Soon after I was formally diagnosed with attention deficit disorder several years back, I became vigilant in finding natural alternatives for treating ADHD. Vipassana Meditation is what I’d say to be one of the most effective approaches that I’ve personally tried.
For those who haven’t heard of it, Vipassana is a type of meditation that is related to mindfulness meditation. The technique is in effect a step-by-step guide on how to pay attention.
The technique involves closing your eyes and progressively paying attention to different parts of the body. First you “observe” what’s going on at the top of your head, then your face, then neck, chest, and so on…all the way down to your toes, then back up to the top of your head again. As you monitor each part of your body, you allow yourself to become aware of what’s going on in that area…the feeling of air against your skin; itching; tension; sometimes numbness or pain, if you’ve been sitting there for a while.
But the technique isn’t as significant as the way in which it’s taught. This stuff ain’t easy. You can’t go to a run-of-the-mill 5th Avenue yoga school and learn Vipassana. Vipassana meditation centers require new students to commit to a 10-day silent retreat (no talking) in which you will eat, sleep and breathe this technique. But it’s free, so you won’t be a stitch poorer if it doesn’t work for you.
During the 10-day retreat you’ll wake up every day at 4am and meditate for hour-long sessions, with breaks only for food and light exercise. After a few days, you’ll be asked to sit still without moving an inch for an entire hour. But this rigorous immersion training is probably why the vipassana retreats are so potent.
The biggest impact I saw from the retreat wasn’t in the area of attention; I saw a huge increase of control over my impulsivity.
ADHD’s most known symptoms are distractibility (inattentiveness) and hyperactivity. But underneath all that, we have a lot of impulse control difficulties as well. Vipassana’s practice of observing what’s going on in your body without reacting to anything really gets you better at self-control. After leaving Vipassana, I found myself talking far more calmly and clearly to people, and interrupting them much less.
In addition to that, it did have some effect on my attention and overall level of relaxation as well. Equally important, it gave me an exercise to train my ability to focus or relax which I could practice on my own. The effects of the retreat do require maintenance; I kept meditating daily for some time after the retreat, but when I stopped practicing completely, my impulsivity took a hit and old habits came back to some extent. That said I believe that some portion of the calm and self-control Vipassana has instilled in me is permanent.
In short, Vipassana meditation retreats are not for everyone, but I found mine to be very effective as an alternative ADHD therapy. Check out the links below, the documentaries seem particularly interesting: