Vipassana Meditation and ADHD (or, How I Felt After 10 Days of Silence)

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Vipassana Meditation and ADHD

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. Read on for a description of how the process works after the break.

Vipassana Meditation and ADHD

The technique of Vipassana meditation 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:

 



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6 comments

Hunter Dickson 8 years ago

I have assisted a client to integrate his learnings and insights after his second 10 day Vipassana meditation using Mind Clearing techniques.

These are very powerful experiences that benefit many - both those who meditate and those who simply are friends of those who meditate.

I will definitely pass this on to friends with ADHD. Cheers
Hunter at
http://www.DeepenMyLife.com

Jon Yaffe 7 years ago

I'm writing as a meditation teacher, based in St. Louis, MO., to say that the very intense 10-day vipassana retreat described here is not the only way to experience vipassana meditation. In Insight Meditation circles ("Vipassana" is translated as "Insight") this Goenka type retreat (named after it's primary adherent/proponent) is well-respected, but is considered by many to be "hard-core". 
Many Insight Meditation centers offer one or more short sittings a week, lasting 30-60 minutes for example, and supplement the sittings with "Dharma talks", in which the underlying understanding of the mind and reality are conveyed, to provide a context for coming to an understanding of the meditative experience. Retreats are offered as well, but people may attend weekly sittings for many months before going to their first retreat, and this may be held over a weekend or other shorter time frame than 10 days.This gradual immersion isn't ideal for everyone, but then the hard-cord immersion isn't for everyone either. The point is that there are many ways to get exposure to these techniques and training - depending of course on what centers are available in your area or your freedom to travel. 

Kelley 6 years ago

My 12 year old has been diagnosed with ADHD, emphasis on the hyperactive/impulsive. THANK YOU for sharing this.

Sarah 3 years ago

I went for 5 days Vipassana meditation. Even though, it was short time, i returned with great experience and peace of mind. I am surely going to share this post with others.

Gael Gobaille-Shaw 3 years ago

I completely endorse this article! I have recently been diagnosed with ADHD and I found the vipassana retreat one of the most important experiences of my life. Many people do consider it hardcore and I understand why but personally I found it quite easy to get through. I found it easy because i have suffered a lot of mental anguish from my ADHD and anxiety which has led to poor academic performance, relationship problems and drug misuse. I had a strong resolve (thats the key) to learn more about my mind, to overcome my difficulties and a strong curisoity for what else the practice could offer me. I found the documentary "The Dharmma Brothers" helped me to form this, addtionally the book "Power of Now" by Tolle helped me get through the 10 days aswell. I would highly recommend taking a look at this material before the retreat and other books by the Dalai Lama such as "The Art of Happiness" and "Stages of Meditation" also very useful.

Gecko 1 year ago

I just lost everything, and learnt at the same time about my ADHD.
With all the strength I have left I booked a flight and packed a bag as I always do when I have a breakdown.
Then I read this 3 years-old post. Your article is a vision of my hope.

I am curious, 3 years later how do you feel about the long-term teachings and consequences of this experience ?

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