how yoga can help soothe ADHD symptoms

Anke Neustadt

In the past few years, there’s been an explosion in the number of women being diagnosed with ADHD. Since the start of the pandemic, two of my friends – women in their 20s and 30s – have had previous mental health diagnoses overturned following ADHD screening.

In fact, according to The Independent, hundreds of thousands more women tested themselves for ADHD last year – 254,400 women took a specific, health professional-verified online test last year compared with just 7,700 in 2019.

And one of those newly (ish) diagnosed women is yoga teacher Aisha Nash. Until the pandemic hit, you might have known her for calling out the yoga industry on the overrepresentation of white, thin teachers. But in March 2020, just after the first lockdown, Nash came across an article that changed everything. “Poorna Bell shared an article on her Instagram Stories about the ‘lost women’ – all about women who discovered that they had ADHD. To be honest, I didn’t have a clue that women could have ADHD, because that’s not how it’s ever portrayed in the media,” Nash tells Stylist.

“I read the article and I sat on it for a week because I recognised every single trait and symptom that they mentioned in it. I recognised life experiences.” After wondering if she was overreacting, she finally sent the piece to her husband who immediately recognised the traits mentioned in her. 

The battle to get an ADHD diagnosis

From there, Nash set about trying to get screened. The diagnosis process, she says, was “convoluted”. She’d just moved GPs and was no longer on the books at her childhood practitioner, who had written off her symptoms as depression or anxiety. “My new GP knew that ADHD was underdiagnosed in women, so he understood that I wasn’t making all of this up. I went to him with a three-page document being like, ‘These are all my symptoms’, and he referred me to a clinic. It took them six months to come back to me with an appointment… in two years’ time.” 

It was thanks to TikTok that she came across other women going through the same process, and found out about the NHS Right to Choose programme. She approached Psychiatry UK (which is apparently now oversubscribed) and in late 2021 – a year after initially reaching out for help – Nash was diagnosed with ADHD.

Getting a diagnosis for Nash has meant “being able to be kinder and softer to myself because now I know I’m not lazy, selfish, ignorant, dumb, flaky. I’m none of those things – I have ADHD. I have a set of symptoms and have coping mechanisms and language in place to help me explain myself to others.”

Because of her previous misdiagnoses, Nash has gone through processes like CBT before and knew that she didn’t want to be offered more talking therapy (“I’m very able to talk through my trauma and all of that”). Instead, she plumped for medication – which she says has been “absolutely life-changing”.

How yoga can soothe ADHD symptoms

So, where does yoga fit into all of this? For many of us, it’s an activity that requires calm and control. It’s the kind of thing women who can sit meditating for hours do – not those of us who struggle to quiet our minds. Nash says that yoga has “definitely been a helping hand” in coming to terms with ADHD but that, unbeknownst to her, it’s always been a way of managing symptoms. 

“One of the traits of ADHD that we don’t often talk about is low frustration tolerance. A lot of times, you have really, really quick mood swings. And in a lot of women, I’ve heard that can be misdiagnosed as bipolar.”

But these mood swings don’t happen day-to-day or week-to-week – they can come and go within seconds. “You can be this fiery person and then seconds later, you see a funny meme and you’re just in hysterics. There’s no in-between, and yoga was the thing that taught me to take a step back and have a moment before reacting… or at least reacting out loud,” says Nash.

What advice does she have for other women living with ADHD, or who think they may have it and have never thought that yoga was for them? “I like to say that it’s not that yoga isn’t for you, it’s that that specific yoga teacher is not for you. And you can address that by going to a different studio or by trying a different type of yoga – in studio or on YouTube.

Finding self-acceptance through yoga

“Another thing I would say is you don’t need to stay still. Your mind is not going to be clear,” she says. “What I like to say when I teach is ‘let’s meditate’. No, your brain is not going to be empty, I don’t want your thoughts to go away. Your brain is there to protect you. It’s never going to shut up, and that’s OK. Just sit there and listen to it for about 30 seconds.”

Yoga isn’t about control, but it is about self-acceptance. “The reason that yoga has helped me so much is because it has taught me that I do not need to be fixed,” says Nash. 

“People – and especially with women who have undiagnosed ADHD – come to it thinking that yogis are these people who can be calm and quiet, so yoga must fix them. But there’s no fixing you. You are you. You’re OK. You don’t need to be fixed. But what yoga might do is help you learn to be your own friend by sitting with your own brain and listening to it.”

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