration also helps build our ability to stay focused on just what is right in front of us, and to do one thing at a time and engage in it fully. This can be helpful, for example, when doing manual work like cleaning the house, to not get bored and quit to go check social media, but instead to stay engaged until the task is done.
Cultivating concentration helps us to get into the habit of regularly asking ourselves: “Am I paying attention right now to what I want to be paying attention to?” Such a practice can help us to break out of unconscious negative hyperfocus ruts in our daily life, when, for example, we might get spaced out by checking out on the internet. The effort of working to focus our minds also generates energy, vitality, and motivation, which can uplift us during times that would otherwise be stuck in low-dopamine, lethargic, low motivation.
Deeply feeling body sensations
Another technique that is ideal for those of us with ADHD is to ground our attention into how our body feels. One way to do this is to bring our attention to a sensation and hold our full attention there for a couple seconds, and deeply, richly, and fully feel that sensation, accepting and making space for it exactly the way that it is. We then release the hold, and our attention may want to stay in the same spot, or it may wander to a different one. We then repeat the process over time, in a patiently rhythmic manner.
Fully and richly feeling body sensations is a great technique to do when feeling agitated, restless, antsy, spinning, impatient, and/or socially anxious. It can transmute those kinds of suffering into a sense of self-soothing, groundedness, settledness, and openness. And deeply, vividly experiencing how the body feels at each moment can help us to feel more satisfied and nourished by even the otherwise boring mundane moments of our day.
Repeating a phrase for positive affirmation
Another useful beginner technique is to mentally repeat a positive phrase or word. This is sometimes known as doing “affirmations” or a “mantra.” When performing this method, as best we can, we ground our full attention in the repetition of the phrase and in feeling its meaning flow through our body.
The phrase that we choose for such a practice does not have to be anything mystical-schmystical. It can embody anything you’d like to work on, cultivate, or emphasize in your life: for example, you could repeat “I am comfortable living with sobriety” or “I am learning to feel the impact of my words on other people as I speak.” Or, it can be a single word, like “calm” or “relax.”
My favorite repeated phrase is “May I be happy and healthy, and may I be patient, friendly, and forgiving with myself.” After moments of self-criticism, repeating this phrase helps me to soften, open my heart, and drop back into a positive and empowered state.
Repeating a phrase is also a technique that emphasizes developing concentration, as repeatedly bringing our wandering minds back to our chosen words has the benefits described above.
How meditation is similar to physical exercise
If you are new to meditation, it may help to understand it by the ways that it is similar to physically working out.
- Both can provide all sorts of positive mental and physical health benefits. But, to gain these blessings, we need to invest the time and effort into actually doing them.
- Both sometimes produce dramatic, immediate, and easily perceivable positive changes. Most of the positive changes, however, are small, incremental, and almost imperceptible.
- There is no one single technique that is appropriate for all people at all times; selecting a method depends on individual goals and circumstances.
- When developing a new practice, it works best to start with bite-sized, doable goals and expectations, and work up from there.
- Both can sometimes feel uncomfortable, tiring, frustrating, painful, and challenging, and they can sometimes feel relatively effortless, pleasant, and blissful. However it feels, though, we are making progress as long as we are putting in the time.
- With both, the aim of our dedicated exercise or meditation practice is not just the experience we have when doing it, but the positive impact that it has during the rest of our life. And, in both cases, being active or mindful in our daily life has a great reciprocally supportive relationship with our dedicated formal practice.
In sum, meditation is something that we can all do and get benefit from. If you are interested in knowing more about my work, including my weekly sitting practice group, please feel free to visit intromeditation.com.