SuttaCentral

ADHD and meditation

Dont know if it would be helpful for ADHD but you can surely try the Mahasi Sayadaw method of meditation which involves making a mental note of every physical and mental activity one is doing.
Though initially it appears cumbersome, it works well after you practice for some time.
My objective though was different.I was looking for a technique which I could use for meditating while performing day to day activities, outside a meditation session.
I was struggling to get moment to moment awareness outside of a meditation session.
Found this technique to be useful in achieving it.
Practical vipassana exercises.pdf (181.2 KB)

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This is a great topic and you raise interesting ideas. I think the Buddha’s inclusion of the mind as the sixth sense door (salayatana) is super relevant with respect to ADHD and to many other meditators.

I don’t know if others have this experience, but I often wake up in the middle of the night, serene and comfortable then a thought pops into my mind and immediately there is agitation in my solar plexus and I can’t lay still. With my attention on those thoughts, I’m spinning like a lathe in my bed. The same thing happens in my work. I’ll be working and concentrating on what I’m doing and a thought will arise and before I know it I am in the kitchen or doing something different because there’s agitation and restlessness in my body.

In Dependent origination, consciousness (as an aggregate of clinging) is the mind’s ability to be conscious of something. It depends on namarupa for its content. Namarupa is contact, vedana, perception, intention and attention. I suspect that, for me, wrong attention is what fuels restlessness and keeps me awake at night or pulls me away from my task at hand.

In MN 19 the Buddha said "Bhikkhus, whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind.” In the sutta he goes on to account his quest for awakening, how he constantly sifted through and separated what was skillful and what was unskillful, what led to awakening and what didn’t lead to awakening. He abandoned the unwholesome thoughts and directed his attention to the wholesome.

Perhaps it’s not that I have an attention deficit, it’s that I’m directing my attention to the wrong thing, as you said above. When I’m lying in bed with looping thoughts, I try to abandon those thoughts and direct my full attention to my breathing.

The same is true in meditation. When the agitated thought train is in full steam, the breath sometimes feels too active to stay with it. Sometimes any stimuli is too much to handle and I turn my attention towards “the happiness born of seclusion” to seclude my mind from unwholesome thought. It’s there that intention plays a starring role. Or I direct my attention to emptiness and stillness of my meditation closet and beyond as explained in MN 121. I also use the emptiness of self to highlight the craving that’s behind the thoughts, to imagine that if I were to die at this moment, what would I be craving that would carry me into rebirth?

Often it takes an hour or more for the mind to settle down and it’s hard for joy to naturally arise with an internal battle waging. Any other practical advice from the Sangha would be welcomed!

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I happened to come across the following article just yesterday – it lists several studies:

Yes, this. It was really extremely poorly named. In fact we have laser beam focus (just directed on the wrong thing). The loop cycle is typical of adhd. One thing I used to do when I was stuck on a loop cycle, was just write it all down. It’s amazing, some times it’s only three short sentences that I am spinning in my head for hours. When I finally see it on paper, I feel more comfortable letting it go. Maybe I should keep pen and paper by the meditation seat, so when I get stuck in a loop that seems brilliant and fascinating to me and I refuse to let it go, I can physically take note of it with pen and paper and let go. I can spend hours lost in a loop cycle and I am 100% whisked into another world. There is literally no meditation happening at that point. I am not even capable of noticing the thought occurring in a loop as I am 100% whisked away by them.

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That is the craving the Buddha was talking about.

I used to think I struggled with ADHD but it turned out it was all the weed I was smoking. Then I thought I couldn’t possibly meditate because my mind was too restless until I realized it might have something to do with the two pots of coffee I was drinking daily. For years I got anxious every time I meditated and then realized that was caused by all the mainstream news I was watching. So the take-away there for me is that if I am having trouble with meditation, the first place I should look is Sila.

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Coffee is a funny business, it seems to work differently for ADHD brains. On a good day it has no noticable effect on me, except for the pleasure of drinking it. On a bad day it basically shuts down my brain and I need to go to bed have a nap.
I always tought that I’m just weird, maybe because since childhood I was drinking loads of tea (stronger with age). But recently I thought I’ll ask the Internets about it, and that’s what popped out:

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I’m a householder, married have two businesses and operate in the world at large. Well, no wonder it’s a challenge to slow the train of thought that left the station at 5am and has been chugging at full speed!

Actually, I maintain a pretty serene home environment, no television, don’t listen to the radio, and I work from home. I do keep caffeine to a low level and don’t drink it past 9am as it disrupts my sleep. I’ve tried weed but that is the worst; it muddles my mind. People told me to try CBD and that wouldn’t happen but they don’t meditate and it does muddle my mind the next morning. Trying to meditate with an anesthesia in my system is weird. Following news is insidious. I can go weeks without looking at it and then one peek and I can get sucked in to a toxic vortex of my views, opinions, beliefs, conceit. I really have to guard my mind with news.

It helps me to start with what the Buddha held as an ideal environment for meditation: seclusion. Im not a monk, so seclusion is my mini-mind retreat intention for the duration of my meditation session. I can mitigate the ADHD problem by secluding myself from some of the contributing factors that perpetuate a restless mind and turn the lens of my attention towards wholesome rather than unwholesome concepts. Interestingly, the Three Characteristics work for me. I’ll be meditating and find my mind to be in a thought loop and as I realize it, I’ll recognize it as dukkha, separate it from “me” and make it a thing, designate it as a temporary thing that’s happening and arouse intention and effort to seclude my mind from it. Often it takes an hour or more to settle those wild animals down a little.

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Welcome to the forum bkeevil!

Do let @ moderators know if you have any questions.

Much metta,
Ficus on behalf of the mods

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I think that’s a complete misunderstanding—or off the mark really—of adhd. We are talking about the neurological (both the PNS and CNS) systems. The prefrontal cortex is reduced in size in ADHD and the peripheral nervous system is hyperstimulated (the latter would involve contact and sensation—pleasant, unpleasant, neutral—levels that are pre-craving). Sure that then affects the craving levels. But I would be, to repeat myself, very wary of pathologizing adhd in general, let alone using Buddhist lingo.

Sure we can address the psychological imbalance/suffering aspects and address those as they pertain to adhd, but craving, from a Buddhist perspective, is something that would affect both neurotypicals and adhd, so in essence you aren’t adding anything new—and reducing adhd to craving is kind of offensive. What is going on is a hyper reactivity of the nervous system. Unpleasant sounds are extra unpleasant. If a siren passes by, my entire system shuts down. But this is also what makes us excellent scouts and excellent, excellent emergency healthcare workers, search and rescue, etc. It is NOT maladaptive to those career choices. I am usually the one whose head is most in their shoulder during a crises situation. These are all things an Arhat can do with a hyper reactive nervous system.

There is a lot of misunderstandings around adhd, and it is important to clear them up.

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Hi. I’m training my attention currently following a brain injury. I think there may be a cross over with ADHD. I’m using mindfulness. There was an issue with the teaching in that it focuses too much on the attitudinal foundations neglecting the intentions. Sati, I found had a much wider description of the practicalities, secular mindfulness is very narrow in comparison. The saying ‘Tuning the strings of a lute’ you may find very helpful. Finding an attitude of resilience to intentionally focus attention on the object seems to be the key factor in overcoming the attention issue. I’m sure others may comment on how to find the correct suttas for you to research. Hope that helps.

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@Ulriquinho I empathize with your struggles. I am going to give my non-professional two cents here. I have often noticed that even with ADHD, there are certain activities and times when focus can be maintained, and not just in the “siren” kind of situation. You might be employing an adaptive strategy already without thinking about it too much. For example, without maintaining focus for the duration, I cannot see how you can complete a massage therapy session. That example in particular is interesting because rythmic physical motion seems to help maintain focus even for people on the autism spectrum. It may be that suddenly going from hyperactive state to extremely quiet static state may not work for people with ADHD - a gradual dialing down of repetative physical motion with mindfulness of body might be better. I suspect if you replay and investigate your own massage therapy sessions, it might give you insights into how your mind-body synchronization works.
From hatha yoga, I know that certain sequence of postures, done slowly and repeatedly, with mindfulness is a great way to focus the mind and increase body awareness and subsequently mind-awareness.

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@Daya, in another thread, unknowingly got me reading Bhikkhu Analayo’s ‘Satipathãna’.
Yesterday I read a line in there which made me think of this ADHD thread. He says:

On another occasion, when a monk was mourning his loss of concentration owing to physical illness, the Buddha dryly commented that such a reaction is characteristic of those who consider concentration the essence of their life and practice. He then instructed the monk to contemplate the impermanent nature of the five aggregates instead.

It wasn’t ADHD obviously, but it was someone whose concentration was affected by physical causes (in that particular case, an illness).

…and I don’t want to speak out of ignorance; I haven’t walked your path. For that reason I was hesitant to post the above but hopefully you take it in the spirit intended.

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I was diagnosed 15-20 years ago… I know my adaptive strategies pretty well in general. And yes, I can focus on massage pretty well. But I keep repeating, ADHD isn’t about the inability to focus. It’s about the difficulty to choose where to focus. There IS NO DEFICIT of attention. It’s why people completely misunderstand adhd. The name is wrong. We all know the name is wrong, but it’s stuck as a name.

Yes yoga, circus (one of my pre-covid hobbies), and physical activities in general (like giving massages) are some of the areas I can absolutely focus. I don’t think it’s about rhythm per se. I think it’s about those being strong sensory experiences that can draw the attention in. If you think about ADHD as an adaptive trait for hunter and gathering scouting parties, night guards (because of heightened sensory sensitivity), etc., then activities that are highly stimulating to the nervous system will work well. The problem is a lot if classic meditation techniques are not stimulating to the sensory system (unless experiencing results like Jhanas, but how do you get there in the first place if you can’t keep attention on the techniques?). Hence my question.

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Folks, I really do appreciate a lot of the comments above. But my question in part was scholarly and in part personal. I wanted specific EBT answers that don’t pathologize adhd and take into account the more recent research of adhd (which are less pathologizing as I mentioned several times above). Can we please stick to that?

Background: I have been diagnosed with adhd while in college. That was over 15 years ago. I became a serious Buddhist practitioner in high school. I have done temporary ordination at a forest monastery in Thailand as an exchange student. I have lived in a monastery for three months (in the Tibetan tradition), considering full ordination after graduating college. I also attended most of (but didn’t complete) a Buddhist seminary program, I am neither a beginner to meditation nor to my ADHD diagnosis. My question was specific as a result of a lifetime of struggle, a massive change in perspective as neurodivergent politics have completely reframed my understanding of ADHD in the last several years, and wanting new context to an old problem from a Buddhist—EBT—perspective. Personal anecdotes from neurodivergent folks are great, don’t stop those, but on the advice giving, if you are not neurodivergent/don’t have a different kind of brain, please really consider a) how I have reframed ADHD from popular misconceptions, and b) to consider the EBTs.

Edit: I am still a beginner to meditation. I meant I am not new to it.

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Hi Radius

I am not sure if I am understanding your question right, but do you know that our brains are constantly changing as a result of our experiences (thoughts, emotions, learning, etc.)? This is called “neuroplasticity” and there is a LOT of evidence to support this.

Also, don’t forget that it is profit-driven pharma that comes up with ‘disorder’ categories such as ADHD – as I see it, it is possible to calm down any mind. Some people start with relatively calm minds some have agitated minds and this situation can even change during one’s lifetime. If we consider the fourth foundation of satipatthana practices, chittanupassana is about being aware of any mind-state one has (as described in ven. Analayo’s book, section VIII). Here, the instructions are:
“……….he knows an angry mind to be “angry”, and a mind without anger to be “without anger”; he knows a deluded mind to be “deluded”, and a mind without delusion to be “without delusion”; he knows a contracted mind to be “contracted”, and a distracted mind to be “distracted”………….” etc.

In other words, whatever mind-state you have, you are becoming aware of it, without reacting and thinking thoughts like “oh my ADHD is better,” or “oh, my ADHD is worse,” etc., even if you have such thoughts, you observe them, without indulging them.
When you do this, your mind would tend to get calm gradually, and as a result, your brain changes as well.

See the following academic article, regarding mediation for ADHD:

@Daya You clearly have no idea what you are talking about, so please stop spreading misinformation. Educate yourself first.

For all those having doubts ADHD please watch this video. Don’t only listen do the kids’ answers, note their body language. Where they look? How they speak? What is their confidence level? Please try to feel and understand this. ADHD is a real and serious problem, especially in kids.

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Sorry, but it is you who is misleading people! I have provided academic references below.

Please note that there is no evidence that ADHD is neurological or genetic – this is a myth propagated by profit-driven pharma (please note that the video you provided doesn’t even allow comments, and it does not have a source at the end).

I can provide lots of evidence, but see the following academic peer reviewed article:

Pérez-Álvarez M. (2017). The Four Causes of ADHD: Aristotle in the Classroom. Frontiers in psychology , 8 , 928. Link:

Also, all psychiatric diagnosis happens through checklists (that is how disorder labels such as ADHD is given). I feel really sorry for that girl in that video – since adults have continuously told her that she somehow has a “disorder” – the poor girl seems to have accepted that. Also, this negative expectation of ‘deficiently’ in any kid can itself lead to serious problems through expectations (look up “nocebo effects”).

If these were fixed neurological problems that can only be changed through psychiatric drugs (as you seem to indicate), then we would not expect ADHD issues to be amenable to behavioral interventions – and yet, studies show that these kids can significantly improve through such interventions – see the following recent article:

Nuno, V. L., et al. (2020). The Online Nurtured Heart Approach to Parenting: A Randomized Study to Improve ADHD Behaviors in Children Ages 6–8. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry , 22 (1), 31-48. Link:

Also, please know that decades of research have clearly demonstrated that the organization of brain circuitry (and chemistry) is constantly changing as a RESULT of our experiences (brain plasticity). For example, functional and biological changes (in brain circuits etc) happen result of psychological stress, and these changes reverse when these stressors are addressed. For example, meditation and mindfulness practices bring about healthy functional and structural changes. Again, I can provide many academic references to support this as well.

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That is NOT entirely true. Part of the reason there is some validity to what you are saying, is because SOME people (especially children) are misdiagnosed in the way you describe. With a lot of misdiagnosis, there is difficulty in getting neurological measurements. But that SOMETHING is going on, is very much true (both neurologically and behaviorally). And what you are saying is extremely ableist. My diagnosis came after weeks of comprehensive psych testing. It wasn’t just a list of behaviors with a checklist. Adult ADHD is much much much more stringent in its criteria for testing. And adult ADHD does start in childhood. And while there is a lot of over diagnosis, there is also a lot of under diagnosis. For example, a lot of women diagnosed as BPD are in fact ADHD. The fact that the situation is a mess does not mean we do not exist. And the fact that neuroplasticity is real, does not give you the right to invalidate our existence.

And I especially asked that if you don’t believe in ADHD that you not comment here. I set a clear boundary in the OP that you violated. I am exhausted after decades of being denied my existence and my right to help and my right to be understood and accepted for who I am. I do not need to spend time defending my existence. This is off topic and really triggering. Please take your harmful discourse elsewhere.

[Moderators, I ask that you do not delete the comment that prompted this response, because I do not want my educating to be in vain. But if this line of conversation persists, please moderate].

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Thanks, and to be clear, I wasn’t asking for such advice specifically. But people keep answering it as though I were. I was interested in a scholarly approach to understanding ADHD from the context of EBTs for an enriching addition to our understanding of ADHD. It was a scholarly question that stemmed from personal interest and grounded in personal experience.

And of course I welcome ADHD folks sharing their own personal journeys, and no one should undertake any of what results from that conversation into their personal practice without proper guidance from mental health practitioners and/or their spiritual mentors. But those aspects of this conversation, while not always quite what I was looking for in this post, was enriching.

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