One of the more controversial diagnoses to emerge in modern society is that of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. This is a condition wherein the affected person exhibits a variety of behaviors that might include having difficulty in retaining focus on any given task, an affinity for hyperactivity, being prone to distraction, and exhibiting impulsive behaviors. Those who are diagnosed with ADHD are indeed assigned to one of three categories of either being predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive and impulsive, or some combination of both. ADHD is said to be a condition that can affect people of all ages, though it is popularly associated with children who receive this diagnosis in relation to their performance in school and other environments.
Considered a mental disorder, ADHD is commonly treated with medication, including psychostimulants. These include amphetamines like Adderall and methylphenidates like Ritalin. These substances are intended to manage the chemical activity of the diagnosed person’s brain.
ADHD is a relatively new diagnosis with roots back in the 1980’s and 1990’s in direct response to an older diagnosis of attention deficit disorder or ADD. It is perhaps because of the relatively recent emergence of this diagnosis that it has stirred up some controversy surrounding the overdiagnosis of children in particular. The CDC reports a relatively higher prevalence of ADHD in recent times, as diagnoses increased by approximately 35% from 2003 to 2011. Other disparities, such as vastly higher diagnoses rates among the youngest students of any given class in contrast to the oldest, causes some to question the validity of these diagnoses.
In Ayurvedic medicine, we look at any given condition as it relates to the relative balance and imbalance of the elements in the body. Kapha- or earth-related imbalances will concern us with ailments that involve excessive accumulation, like with congestion in the respiratory system. Pitta- or fire-related imbalances will concern us with ailments that involve excessive heat, such as inflammation of various body parts or hyperacidity. For conditions related to the air element – that which is related to the Vata dosha – we are concerned with issues of movement. This might affect people in different ways, such as excessive movement of the body leading to facial ticks, diminished movement of the body in the form of constipation, or excessive movement of the mind leading to insomnia. But as an ADHD diagnosis stems from a person being hyperactive, impulsive, inattentive, or a combination of all of these traits, the movement-related nature of these behaviors suggests an association with Vata imbalances as well.
What does this ultimately mean? If a child exhibits behaviors that might lead to an ADHD diagnosis, then they are likely experiencing a Vata imbalance and therefore would benefit from a lifestyle intended to restore such imbalances. Were a child to benefit from such changes, it suggests that they suffer not from a mental disorder but rather just a potentially severe imbalance of the elements much like someone prone to constipation or insomnia might experience. To this point, the recent increase in ADHD diagnoses may be driven in part by more and more children sensitive to this particular kind of imbalance being more thoroughly immersed in a lifestyle that runs contrary to their needs.
When we neglect to establish the root cause of one illness, it can turn into another, stronger illness in the future. The first step in resolving a specific ailment or disease in the body is to assess the nature of our lifestyle and make general modifications. Living our day-to-day life with a deliberate intention to improve our health will help us to both resolve the disease we are suffering from and prevent further incidence of it and other diseases in the future.
Ayurveda teaches us that disease and sickness is derived from poor digestion and inappropriate food choices, so we make deliberate and conscious choices as to what foods we do and do not put in our body. When we suffer from a specific ailment, we then have an opportunity to make even more specific food choices to increase the chance of resolving the body’s imbalance. Food needs to be in season, in moderate combinations of one or two food groups, not too hot or cold, in a modest enough quantity to allow for room left over in the stomach, consumed without too much liquid which hinders digestive power, and fresh and not left over from more than a few hours before. The following foods will help to settle excessive Vata energy and therefore resolve issues related to ADHD.
Rice (white basmati)
Whole wheat (unbleached)
Milk (in moderation)
While some foods can help to balance an aggravated dosha, other foods can cause further imbalance. Dry and cold foods as well as pungent, bitter and astringent tastes will dry out the body and aggravate the Vata dosha; sour, salty and pungent tastes as well as spicy foods will add more heat to the body and aggravate the Pitta dosha; sweet, sour and salty tasting foods will add heaviness to the body and aggravate the Kapha dosha. The following foods can aggravate Vata energy and therefore intensify symptoms associated with anxiety.
Most legumes including green lentils and garbanzo beans
Avoid raw and cold foods
Avoid dried foods, like dry fruits, salty snacks, and snack bars
Avoid processed foods
Avoid artificial additives
Avoid leftover foods
Generally, Ayurveda discourages the consumption of too many cold beverages, as doing so hinders the strength of the body’s digestive fire. Instead, favors room temperature or hot beverages to encourage the strength of the digestive fire.
Herbs are used in the Ayurvedic system much like Western medicine utilizes drugs and vitamins and can be taken like tea 2 to 3 times a day. Herbs aid in the digestion of food, the breakdown and elimination of toxins, and help to strengthen the cellular structure of our system for greater vitality. Herbs become more potent once mixed with other herbs of similar properties. Mix together 2 to 4 different herbs from the below list by adding a quarter to a half teaspoon full of each, for a total of 1 teaspoon. Drink these in half cup of hot water.
When applied therapeutically to specific ailments, yoga postures provide an opportunity to strengthen the body, rid it of toxic matter, and restore balance. The postures included in this section can be practiced as part of a more general sequence or can be focused on in short sessions. When first exploring yoga postures, it is best to only practice them for twenty minutes or so per day and buildup from there once the body becomes more flexible.
Knee to Chest
Aromatherapy utilizes the fragrances of essential oils when applied to the skin. Essential oils can burn the skin and therefore must be diluted with a base oil such as sesame, coconut, sunflower, canola, or mustard oil. Mix 1 fluid ounce of base oil with about 12 drops of essential oil before applying to skin. You can also just mix 5 drops of base oil to one drop of essential oil if using on one spot.
Ayurvedic tradition suggests that repeating certain words or sounds can help a person suffering from an ailment to restore subtle balance to nerve tissue and enhance one’s mental clarity. Different sounds are prescribed to either repeat mentally or chant outwardly. These sounds are also used and repeated in the mind for the purpose of spiritual growth.
To help control and resolve anxiety, repeat the syllable “Lam” for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
As a Vata-related disorder, it is helpful to internally repeat this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced without chanting it out loud.
Controlling the breath is a central practice toward developing peace and stillness in the mind and body. When the breath is under our control, we are no longer at the mercy of the senses that are stimulated by everything and lead to greater fluctuations of the mind. When applied to the context of resolving specific ailments, the breath is used as a tool for developing lung capacity, heating and cooling the body and resolving mental afflictions like anxiety and stress.
Receive our weekly email digest with the latest content from Yogi Cameron & Yogini Jaima