A couple of nights ago, I was watching a cute Chinese movie called "Please Vote For Me" - basically about a class of young children who are given the opportunity (novel in China) to participate in the campaigning and democratic election of their class hall monitor. Cute movie, I recommend it for a respite from the reality race/singing contest/kitchen battle/over-dramatized news laden television programming.
What I found really interesting about the movie was the general lack of supervision and structure the children (they are probably about 10 years old) are given in the classroom. They are allowed to move and fidget and speak out in class without penalty; they are encouraged to take "exercise" breaks to get up and move their bodies and sing; their lunchtime break is a free-for-all; etc. They also participate in Qi Gong exercises throughout the day - stimulating energy (Qi) by rubbing their arms/face/head. The children were happy, very smart, and productive - I believe, in part, because their Qi/energy was free to flow naturally. I don't know if any of them were diagnosed or medicated for ADHD - but I would assume that if that class were placed in the US, about half of the students would probably be under suspicion for having the diagnosis.
It all got me thinking about school children in the US (generally speaking, of course) - and the basic teaching paradigm that we use here. Mostly didactic learning - forcing kids to sit still for hours on end, listening to a teacher or doing lessons. Recess breaks are getting shorter and shorter, lunches are becoming more like adult professional "working" lunches, physical education programs are being de-emphasized and pared down to a minimal requirement. From a TCM point of view, our US schools strongly impair Qi/energy flow. What happens when Qi can't flow? It gets blocked, it stagnates.
Qi flow in the body is often equated to the movement of water in a sea or river. When there is no impediment to its path, Qi moves smoothly and freely, from the internal organs to the tips of your fingers and toes to the outside world - and back into the body through breath. Blockages - whether from injury, internal organ pathology, inactivity (lack of adequate breath), inappropriate diet, or emotional imbalance (stress, anger, sadness, etc) - stop Qi flow and cause stagnation. In children and adults diagnosed with ADHD, this blockage of natural energy flow is resulting in inadequate Qi to the brain (for concentration) and, often, an accumulation of heat (causing agitation, anxiety, distraction) and/or dampness (causing cloudy thinking, inattentiveness, lethargy).
Western medicine's answer to these symptoms is to prescribe a stimulant drug - like Adderall or Ritalin - to improve concentration and focus. From a TCM perspective, these stimulants don't correct the underlying problem (Qi/energy blockage). Instead, they only accelerate Qi that is still flowing - this results in more Qi reaching the brain, but can also cause a larger degree of stagnation at other locations in the body, as well as the continued build up of heat. Thus, the side effects of stimulant medications:
- Feeling restless and jittery (heat)
- Difficulty sleeping (heat)
- Loss of appetite (stagnation)
- Headaches (stagnation)
- Upset stomach (heat and/or stagnation)
- Irritability, mood swings (heat and/or stagnation)
- Depression (stagnation)
- Racing heartbeat (heat and/or stagnation)
- Tics (heat and/or stagnation)
In our clinic, when we see children or adults with ADHD, our main focus is on moving the stuck Qi/energy (either in conjunction with their Western medications or as an alternative to Western medications). We recommend a combination of acupuncture (or acupressure), Chinese herbal medicine, Qi Gong exercises, meditation techniques, foods, and physical exercises to help naturally guide Qi/energy smoothly through the body. All together, these techniques work to open energetic meridians to encourage Qi movement, reduce heat buildup, clear dampness from the body and brain, and nourish the body with food and herbs that promote clear thinking and focus.
If you have been diagnosed with ADHD, or have a child, friend, or loved one with presumed diagnosis or symptoms of the condition, we invite you to give acupuncture a try. For young children or those uncomfortable with the use of acupuncture itself, we do offer non-insertive techniques - using acupressure, magnets, massage - as alternatives to acupuncture needles.