It is not uncommon for young children to be impulsive. They may be very energetic, sometimes even hyperactive. And we all know that a child’s attention span is short. However, for some children, these are not occasional occurrences. They affect how the child functions in everyday life at home and at school. These children may suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
ADHD is estimated to affect between 3% and 10% of children in the United States. This means that approximately 2 million children are diagnosed with ADHD. Although the causes are not known, it is likely that genetics and environmental factors play significant roles. For example, the Center for Science in the Public Interest recently petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban some common food dyes, citing accumulating evidence that food additives may adversely affect children’s behavior. Exposure to cigarettes and alcohol during pregnancy or a history of traumatic brain injury may increase a child’s risk of developing ADHD.
Inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity are the principle characteristics of ADHD. Individually or in combination, these characteristics define three patterns of behavior according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-IV-TR): predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type, predominantly inattentive type (sometimes called attention deficit disorder, ADD) and combined type which incorporates both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive behaviors.
The traditional Western medical approach to treatment of ADHD relies heavily on medications; stimulants have long been the mainstay of therapy. A combination of medications, social skills training and behavioral interventions can be effective. Complementary therapies, including yoga, Ayurveda and meditation can provide support for children with ADHD.
Yoga asana (posture), pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation, is used in children with ADHD. A small study looking at the effects of yoga on attention in boys with ADHD (on medication) hinted at the merit of utilizing yoga. However, no unequivocal evidence-based studies have been published.
Kundalini yoga teacher Shakta Kaur Khalsa, author of Fly Like a Butterfly and founder of Radiant Child® Yoga, uses all aspects of yoga practice when working with children, including those with ADHD. “The very best discipline comes from within the child, and that happens easiest when the child is engaged—in other words—when you create something magical with children, there is a natural discipline, therefore none needs to be enforced from the outside.” She continues, “One boy I worked with who had sensory processing challenges took the songs [from yoga, such as “I am brave, I am bold, my own spirit I can hold”] to his classroom. When he felt overwhelmed by school and all its sensory input, he would cuddle up under his desk and do the Sa-Ta-Na-Ma meditation, which helps to release mental stress. In this meditation the pads of each finger are pressed as the ‘yoga sounds’ are chanted. The sound of one’s own voice is affirming, the repetition brings security and order and the pressing of the fingertips stimulates pressure points that activate brain centers for focus and relief of stress.” Through practice, the young student could self-regulate effectively. The inner calm created by positive affirmations, combined with song and movement, can help children with ADHD deal with anxiety and sensory integration issues.
Ayurveda provides an integrated approach, stressing a return to balance between the three doshas, or natural energetic humors of the body: vata (air/ether), pitta (fire) and kapha (water and earth). Dr. Marianne Teitelbaum, a long-time student of Vaidya R.K. Mishra, has successfully treated a number of children with ADHD, helping them achieve a calmer, more balanced constitution, although evidence-based studies are lacking.
She identifies three potential causes of ADHD: genetic or inherited, nutrition and environmental exposures such as toxins and pollutants. In addition, we live in a vata-aggravated society, as evidenced by our fast-paced lifestyle and dependence on television, computers and cell phones. Over time, our minds have become trained to work fast to keep up.
Ayurvedic treatment is multifactorial. Dr. Teitelbaum recommends spending less time with electronic devices such as TV and computers, especially after 7:00 pm. Kapha, with its emphasis on earth and water, is the opposite of vata. Spending more time outside (such as going to the beach or gardening) can counter the effects of a vata environment. She recommends dietary modifications (see sidebar).
Ayurvedic Diet to Reduce Vata and Address ADHD
- Whole grains provide B vitamins, beneficial to the nervous system.
- Mineral-rich vegetables calm the nervous system.
- Warm milk, rich in tryptophan, calcium and magnesium, is calming.
- Both whole milk and ghee (clarified butter) balance vata.
- Almonds, soaked overnight in spring water with the skin removed, when taken in moderation, are supportive to the brain.
- Support prana, (life-force) with fresh, organic, whole, freshly cooked and minimally-processed foods.
- Synthetic vitamins.
- Artificial colors and ingredients
- White sugar and refined grains
- Stimulating foods and drinks
- Channel-blocking foods such as hard cheeses, soy products, nightshades (white potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, tomatoes), bananas and large beans (kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas).
According to Ayurveda, the brain has three functions: dhi (taking in knowledge), dhriti (storing knowledge) and smriti (retrieving knowledge). Herbal preparations can support the nervous system and these functions. Brahmi, including both Bacopa monneiri and gotu kola (Centella asiatica), balances these three functions, while arjuna (Termanalia arjuna) and ashoka (Saraca indica) can help balance emotions. Daily almond oil or vata oil massage, particularly on the scalp and on the feet can also have a balancing effect.
The effects of Transcendental Meditation (TM) have been studied in children with ADHD. According to reports, children utilizing TM techniques twice a day report better focus and increased ability to work independently. Mindfulness is another technique that has been examined in a preliminary feasibility study of an eight-week mindfulness training program for adolescents and adults with ADHD, with improvements in attention and self-reported symptoms. Meditation should be taught by a qualified teacher and not all meditation techniques are appropriate for children with ADHD.
Many families seek out a variety of therapies for their children with ADHD. Evidence-based studies of complementary therapies are, for the most part, lacking. However, there are a number of anecdotal reports of successful interventions. For those open to complementary options, intelligent inquiry and thoughtful choice of a qualified practitioner may yield improvement when used in conjunction with a primary healthcare provider.
Thanks to: Dr. Marianne Teitelbaum, Ayurvedic practitioner in New Jersey; Pamela Miles, Reiki Master, educator and author in New York City; and Shakta Kaur Khalsa, Kundalini yoga teacher, educator and author in Virginia.
Adults with ADHD and the Role of Reiki
In October, look for information on adults with ADHD and the role of Reiki for children and adults.
The information given herein is provided for educational purpose only and is not a substitute for an individual consultation with a primary healthcare provider. This information does not represent the opinions of LA YOGA Ayurveda and Health magazine.
Reference list is available on the LA YOGA website: layogamagazine.com
Dr. Kari Kassir is a pediatrician and pediatric intensivist with Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
By Kari Kassir, MD