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Case Study Issue 111: Yoga Therapy for Attention Deficit Disorder

by Elizabeth Irvine(more info)

listed in case studies, originally published in issue 111 - May 2005

It's another routine morning; up early, scrambling with the morning rituals of getting children to school and adults to work; all on time, of course. Job deadlines, after school activities, dinner menus being planned and detailed as lunches are packed. A faint wish to get to bed at a decent hour wistfully drifts by… knowing we have to get up and do this again tomorrow. Does this sound oh too familiar?

Well let's add some classic ADD/HD problems: a sleepy, agitated child who is unable to fall asleep that night, now unable to focus on dressing or remembering homework, anxiety building as he feels the demands of yet another day of unmet expectations. Self-confidence fading with each morning's demand of "find your shoes", "eat your breakfast", "don't forget your lunch", "hurry up", "FOCUS!". What may be a typical morning for some turns quickly into a repetitive morning nightmare.

Eight year-old Michael could not fall asleep at night, so his mother, (longing for a quiet hour before she drops into an exhausted slumber), spends an additional two to four hours a night trying to get him to nod off. Help!

Luckily, Melanie took the approach of seeking out professional assistance. Her son's psychologist recommended yoga as a means of learning relaxation.

Melanie and Michael arrived at my office one Saturday morning ready to try yoga as a means of getting relief from the cycle of fatigue, irritation and high emotions for both mother and child. Gentle yoga and relaxation techniques were the avenue for reaching this goal. We set up a plan of meeting for four to six sessions to educate and practise specific and individually-designed yoga breathing and postures to address the issues at hand.

Why Yoga for Mother and Child?

Incorporating mother and child, a bond that is maternal and deeply rooted, as a yoga therapy is a natural approach. Children have the instinctive ability to focus on their breath and watch how their bodies respond. They make it seem like child's play, which, when one remains open and focused, can happen for adults as well. Our yoga session… perhaps, should more appropriately be referred to as 'breathing and body awareness'.

Leading by example, is one of the most effective ways to teach any new behaviour or family value to a child. Mothers seem to benefit and enjoy the sessions as much as the child.

Currently, I teach numerous mother/ child sessions. People seek help for a variety of problems, classic ADD/HD behaviour as well as physical manifestations such as headaches, bowel problems and asthma, to name some of the more common ones. Typically, after four to six sessions the child and mother have learned basic techniques to help them relax and let go of the stresses the body holds on to, therefore, allowing one to really rest deeply and heal. Physical as well as psychological problems lessen or disappear. Mothers and children who are motivated to learn make a change and are committed to incorporate this into their lives, find relief. These techniques become a life skill, used anytime the body is vulnerable. It's like riding a bicycle, once you learn you'll never forget.

According to Dr Carol Brady, a clinical psychologist in Houston, Texas, who treats numerous children each month with ADD/HD, "In the practice of psychotherapy we are always looking for what works. I have found useful additional methods, which complement traditional psychotherapy, yoga and breathing techniques being foremost among them".

She goes on to say, "One of the classic behavioural problems with ADD is not paying attention to one's body signals and feelings. This restricts a child's ability to have a balanced and honest view of their own personality, and therefore they often lack the ability to interact with others confidently".

Yoga, and its key partner breathing, creates self-awareness… helping one feel 'comfortable in their own skin'. Learning how to focus attention and then bring awareness to the breath opens a gateway to relaxing the body and, therefore, the mind. The human body is an amazing machine…when given the chance it has an innate ability to find balance and create a vibrant equilibrium, generating what the body needs to heal itself. This small investment of time reaps huge benefits in combating the daily wear and tear of this modern, fast-paced, stressful life. Nowadays we are so over-stimulated with multi-tasking, schedules and activities that we need to re-learn ways to 'undo', in order for the body to follow its innate wisdom.

Oh, and as for Michael and Melanie…they are sleeping safe and sound.


Irvine E. Yoga and Breathing Exercises for Mother and Child. Positive Health. Issue 65. June 2001.
Irvine E. A workshop with Sandra Sabatini, discovering the natural wisdom of the body. Positive Health. Issue 67. 2001.


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About Elizabeth Irvine

Elizabeth Irvine is the mother of three children, nurse, freelance health writer and yoga enthusiast.

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