Alternative medicine has been used for years to treat all kinds of common ailments. Well, now, one of the country’s leading hospitals, the Royal Hospital for Women, in Sydney, is taking that notion one step further by trialing meditation as a treatment for children with attention deficit disorder. To tell us more, we’re joined now by the program coordinator, doctor Ramesh Manocha, along with Kerrie Hammond and her son Ryan, who have just completed the course. Good morning to you all.
Doctor Manocha, let me start with you. What made you think that meditation would work for ADD sufferers?
Dr Manocha: Well, we’ve seen it work for a number of other chronic problems and we’d been approached on one side by a number of parents of children with ADD who thought it might be a good idea and on the other side, we were approached by some teachers and some other parents who had used successfully meditation techniques for children with ADD.
Is it a particular type of meditation and why does it work?
Dr Manocha: It is a particular type of meditation. It’s called Sahaja yoga. We’re not sure why it works but it seems to be very easy to use. It focuses on achieving a state of mental silence which is unusual when we look at yoga and meditation techniques that have popularly available and it’s something that children can pick up very easily. So, we thought it’s worthwhile trying and we have the results that we have now.
Reporter: Kerrie, what was life like in your household with Ryan and your other son Jayden before you did this course?
Kerrie: Very noisy, out of control. I’ve got a four-year-old son as well, so it’s fairly noisy at our place and the main difficulty was concentrating on their schoolwork. When they come home from school, it was hard for them to settle down and concentrate.
Reporter: And what difference has the course made?
Kerrie: It’s made a huge difference in terms of Ryan’s attention at school. He’s off his Ritalin totally and he’s able to achieve the same focus having used the meditation compared to the medication. We didn’t have major problems with using the medication except a decreased appetite. It worked for him, but we wanted to try something to get him off and Jayden’s also had success, he’s on a half dose with his Ritalin.
Reporter: Ryan, was that the incentive for you? Were you just wanting to get off the Ritalin?
Ryan: Yeah, I really wanted to get off my tablet. I didn’t like having to take a tablet.
Reporter: Was it hard to learn to meditate?
Ryan: No, it was quite easy actually.
Reporter: What do you do? How do you do it?
Ryan: Well, we just sit down, have our feet in salty cold water, have an icepack on our liver and we just sit there with our hands on our lap and just we may say things.
Reporter: Like what?
Ryan: Kundalini, please help me to be my own master and things like that and we just try and think of nothing and we try and get a cool sensation on our hands and coming out of the top of our head.
Reporter: I’m listening to Ryan say all of this and I’m wondering how you get a room full of ADD kids to sit still and do this stuff?
Dr Manocha: I thought the same thing. At the beginning of the program, they were really swinging from the ceilings, bouncing off the walls but after one or two lessons, they were able to sit down for about five minutes and by the end of the program, we could easily get them to settle down for half an hour or more during the meditation. So, it seems to have some sort of effect which is worthwhile.
Reporter: Because Kerrie you were prompting Ryan a little bit before you had to do the course as well?
Kerrie: Yes, the parents were taken to a separate room mainly because of facilities and it was a lot quieter in our room. And we learnt to meditate and clearing techniques and vibrations so that we could help the kids achieve their meditation. It also helped when Ryan was sick just before his school swimming carnival. We did some meditation, I gave him some vibrations and some varying techniques and made him feel a whole heap better, so he performed well the next day.
Reporter: So, Ryan, you’re finding that you’re using it all the time as a general tool now?
Ryan: Yeah, I am. For instance, in swimming carnivals at the marshalling area, I used to get really, really nervous.
Reporter: I don’t blame you.
Ryan: Yeah but now I can sit down and meditate and I feel a lot better. I just put my hands on my lap and just think of nothing. I feel much better.
Reporter: Do the other kids at school understand what you’re doing? Are they interested or they give you a bit of a hard time about it?
Ryan: No, not really. They’re not giving me hard time, they don’t really mind.
Reporter: It’s a technique called Sahaja yoga which is, I guess, a lot of people think that yoga is very physical, this is more mental, I would imagine.
Dr Manocha: Well, not so much mental but the real meaning of the word yoga, if we look at the tradition, it means connection. And meditation is about giving you the connection with the present moment and when we focus on the present moment, we find that the vast majority of our unnecessary thoughts will fall away and you can enter into a state of very simple effortless peacefulness and it’s quite spontaneous and children seem to be actually a bit better at it than adults on the whole.
Reporter: Ryan’s ADD is more of a concentration deficit rather than necessarily a hyperactivity situation. Is he a better candidate for meditation then, say, the hyperactive kids?
Dr Manocha: It’s hard to say. We certainly had children with the more hyperactive style of the disorder as well and they seem to respond. It’s early days, we really need to take the results from this initial clinic and expand it to look more closely at a wider variety of children and then possibly look at the establishment of some formal trials.
Reporter: Are you convinced enough to go into to offer a full-time clinic? And what about the people around the country who can’t access your facility? Can they just check in to look into Sahaja yoga for their own kids?
Dr Manocha: Yes, we are convinced enough to look at running a full-time clinic if we can get the numbers of people to put their names down. And while they can’t access, people outside of Sydney may not be able to access the clinic that we’re thinking of putting together here, they can certainly try the technique out and I think you’re going to show a phone number.
Reporter: We will certainly do. We’ll tell people how they can get in touch with. And they can, so, Sahaja yoga, access that around the country?
Dr Manocha: Yes, yes.
Reporter: Have you changed as a person, Kerrie? Are you more relaxed, sort of spaced out girl now?
Kerrie: Not really. Sometimes I am. I do feel generally a lot less anxious and able to be in control when the kids aren’t, for example.
Reporter: Sounds like a good thing.
Kerrie: Yeah, I feel generally a lot better and I’m just really pleased with the improvement in the boys and my eight-year-old sits quietly and meditates for five or ten minutes and he’s never quiet. I’m really impressed.
Reporter: Well, that’s fantastic. Thank you all for coming in and telling us about it today.