Vipassana Meditation and ADHD (or, How I Felt After 10 Days of Silence)
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:
- Vipassana Meditation Website.
- Research on Vipassana:
- Documentaries on use of Vipassana in prisons.
- What ADHD Feels Like
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I can imagine that this would help with concentration and learning efficiency. If you can control your natural “impulse” to zone out, you can likely stay on task better. I could probably use a retreat like this!
How were you able to take 10 days off and then not talk throughout it all? What would happen if you did? Would you do this again knowing that you have gone back to some of your old ways?
Oddly enough Val, remaining silent during the retreat wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had anticipated. I quickly learned to ignore the impulse to talk, even to think out loud. This habit made me a far more concise communicator when I eventually went back to speaking in daily life. Far harder than this was “strong determination” meditation periods, in which we committed to not moving an inch for an hour at a time. This was very difficult, but like all things the more I did it, the better I got.
As for whether I’d do it again, that’s a definite yes. Even though I haven’t maintained the practice religiously, the benefits I’ve gained from Vipassana have stayed with me over the past few years. When I do finally visit again, they’ll just be improved upon even further.
Thank you so much for your article. I have done the Vipassana course and it changed my life in many subtle ways. I am really hoping I can do it again soon with my boyfriend who has ADHD and has been on medication and it helps him tremendously. Please tell me how you had to deal with medication. Were you taking ADHD medication (if any) during the ten days or were you off it? Thanks!
Hi May, glad you found the post helpful 🙂
I actually was not on ADHD medication at the time I sat Vipassana, but I was on medications for other things. The course instructor told me that generally they advise people to keep their medication routine the same while doing the retreat. That way, if Vipassana has an effect on them, they will know it was the result of Vipassana (and not from the change of medication). So in terms of medication I’d recommend that you don’t remove your current meds (or add any new ones) until after doing Vipassana.
Yes Vipassana can help you deal with ADHD, I have benefited by meditation. For 10 days it was like I became calmer day by day, but one has to do it seriously, the much better you follow the instructions the best you will get the results. Not only 10 days, Daily meditation from 30 mins – 1hour may help you deal not only with ADHD, but you will learn the power of equanimity to deal with every situation of your life 🙂 Best wishes
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