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Meditation and ADHD: How to sit when you can’t sit still

December 12, 2011

In my life long search for balance, meditation has been at the top of my list as a practice worth developing because of the mental, physical and spiritual benefits it can provide.  However, as someone managing ADHD, it seemed like a door that I would never be able to open.

Most nights I can’t get myself to settle or my mind to be quiet enough to let me sleep unaided. The thought of sitting still and quieting my mind for longer than 2 seconds was laughable on a good day and proof that I was defective on a bad one.   Even so, every New Year’s for almost the last decade, I have diligently added it to my goals for the coming year.  And starting on January 1, I would read every article about meditation I could find, gather up all the “right” equipment, and schedule it into my day.  I even dedicated space to it in my bedroom.

On the first day, I would sit, willpower in hand and try to be still.  I would tell my rebellious mind to get with the program and settle.  I would stay there as long as I could, trying not to fidget.  I would breathe and focus and mindfully let the thoughts slide away.  I would sit until my body felt twitchy and the thoughts felt like pinballs bouncing about inside my head.  I would sit until the mere act of sitting and trying would become too excruciating to continue.  Then I would congratulate myself on my outstanding progress in developing solid meditation skills and look at the clock to see just how well I had done.  And then I would realize it had barely been a minute.  One. Minute.  I am in my 30’s and sitting quiet and still in my own bedroom for more than one minute is impossible.

That as they say, would be the beginning of the end.  Some January’s I lasted a week, some never made it past the first day.  Eventually I would cave to my disappointment and, completely disheartened, stop trying.

This year when it came time to pick my 2011 goals, I decided to find a way to make meditation work for me.  I let go of the “right” way, fought my need to be “perfect” in my pursuit of meditation-induced inner peace and committed to figuring it out.  I started with a tiny booklet I picked up in the Kripalu gift shop a few years ago called Malas, Mantras and Meditation by Sandra Ducey.  I read it a couple of times and spent time thinking about it as if I was working with a client, identifying obstacles, defining strategies, assessing what was working and adjusting accordingly.

Now, As I enter my fourth week of successful meditation and pass the 20 minute mark (yes, 20 minutes in a row) –  I wanted to share what I have learned in the hopes it might benefit others. Or at least give them hope to find their own way.

1.  Alternate how you sit, when you sit.

Sit on a bolster or a high stack of pillows one day and flat on the floor the next, kneel another day and on the fourth day sit in a chair.  For me, changing positions helps keep things new since it feels like a slightly different experience.  It’s a small thing, but it adds just enough variation to keep my mind from checking out.

2. Use your fidgety fingers to your advantage.

One of my greatest challenges has always been the notion that I have to be still to really be meditating, that I was somehow doing it wrong if I wasn’t a statue.  By introducing a mala into my meditation, I embrace my need to move  – letting my hands work through the fidgets I am feeling.  Whether you use a mala, a rosary, a strand of pearls or mardi gras beads, giving yourself an outlet – and permission to move – allows you to fidget without losing focus.

3. Incorporate sound.

Another of my misconceptions about “perfect” meditation was that silence was required.  For some, silence brings solace and calm.  For me, it becomes so deafening, it can be more distracting than a city full of sirens.  In my quest to find my own way, I tried listening to guided meditation, but it was too hard to be interested in another person’s inner vision.  I tried chanting a couple different mantras in my head, but all those pinballs bouncing around keep knocking the mantra off kilter.  Then I tried saying my chosen mantra out loud and something magic happened.  My brain stopped playing pinball and listened.   By engaging my voice and my ears and allowing my hands to fidget, my brain is engaged enough to accept the invitation to be an active participant in my practice.

4.  Use scent to anchor your practice.

Every morning when I get up, I light a cone of my favorite incense just before I get in the shower.  As the smoke curls up to the ceiling, my room fills with the scent and my brain gets an early alert of what is coming next.   Just as certain scents trigger powerful memories, they can be used as sensory guideposts.  By starting my practice this way, I have anchored meditation to the scent, giving my brain the heads up that it’s almost time to meditate.  For many like me with ADHD, the transition from one thing to the next, one state to the next, is unbearably hard.  This guidepost makes that trip a little less rocky.

By engaging most of my senses, giving myself permission to move and inviting my brain to be part of my practice, I am discovering a meditation practice that works with my ADHD.  Instead of fighting against myself on my road to inner peace, I am making my own pathway and making peace with my inner self along the way.

For more information on this and other AD/HD topics or to sign-up for a coaching consultation, visit my site.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Anne permalink
    February 12, 2012 5:08 am

    walking can be meditative in itself, if you are alone. You can combine the walking with a breathing exercise. I learnt this with “Afghan walking” with Daniel Zanin in France.(march consciente he calls it). I don’t think there is any material in English on the web, but a course with Daniel would help anyone who loves walking to walk well (I won’t bother with our walking feats here) and help someone who can’t meditate in the conventional ways (like me) . I have only just discovered, a week or so ago, that adhd may lie back of a lot of my problems but I think walking Marche Consciente, even in town, on disagreeable asphalt, is helpful for mel, not just for my bronchitis, but also for this possible adhd. I found this blog because I started using a mala 3 days ago.

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