Mindfulness helps Inattentive ADHD and Academic Achievement

Mindfulness helps Inattentive ADHD and Academic Achievement
In a busy inner city school, twenty, elementary age kids are socializing, squirming, running around in circles giggling, laughing, hollering or screeching. The scene can best be described as sheer pandemonium.

Soon a calm, bespectacled, fourth grade teacher walks into the classroom and tells the kids to settle into a yoga pose where they lay flat on their backs and the palms of their hands face the sky.

He begins a guided meditation asking the kids to focus on a colorful tiny light bulb that is in the center of their hearts. Soon the room is silent and for ten minutes the kids lay on their mats, calm, relaxed and quiet.

This scene is being repeated, every day, in schools all over this country. Mindfulness training in schools is not a new concept but it is one that is being use by teachers and school administrators with more and more frequency. The reason is simple. Mindfulness meditation quiets the brain in a way that makes children more prepared to learn. These findings have been known for a long time but new research is showing that these mind quieting activities have a lasting effect on our brains and on our brain's chemical balance.

The balance of neurotransmitters in our brains changes constantly and is dependent on what we are experiencing. Stress, fear and fatigue can set up a brain chemical profile that is not productive to learning or paying attention but activities such as mindful meditation, yoga, relaxation exercises, focused play or simple reflection has the opposite affect.

Now that we have brain imaging studies that can see changes occurring inside our brains, we can see that children who meditate develop permanent changes in brain areas that control their attention, hyperactivity and emotional control. Several studies have now found that when you compared meditators and non-meditators, the meditator's brains have more efficient connections, have larger volume in areas important for attention, focus and emotion control as meditating brains also have more gray matter, a finding that indicates improved mental function.

Teachers and parent are using mindfulness exercises in their classrooms because they find that these exercises can have an extraordinary effect on not only inattention and impulsive behavior but also on the holy grail of school performance, academic achievement.

We have known for a long while that meditation exercises help control stress but a new study just published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that meditation helps more than just stress.  In this study, parents that learned mindful meditation with their children reported that their kids were more focused and the children's teachers found the kids to be less oppositional. 

Because children are sponges and learn to attend from the people that surround them, it is possible that teaching both parents and kids meditation skills is better than just teaching the kids.  It is also possible that as the parent becomes more attentive, the child becomes more attentive as well.

Ten minutes of mindful meditation is free, easy to do and if your child's school does not have a program, starting a program at home is easy. Mindfulness should be thought of as attention training. The steps to mindfulness are simple.

1. Bring attention to an attention anchor such as a tiny colorful light bulb in the center of your heart that rises and falls with each breath.

2. Pay attention to the distractions that pop into your mind and note them and then blow them away and refocus on the Christmas light.

3. Repeat these two steps for ten minutes.

These simple steps teach the child or adult to pay attention to paying attention and they change the brain for the better. There are many types of meditation and many online resources for the different types of Inattentive ADHD meditation that you can perform at home. I have included some free resources below to get you started.

Free Free Guided Imagery Resources
Free Guided Imagery (Click, at mid page, on Blue Sky - Meditation for Inner Stillness and Silence)

This last free resource is my favorite and I think you will really like it.  It is what I call mindfulness music:

Mindfulness can help the adults and children with Inattentive ADHD pay attention.  It can help us keep our minds from wandering and we should spend at least ten minutes every day on mindfulness activities.  The cost is nothing.  The side effects are nonexistent and the benefits are huge. What are you waiting for??

Psychiatry Res. 2011 Jan 30;191(1):36-43. Epub 2010 Nov 10.
Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density.
Hölzel BK, Carmody J, Vangel M, Congleton C, Yerramsetti SM, Gard T, Lazar SW.

Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 2010 Oct;38(7):985-94.
Feasibility and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness intervention for urban youth.
Mendelson T, Greenberg MT, Dariotis JK, Gould LF, Rhoades BL, Leaf PJ.
Journal of Child and Family Studies. 2012 Feb;21(1):139-147. Epub 2011 Feb 2.
The Effectiveness of Mindfulness Training for Children with ADHD and Mindful Parenting for their Parents.
van der Oord S, Bögels SM, Peijnenburg D.

Neuroimage. 2009 Apr 15;45(3):672-8.
The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter.
Luders E, Toga AW, Lepore N, Gaser C.

Int J Yoga. 2010 Jul;3(2):67-9.
Immediate effect of two yoga-based relaxation techniques on attention in children.
Pradhan B, Nagendra H.


  1. Meditation may be good for some aspects of ADHD but I'm not sure how good it would be for inattention.

    As an adult with inattentive ADHD and anxiety I went through a period when I did quite a lot of meditation. While meditating, I found it was good for calming myself down emotionally, and it was also a good memory booster. It's amazing when you're meditating how suddenly all the things at the back of your mind that you've forgotten you need to to do suddenly come back to you.

    However, I didn' find it very good for improving attention, nor did it have any long term benefits. Meditation is supposed to increase the strength of alpha brain waves in the frontal lobes, but according to neurofeedback researchers, adults with ADHD alreadly have too much alpha activity in the frontal lobes, which is why they're a bit spacy and apathetic.

    So I suspect the neurofeedback helped with my anxiety but didn't do anything for my ADHD.

    However, it maybe different for children with inattentive ADHD, since children's brain wave patterns are slower than adults, and getting them into the alpha zone, would be like getting a adult with ADD into the SMR zone (relaxed but focused).

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