The discovery stage
I didn’t get professionally diagnosed with ADHD until the last year of my PhD.
I remember the psychiatrist convincing me to do the test (basically a questionnaire).
When it came out positive the doctor confessed “I knew it when I first met you; I could tell from the way you talk, set & ofc fidget”
I was a textbook case: a hyperactive child at school (+bad grades; my poor mom hated to go to parent-teacher meetings), then I got better at life after adolescence, I became overachiever as an adult & I eventually relapsed when the pressure got real.
The denial stage
I resisted the diagnosed at first. I thought that the doctor was full of shit and just wanted to prescribe pharmaceuticals. But going through the questions & reflecting on my childhood made me want to try to understand it more.
Are we born with a different brain set-up?
Is it triggered by the environment?
Can taking medication really help?
With all the PhD deadlines lurking, I didn’t have time sleep on it much, I had to play the hand I was dealt.
The acceptance stage
To accept it, it meant I must understand its roots and why it re-manifested in my life now.
What triggered it?
I think 70% my thesis.
Spending time working only on ONE thing.
I do well if I multitask, work a little bit on a presentation, prepare for a meeting & work with other people.
Unless I’m 10000% interested in the topic my attention will wonder.
I always have too many tabs open on my computer window (& my brain).
Second trigger I believe was having to move places, travel home & back to see my supervisors and possibly my supervisors themselves haha.
My colleagues, like my attention, were scattered all around the world, gone.
With little support, I had to persevere.
The treatment stage
By that time, I was already taking yoga classes.
One of my first observations: was WOW how can these people not move and twitch and itch in Savasana. They looked so blissful.
Yes - sure I was impressed by their physical strength too but honestly what got my coming back was wanting to stay longer & calmer in meditation.
When I started taking the British equivalent to Adderall, Ritalin, I started to feel what’s it like to be in the ‘flow state”– although that came with unpleasant side effects.
Time & space are no longer a cause of panic – you’re zoned out.
Hours will go by, and I’ll be super focused on my thesis, not jumping from chapter to chapter, but working systematically.
No food, no problem; it suppresses the appetite anyways.
What bothered me the most was the heart palpitation. I hated it especially that I was taking an advanced Jivamukti class with a teacher I love & respect, Stewart Gilchrist, a true legend.
Racing heart and malnutrition wasn’t a great recipe for any physical activity, even walking.
The day I submitted my thesis, I stopped taking the drug without hesitation.
The day I submitted my thesis, I knew I started yoga for a reason.
The healing stage
Over the years, my meditation practice evolved from setting (or more like fidgeting) for 3 minutes to meditating for 20 minutes undisturbed.
I finished 2 yoga teacher trainings and I began to re-experience the flow state during my asana practice.
No pills. No side effects. No racing heart. Pure focus & energy.
Generally, I’m a lot calmer, not just externally, but also internally.
I’m no longer afraid of silence & stillness.
I think ADHD was just a messenger, a symptom of imbalanced lifestyle, fear of the unknown, disconnection from myself & the present moment.
Yoga was certainly not a quick fix, for seconds of success it took hundreds of hours of practice.
What does the science really say?
A quick google search about yoga, meditation & the brain will likely results in thousands of articles written on the subject – which is not the scope of this non-scientific case study. But I guess “Once a scientist, always a scientist!”
For me personally, I didn't look at the medical literature to check if it confirms the changes i witnessed as a result of 6 years of yoga practice. The ultimate evidence is how i feel today.
I searched to confirm its validity on a larger population. These are not just numbers & complicated charts, these are people's stories & experiences.
As in any other medical field, many of the studies are flawed (small sample size, people compliance, selection bias, etc..), yet most of them report positive changes. In a systematic review written on the subject they state that: "Based on the available literature, it could be concluded that yoga might be considered as an effective adjuvant for patients with various neurological disorders."
Changes in MRI images were noticeable after only 8-week mindfulness- based stress reduction program.
In the group that learned meditation, researchers found thickening in brain gray matter in four regions:
1. Posterior cingulate - involved in mind wandering, and self relevance.
2. The left hippocampus - assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.
3. The temporo parietal junction (TPJ) - associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.
4. The Pons - where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.
The other significant finding was a decrease in the amygdala - the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress. The change in the amygdala was also correlated to a reduction in stress levels.
The bottom line
Meditation can affect our brain structurally, chemically & functionally!