Recently I tuned in for a session with Stephanie Sarkis and Laurie Dupar on the Succeed with ADHD Telesummit. I have seen Dr. Sarkis speak in person, and she has a magical ability to deliver six hours of critical info in a one-hour workshop. So, I was curious to see what she would focus on in her Telesummit presentation.
Her session was titled Non-Medication Treatments for ADHD: Facts and Myths and focused on natural remedies for ADHD that actually work. Sarkis started off with mindfulness and meditation. Of course, that was no surprise to me, but I was thrilled to hear her say so clearly that mindfulness can help your brain improve the way you focus in surprising and permanent ways. The other thing that caught my attention was when she and Laurie started talking about diaphragmatic breathing. Sarkis defines it as breathing from your “tummy,” and cites research that shows that practicing this type of breathing leads to a “reduction in ADHD symptoms.” Pretty cool.
But, what is diaphragmatic breathing?
Jon Kabat-Zinn (creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) tells us that, “In abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing, the idea is to intentionally relax your belly as much as you can. Then, as the breath comes in, the belly expands slightly (on its own) in an outward direction…” This creates a slower, deeper breath than a breath that only expands your chest. His tip to develop this skill is to put your hand on your belly while you are lying down and feel your belly rising and falling as if it were a balloon – air filling and air deflating. If your hand is going up and down with your breath, according to Kabat-Zinn, “then you have it.”
Sarkis advises that you place your hand in front, but not quite touching, your tummy while standing. If you are using diaphragmatic breathing, then your tummy will touch your hand when you take an in-breath. In Sarkis’s book, she suggests it helps to count your breath to help you keep it slow and intentional.
Why is diaphragmatic breathing important if you have ADHD?
It has to do with the nervous system, or, rather, the nervous systems. The autonomic nervous system controls things that are automatic in your body – like breathing and the beating of your heart, as well as things like digesting food. Very handy. This system has a couple of branches – the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system helps when you need to react to a threat (or opportunity) by speeding up your heart rate and activating the “fight or flight” response. The parasympathetic nervous system puts a stop to all of that – letting you slow down and relax. The problem is that so many people with ADHD spend so much of their time in a state of high stress that their sympathetic nervous systems are always revving, making them, well, nervous and stressed. Even anxious and overwhelmed.
Here is the really good part: according to Sarkis, diaphragmatic breathing “automatically kicks in your parasympathetic nervous system” which makes you relax and notice the present moment. Do that enough, and your ADHD symptoms will improve. Tah-dah!
Want to try diaphragmatic breathing for your ADHD?
Sometimes it takes practice to develop the skill of breathing, however silly that might sound. Try Belly Breathing, Body Breathing, or Invisible Elevator. Waves of Breath is also good for diaphragmatic breathing…leading you to relax and settle down. Use diaphragmatic breathing to tell your sympathetic nervous system to calm down and use your breath to calm your ADHD mind.