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Deep Breathing Exercises to Manage ADHD Symptoms

Did you know that you can manage some ADHD symptoms just by breathing a certain way? Current research shows that paced and rhythmic breathing promotes attention and concentration by bringing balance to the autonomic nervous system.  This particular technique is called coherent breathing, because it can synchronize the rhythm of the brain, heart, and lungs in the same way exercise and yoga can.  But unlike these practices, you can do coherent breathing anywhere – in the classroom, on the way to school, or before a big test.

How breathing improves attention deficits

The autonomic nervous system is the part of the central nervous system that helps people adapt to their environment.  It has two components: a recharge response and a stress response. Kids and adults with ADHD have dysfunctional autonomic nervous systems; on regular days, these two responses are underactive and idle.  But when the stress response does get triggered, it goes on overdrive as opposed to those who do not have ADHD.  For the brain to work more efficiently and for an individual to be less hyperactive and more in control of  impulses, both responses of the autonomic nervous system have to work in the right balance. 

Coherent breathing can achieve this balance if you can slow your breath down to five or six full deep breaths per minute. When you do this, the blood vessels, heart, and lungs become more efficient at delivering oxygen to the brain and the body's tissues.  This regulates the autonomic nervous system and improves the functioning of brain regions responsible for higher thought.  EEG scans of people doing coherent breathing show changes in brain wave patterns; when deep breathing is practiced, there are fewer delta waves (which indicate sleepiness) and more alpha waves (which indicate thought and concentration).

How to do coherent breathing

Coherent breathing is very easy and can be taught to a child.  Spend ten to twenty minutes sitting in a quiet place where there are no interruptions or distractions.  Close your eyes, relax your body, and slowly complete fix or six deep, full breaths in a minute. Take your time letting air in and out of your lungs.  Stay aware of the movement of the breath inside you.

It's important to practice coherent breathing when you're calm, such as before going to bed.  The most common mistake people make is to practice the technique when they're stressed.  But the benefits of coherent breathing only come after days or weeks of practice. During a stressful situation, the deep and deliberate breathing becomes an automatic response.