Exercising the mind to treat attention deficits

wildmind meditation newsDaniel Goleman, The New York Times: Which will it be — the berries or the chocolate dessert? Homework or the Xbox? Finish that memo, or roam Facebook?

Such quotidian decisions test a mental ability called cognitive control, the capacity to maintain focus on an important choice while ignoring other impulses. Poor planning, wandering attention and trouble inhibiting impulses all signify lapses in cognitive control. Now a growing stream of research suggests that strengthening this mental muscle, usually with exercises in so-called mindfulness, may help children and adults cope with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and its adult equivalent, attention deficit disorder.

The studies come …

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Mindfulness training improves attention in children

wildmind meditation news

A short training course in mindfulness improves children’s ability to ignore distractions and concentrate better.

These are the findings of a study carried out by Dominic Crehan and Dr Michelle Ellefson at the University of Cambridge being presented today, 6 September 2013, at the British Psychological Society’s Cognitive Developmental Psychology Annual Conference at the University of Reading.

Dominic explained: “Mindfulness involves paying attention in a particular way — on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. It has been shown to reduce levels of stress and depression, and to improve feelings of well-being, but to date researchers have not established a link between mindfulness and attention skills in children.”

The researchers recruited thirty children (girls and boys aged 10 to 11 years old) to take part in a mindfulness course as part of their school curriculum. The children took part in the mindfulness course in two groups at different times, and so the researchers were able to compare the groups and see the effects of the course. To do this, they measured the children’s levels of mindfulness using a questionnaire. They also measured their attention skills, using a computer game designed specifically for this purpose. They made these measurements on three occasions, at three month intervals, so that they could measure changes in attention skills over time as a result of the mindfulness course.

The results indicated that an improvement in the children’s ability to focus and deal with distractions was associated with the mindfulness course.

Dominic said: “The ability to pay attention in class is crucial for success at school. Mindfulness appears to have an effect after only a short training course, which the children thoroughly enjoyed! Through their training, the children actually learn to watch their minds working and learn to control their attention. These findings could be particularly important for helping children with attention difficulties such as ADHD. Further research on the effects of mindfulness on children’s attention is very much needed.”

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Free the Mind examines whether mental issues can be treated with meditation instead of medication

Marielle Argueza, Monterey County Weekly:

America has become increasingly familiar with mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit disorder, especially since America’s occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. Often, those who live with these disorders are prescribed medications to help them deal with everyday task like sleeping or paying attention. Free the Mind, a documentary by Phie Ambo, looks into Richard Davidson’s innovative new study in alternative methods of treating such conditions.

So what works better than Ambien and Ritalin in this day and age? Apparently, a couple of deep breaths and controlled meditation. Davidson is a professor of psychology and…

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Liv Tyler uses meditation to deal with ADD

Irish Examiner: Liv Tyler meditates to deal with attention deficit disorder (ADD).

The 35-year-old actress – daughter of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler – takes part in the relaxation technique to help her deal with the behavioural condition and also admits meditation also “helps with everything”.

She told the New York Daily News: “I have ADD. [Meditation] definitely helps. It helps with everything.”

Liv is not the only star to have such a condition as it was recently revealed Britney Spears suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – symptoms of which include having difficulty following instructions or remaining seated when required – which is also called ADD or hyperactivity.

A source recently said: “Britney was diagnosed with ADHD in her teens and used to take medication for it.

“The medication helped her deal with it, however, she can’t take it now because it interferes with the other medications she takes for her mental health issues.

“Britney’s current team of doctors strictly prohibit her from taking Adderall or Ritalin, which are commonly given to people with ADHD.”

What’s more, a number of stars enjoy taking time out to meditate including Kimberly Wyatt, who takes part in the relaxation method for two hours every day.

She recently explained: “I meditate for around two hours every day. I put a lovely prayer shawl I got from Bali around my shoulders and sit on the bed with my essential oils – especially white angelica – and angel cards, which I look at for inspiration.”

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Can meditation help ADHD?

Martica Heaner, Ph.D.: Q. Since meditation helps a person focus, can regular meditation help those with ADHD?

A. It seems as though meditation should help those with ADHD, but proof that it works has been sketchy. That’s because very few well-controlled studies have been conducted.

Meditation is a mental practice where one attempts to clear the mind of distractions through a combination of deep breathing, mental focusing exercise and/or physical relaxation techniques. Although there are different methods of meditation, there is some evidence that practicing it can improve mental focus. So it makes sense to explore how this practice might affect ADHD …

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Sweet reasons to clear the head

Meditating using chocolate is a sweet way to experience bliss.

Kew East [Victoria, Australia] author Janet Etty-Leal has been using chocolate mindfulness meditation to help teach children awareness and relaxation techniques.

“They come to their senses, they feel it, smell it, taste the flavours and notice all the sensations,” Etty-Leal, 55, said.

Etty-Leal uses novel props, visual aids and games to help children master their minds.

“We don’t just sit or lie down, we do walking meditation, feeling fabrics under our feet,” she said.

“If you’re going to teach it in a dull and serious way, you’re not going to capture their hearts and imagination. When you make it fun and use things they’re not expecting, then they become still and focus.”

Etty-Leal said meditation was helpful for students, including children with ADD, aspergers and hyperactivity. She has written Meditation Capsules: A Mindfulness Program for Children to help adults who want to teach children the skills of mindful meditation.

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The joy of daydreaming

Stillness, meditation, reflection, silence. Radio documentary maker Alan Hall goes in search of refuge from the noise and bustle of the modern world, looking for moments of peace amid the hurly-burly of daily life.

I was seeking still moments.

A friend had mentioned The Pause, an unlikely quiet time held at the start of each day in a London boys’ school.

Now I found myself perched next to the headmaster, David Boddy, on a stage in the main hall of St James Independent School, Twickenham. This was a school assembly, but not as I knew it.

“Balanced and upright” was the head’s gently coaxed instruction.

Three hundred boys fell into a well-rehearsed silence. Many closed their eyes. All ceased fidgeting.

“And settle… into the inner peace.” Within moments, the entire school had fallen into a collective stillness, The Pause.

What do we get from stillness – those moments of reverie, of daydreaming, in an ever more noisy, busy and stimulating world?

I was seeking the sensation of escaping – and being jolted back into – the unrelenting bustle of the everyday.

Inner self

I had a suspicion – no more than that – that with the encroachment of digital technology into every private corner of our lives comes an erosion of a precious capacity to step aside from the hurly burly, “to stand and stare”.

“What is this life, if full of care, We have no time to stand and stare…”

WH Davies’ poem is 100 years old, written before mass ownership of the motor car, let alone the superhighway.

But in moments of stillness, now as then, we find opportunities for reflection, random association and creativity. Lose the gift of daydreaming and we lose that connection to our inner selves.

On the stage at St James school, I began to feel uncomfortable at the prospect of 10 full minutes of Pause, exposed as I was before 300 pairs of eyes.

But the dreaded eternity evaporated in a passing moment.

“In the midst of the 10 minutes you may get a couple of minutes of absolute inner quiet but the rest is sort of getting there,” Mr Boddy explained to me. “By comparison to where their minds have been, it is an oasis.”

He fears an “attention deficit syndrome” affects the majority of British schoolchildren. At St James the rules concerning iPods and Game Boys extend well beyond the classroom and the school gate. Boys are not allowed to “plug in” on the way to school.

Mr Boddy estimates that it takes almost two school periods, about 1½ hours, to re-attune any pupil who arrives at school listening to music, to get their ears clear and minds attentive.

“Particularly on Monday mornings, they come in and they’re very agitated… and you have to spend quite a long time just getting them to the point where they can attend on something.”

As well as the collective Pause, every individual class begins and ends with 30 seconds of silence. The boys think of it as an opportunity “not to think”, to “zone out”, to clear their heads of one subject and create space for the next.

One pupil talks about putting “things on shelves” in his mind. Another says it helps him see things more clearly.

This is not daydreaming. It’s more purposeful. More productive. It helps with academic performance. It is the practice of stillness in the midst of the madding crowd.

In the heart of the City of London at St Paul’s Cathedral, I went for a quiet chat with Canon Lucy Winkett, author of Our Sound Is Our Wound which explores contemplative listening.

She spent a month last summer pursuing complete silence on a retreat. She could speak for just 30 minutes a day.

And in this silence, sound took on a new profundity, reconnecting her to deep-lying emotion.

“Silence is absolutely vital to the flourishing of human sensibility, to the flourishing of ourselves as people,” she says.

“We’re people who want to try to communicate and we mostly do that by making noise but silence is not a negative, it’s a very rich and fruitful and creative part of our lives.”

‘In silence, death’

Eventually she found she’d progressed from not speaking to a new state of actively “doing silence”.

Her reflections, described as we sought out a quiet corner in the city centre cathedral – away from tourist visitors, hovering police helicopters and practising organists – brought her into a confrontation with mortality.

In silence resides our death. The frantic busy-ness and noisy-ness of a modern existence are distractions from meditating upon the eternal silence that is our fate.

Far from the bustling city in the peace of the Surrey suburbs, musician Kieran MacFeely has a very different use for stillness. As Simple Kid, he made a living making a racket.

Now he relishes the gentle hubbub of birdsong intermingled with passing trains, distant traffic and neighbours’ lawnmowers.

From the garden outside his music room, his mind can wander – often to be followed by his feet – down country lanes and creative pathways.

“If I tried to remember where my mind goes [when daydreaming] I bet I’d get it wrong.

“I think the reason is that you relax a little bit and you go off and you look at things from different angles.

“I presume it flits around all over the place, I think that’s the point of those moments is that you’re not monitoring yourself.”

Trained in music therapy practice, Mr MacFeely has found in still moments a new relationship between sound and silence, and an invitation to daydream…

[Alan Hall, BBC News]
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Mental exercise like meditation can literally change our minds

Vancouver Sun: Richard Davidson, one of the world’s top brain scientists, believes mental exercise, specifically meditation, can literally change our minds.

“Our data shows mental practice can induce long-lasting changes in the brain,” said Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

His startling scientific research on the impact of meditation on brain function has implications that go beyond the physical.

Buddhist monks believe mental attributes and positive emotions such as compassion, loving kindness and empathy are skills that can be cultivated.

Science is beginning to back that up.

Davidson started meditating in 1974, when he was a Phd student at Harvard. Back then, meditation was seen as a somewhat faddish eastern import right up there with the dashiki and the Jesus sandal.

“The culture at the time was not so receptive,” Davidson said, “nor were the scientific methods so well-developed.”

It was when he met the Dalai Lama in 1992 that he “decided to come out of the closet with my interest in meditation.”

He became excited about the possibility of applying rigorous scientific study to the practice of meditation.

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“I made a commitment to do my best to take the tools we have so well honed in studying fear and anxiety and apply them to kindness and compassion.”

Davidson began an ongoing study of the brains of Buddhist monks, the so-called “Olympians” of meditation, each of whom had accomplished at least 10,000 hours of meditation.

“The work was framed within the research on neuro-plasticity, the understanding that the brain is built to change in response to experience,” Davidson said.

Just as an injured brain can adapt by mapping out new neuron pathways to accomplish tasks, “brain circuits [for] regulation of emotion and attention are malleable by the environment and are potential targets of training,” he said.

Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery, Davidson showed that compassion meditation, even in short-term practitioners, induced significant changes in patterns of functional activity in the brain.

“The most important thing is hard-nosed evidence,” Davidson said. “We were able to measure the results through experiments we did.”

Davidson, who has published his findings on meditation in the world’s most prestigious science journals, believes that even the so-called “happiness set-point” of a person’s brain can be altered for the better.

The potential applications include non-pharmacological interventions or supplemental treatment for depression, as well as behavioural and stress-related issues.

Davidson hopes to convince educators to include meditation training as part of core curriculum in Grades K-12.

“It’s very clear that disruptive behaviour, bullying, ADD dramatically affect learning and have led to progressive declines in North American institutes,” he said.

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, also began meditating while in college and is a proponent of mindfulness, a form of secular meditation.

Goleman said in an interview: “Mindfulness seems to strengthen an array of neurons in the left prefrontal cortex, which inhibits the stress reaction driven by the amygdala, that triggers the cascade of stress hormones in the fight or flight response.”

Regular practice is key. “It’s exactly like building up a muscle. What you begin to notice as you strengthen it is the absence of the negative state.”

By cultivating the mindfulness muscle, Goleman believes we will develop greater emotional intelligence. We can become more self-aware, better at handling distressing emotions, and more empathetic, a combination that creates greater social effectiveness.

“Meditation is both calming and focusing, which are two essential elements for well-being,” Goleman said.

Dr. Adrianne Ross is a Vancouver mindfulness and meditation leader who first turned to the practice when she experienced a serious illness.

She has practiced meditation in different forms for more than 30 years, studied with mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, and taught the practice for more than a decade.

“The mindfulness program is for people who aren’t sure they’re interested in Buddhism, but want to learn to meditate,” Ross said.

“It helps you to be able to live more fully and more effectively, so you’re causing less harm to yourself and the people around you and you’re happier.”

Mindfulness can be practised while driving, or standing in line at the bank, Ross said, — but it is not a panacea.

“Some people have depression that comes back. Some of us have the chemistry or life experience that make [difficult] thoughts come, but it can help us work with the thoughts,” Ross said.

“Some people have severe illness. It won’t make the illness go away, but helps them live a full life.

Ross has seen patients become happier and more accepting, in spite of difficult circumstances.

It begins with “learning to be with the breath,” Ross said. Bringing focus to the breath and body. You don’t try to eliminate your thoughts, but focus with “loving kindness” and watch your habitual thoughts — the ones that might hijack you emotionally.

“You learn to recognize my mind is really spinning right now, you’re aware of what it’s doing, you’re not lost in what’s happening. Then if your mind is not going in a useful direction you have a choice.”

Davidson, who still meditates regularly, said he doesn’t measure his own brain systematically. He doesn’t have to. “My practice has given me a kind of equanimity and balance,” he said.

“It may be a period of time, but by 2050 I believe mental exercise will be understood as being as important as physical exercise.”

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9 Drug-Free Approaches to Managing ADHD

US News:…In general, rhythmic activities can improve attention in certain children, according to Stanley Greenspan, clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at George Washington University Medical School and coauthor of Overcoming ADHD: Helping Your Child Become Calm, Engaged, and Focused—Without a Pill, a book coming out next month. But such activities are only one part of a comprehensive program described in the book, Greenspan says, which aims to help all areas of development that influence attention. Here’s a tip from the book: Try playing “Simon says,” getting your child to mimic your gradually more elaborate two- and three-step actions.

A pilot study that appeared in a 2008 issue of Current Issues in Education suggests that transcendental meditation may help improve attention and behavior in kids with ADHD. The results can’t be generalized to all forms of meditation since each technique works differently, says Sarina Grosswald, a medical education consultant and lead author of the study. TM affects the brain by reducing stress and anxiety, which allows the prefrontal cortex—the part responsible for attention and focus—to function more efficiently, Grosswald says. Research at the University of California-Los Angeles supporting mindfulness meditation appeared last year in the Journal of Attention Disorders. Neither meditation study compared the results with a group not practicing meditation.

A natural environment.
In a 2004 study in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found that kids with ADHD showed improved symptomsafter playing outside in a natural environment. A similar 2008 study out of the University of Illinois showed that attention improved in kids who took a 20-minute stroll in the park more than in kids who walked outside in a downtown or residential area without much greenery. These studies suggest that children with ADHD get some benefit from being in nature.

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Better sleep.
A study that appeared in March in the journal Sleep concluded that kids with ADHD slept for less time on average than their healthy counterparts, suggesting that sleep problems may be associated with ADHD. “Up to 25 percent of children who have been diagnosed with ADHD may not have ADHD, [but rather] they may have sleep-disordered breathing,” says Julie Wei, associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

A few years ago, Wei and a team of researchers assessed the behavior of 71 patients (the majority of whom did not have ADHD) after their tonsils and adenoids (lymph tissue behind the nose) were removed. Six months after surgery, the group showed significant improvement in four measures of behavior: inattention, hyperactivity, oppositional behavior, and a measure called the ADHD index. While the ADHD index eventually returned to presurgery levels, hyperactivity, inattention, and oppositional behavior stayed down for at least 2½ years, Wei’s team found. Wei tells parents to pay attention to their kids’ sleep, especially if a child snores habitually, which may be a sign of sleep-disordered breathing.

The Feingold diet, in which patients abstain from food additives and naturally occurring salicylates, has been hyped since the ’70s, even though subsequent research hasn’t been very successful at replicating initial findings that the diet eased ADHD symptoms. And sugar has caught blame for causing hyperactivity. “The scientific literature is confusing,” says Greenspan. The problem is that all children are different, and the research has not created subgroups that would tell us which children are sensitive to dyes or additives in food, according to Greenspan. For that reason, parents have to be very good detectives, he says. If you’re concerned that sugary juices, for example, are worsening problems, try removing them from your kid’s diet for two weeks and watch the effect, Greenspan recommends. Some experts also advise children to take omega-3 supplements if they’re not getting adequate amounts in their diet. Omega-3s, found in fatty fish and other foods, may improve brain function and focus.

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Using meditation as medication

BBC News: A new study suggests that Transcendental Meditation could help to increase brain function and lower stress. Fifty students took part in the trial at the American University in Washington DC, and after ten weeks of meditation they reported feeling more alert and said they coped better in difficult situations. Read more here.

Research into the health claims made for meditation has limitations and few conclusions can be reached, but indications suggest that meditation may have a measurable impact on the brain.

Josh Goldberg took part in the study at the American University and claims it has helped to get him off a cocktail of drugs he was taking to control Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

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