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“How I Learned to Meditate (Even Though I Can’t Sit Still)”

I always thought meditation was only for the zen, those preternaturally calm people with altars in their homes. Lesson one: Throw out your preconceived notions, because you don’t have to sit in silence to meditate.

Paying attention, well….it’s not exactly my strong suit.  But I am getting better, and believe-it-or-not, it’s because of mindfulness.

Take it from someone with ADHD, you can train your brain, feel better, and function at a higher level using mindfulness meditation. I know, because I even surprised myself.

1. Throw out your preconceived notions.

I always thought meditation was only for the zen, those preternaturally calm people with altars in their homes. Or, at the very least, for people who could sit still for long periods of time. Chanting and mantras always freaked me out.

My mind moves very quickly, and my thoughts are scattered so the idea of being still and quiet never appealed to me.

Until I learned this: You don’t have to sit in silence to meditate. In fact, guided meditations, led by a narrator, are easier for beginners.

You also do not have to chant or speak at all. All I really had to do is practice “paying attention” in a different way.

[Free Download: Make Mindfulness Work for You]

2. Use the apps.

Most meditation apps are free (or have a free version with useful resources). I downloaded a bunch, then chose which ones I liked. Sometimes a certain narrator’s voice grated on my nerves or another’s style appealed to me more than the others.

Each app has an introduction that explains how to be mindful, step-by-step.

My favorites are:

I use them one at a time, or several at once.

3. Practice breathing.

Breathing seems pretty straightforward, right? It sounds funny, but breathing is the first skill I had to master if before I could use meditation to manage my focus and emotions.

[My Kind of Meditation]

I started by practicing counting to five as I breathed in, and counting to seven as I breathed out. There’s no magic number, just whatever number of breaths feels comfortable.

I try to notice how my lungs and belly expand, and make sure to take a full exhale as I go. I’ve learned that if I exhale correctly I become relaxed much more quickly and can follow a guided session more easily.

4. Make it a habit.

When you have ADHD it is hard to organize your time. Harder still, is finding time for yourself.

Some of us barely have time to take a shower, let alone spend a half hour meditating every day. I get it. Instead, I take five minutes to meditate first thing in the morning or last thing at night.

5. Look for the benefits.

One of the first things I noticed when I started meditating is how my physical stress response changed. I no longer get a tight knot in my stomach when I am overwhelmed. And if I do, I can make the knot go away much faster.

Prioritizing has become easier, too. Now when I check my planner and work calendar, I feel like I can calmly decide what I need to do first, second, and third.

My functioning at work and at home has increased dramatically. I will never be the consummate homemaker or the perfect employee, but “perfect” isn’t really my goal these days.

You see, meditation has blunted the sharp edges of my negative self-talk. It has changed the way I think.

Meditation will not cure ADHD. Meditation is not easy. Learning to meditate with ADHD is even harder.

But it will help you to train your brain, feel better, and function at a higher level. Keep an open mind, experiment, and figure out what makes you feel good.

[Mindful Awareness: How to Combat ADHD Symptoms with Meditation]

6 Comments & Reviews

  1. Easiest meditation for ADD folks:

    Sit, lie down … whatever makes you comfortable. Close your eyes to limit distraction. Focus only on your hearing and name (aloud or silently) every sound you hear. Fridge coming on. Dog. Passing car. Dog. Leaves blowing. Upstairs neighbor. Car. The problem with meditation for people with ADD is that when you try to shut down the conscious mind, you only end up with it spinning in circles with all that unconscious mind stuff that now has space to come forward. So you don’t want to try to empty the mind, but rather occupy it in a way that stops it from running about randomly. Moreover, naming the sounds means you must be “present” to notice them. And, as a bonus, you keep getting different sounds, so boredom is less of an issue. It’s like meditation with training wheels.

    1. I am a newcomer to meditation, and I find that I am much more relaxed when I’m lying down; as a woman, I’ve been culturally conditioned to “hold in my stomach” at all times as a “social grace,” and that is not exactly conducive to total and authentic relaxation. Perhaps someone with amazingly strong core muscles can sit like that comfortably and call it “relaxed.” Who knows, after lots more meditation, maybe I’ll never think of my posture again!

  2. Yes, we can train our ADHD brain. Take it from someone with ADHD and who teaches meditation! And I’m quite a popular teacher too. 🙂

    Btw, seeing that I can create the conditions for a calmer brain, I prefer to call this thing Hyper Brian Propensity Disorder.

  3. Hey guys, this article is on point. Something that was very helpful to me as a child (my mom taught yoga and meditation) was turning lights off in my room and focusing on a candle flame. This would replace time outs or whenever I was overstimulated. It was much easier to focus on something moving and changing, and even as an adult I find it a great way to empty my brain while remaining somewhat entertained.

    1. I love that idea! Thanks for sharing it. That reminded me that there’s something similar on the Wii, I think on Wii Sports maybe? It’s a calming activity where you sit really still and watch the flame flicker — the more still you sit, the better your score. That could work better for more tech-savvy kids. Come to think of it, there’s probably an app too! 😉

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

  4. It was seeing over and over articles like this and reading one about the book altered traits that explained what meditation really does and the real reason it everyone raves about it, put simply

    What meditation really does is increase your emotional intelligence
    Now combined that with learning the science of emotions from books like “how emotions are made”. “Emotional agility” and “The emotional brain”. And I look back now and can’t believe it.

    I wouldn’t say I’m physically yet in a different place, but I literally stepped out of several bubbles in my perspective. There is plenty more that went with this but it all started by picking up meditation and reading an article that said what it really does is improve your EQ.

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