Learning to Slow Down

Yoga is an extraordinarily powerful tool. Especially for someone with a hyperactive mind.

When I was 6 I was diagnosed with ADD and given a prescription for Ritalin. I was a little troublemaker with a big imagination; a dangerous combination for any parents. At six I was recommended by my first grade teacher to see a neurologist to examine my behavior and cognition; he had me play with blocks, asked me to touch my nose and keep track of both of my fingers at the same time. Some general cognitive tests. He thought medication would be best considering that it was not a severe case, but fit perfectly into the symptoms of ADD. Plus I struggled with behavior in school.

I took a pill each morning that had positive effects on my behavior for the classroom environment. It made me focus on learning rather than allowing my attention to wander and continually distract other people while they worked, which it often still does. My learning wasn’t affected, but everyone else’s learning. Over the next few years, it became obvious that I was a very disruptive student and did not do well with rules, organization, or authority. Especially unwarranted authority or meaningless rules. I still don’t like any of those things. My mind simply functions at a higher level and processes faster and more creatively with disorganization. Over time, I have come to view this as a creative attribute rather than a defect or disorder.

In high school I began questioning my need to take a pill in the morning. What made me so different from anyone else? My sophomore year I stopped taking it so much. In the summer between my sophomore and junior year I took summer school to get ahead. During summer school my parents and I did some behavioral analysis with one of the teachers; he was a pretty awesome teacher. He noticed significant shifts in my behaviors based on whether I had taken medication or not and would fill out evaluations throughout the days. It was obvious that the medication helped in school. This solidified my need for the medication for the remainder of high school, though now I was in charge. We upped the dosage because I had been taking the same pill since 1st grade and changed drugs to Conserta, a new time release formula that supposedly had superior release mechanisms.

Conserta was awful. Junior year of high school was probably one of the most depressing times in my life. The come-downs were extremely saddening and dark; some of the worst feelings that I have ever felt were on that drug. We tried again with Adderoll and that worked better, though nothing ever seemed as smooth as the Ritalin. I now attribute this to an increased awareness as a result of trying the different drugs, rather than the drugs themselves or Ritalin being superior to the others. This time was definitely an intense time of self-discovery and learning about myself, not to mention the fact that I was 17. It was a rough year; I sprained my ankle badly to take me out of rugby and my social life struggled due to the depressions of the drugs.

Senior year was much smoother; I learned to regulate the new drug, Adderoll. I had a phenomenal second semester of my senior year, in sports, socially, and in the classroom. I got a 3.8, scored in the national rugby championship to come in second in the nation, and developed friendships that remain strong today. Then college happened.

I left Sacramento for the unknown of Spokane, Washington in the eastern portion of the state. I isolated myself at Gonzaga, a Jesuit school. I still have the utmost confidence in the Jesuit education system; those priests are some of the smartest, most spiritual people on the planet. My high school had about 20 of them, but I didn’t meet too many in college, likely due to my aversion to church.

I struggled at first; I was alone when I had such close friends from high school and took plenty of classes off to hang out with new people. But school was ridiculously easy after the great education of Jesuit High and I didn’t have to try too hard. The rugby team was easy-going and kind of competitive; a complete opposition to my high school experience. Adderoll became less a part of my life than ever before.

Freshman year passed without much incident. Sophomore was much of the same, until the second semester when I started taking the core classes for my business major and realized that the business education was not for me. The teachers taught directly from text books and had a few tests a semester; which in my personal opinion becomes useless and forgotten information. I can learn from a text-book by myself; at least I thought this until I didn’t study at all. My grades were awful and my motivation even worse. Then I switched majors.

I had planned to do an international business so that I could travel and see the world all while making millions. It became pretty apparent that this course of study would not work, so I changed to French, which I had planned to minor in. This allowed me to spend one year in Paris, rather than the 5 months of a single semester that my business major would have allowed. My grades in French were not great and the teachers were hesitant to send me over; if I was struggling at Gonzaga, surely I would struggle in Paris. I probably would have if I wasn’t exposed to yoga.

My first days home were a bit boring, but my mom asked one day if I wanted to try yoga; which I had never really heard of and figured it might be a good workout. I took one class with Scott Emerich at East Wind in Roseville and got hooked. That summer, I took classes from Destiny and Ryan and a passion grew inside of me. Meditation, especially physical mediation, was unlike anything I had ever done before. I loved it and that summer did yoga every day. I knew I was leaving the country, but had become so hooked on my practice that I wanted to keep going while I was there. Ryan, who I am eternally grateful to, gave me a few yoga books like the Gita, and recorded classes from Rusty Wells and Bryan Kest.

I took my mat over to Paris and loved every second of France. My best friend in the whole world, Kevin Taya, was there and I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years. Kevin first visited my family as a foreign exchange student when we were sixteen and we were best friends ever since. His family became a second family to me and I spent Christmas, New Year’s, my birthday, and a few other holidays in his quaint and beautiful house in Nandy, about 45 minutes via RER (the public train system) Southeast of Paris.

My first semester, I got a 4.0. I worked hard to learn the language and immerse myself in the culture; it became apparent when my oral French skills improved so dramatically that I got compliments constantly from my teachers when I returned home when I had been previously critiqued (and rightfully so). I got a membership at Bikram Paris for a few months and did my first juice cleanse. I adjusted magnificently to the challenge of a new country, language, culture, and history; I also loved being an American around people from all over the world. But nothing is as expansive for the imagination as a new language in a new city, in my personal opinion.

I think of that year in Paris as the year that I learned who I was, or at least who I have the potential to be. Meditation changed my life, yoga was something I did to equilibriate my body physically and I could tell that the mental benefits were enormous. I did my practice most days. I had even gotten a new drug, Focalin, which was my favorite of all the drugs I had taken so far; the come-down was lighter than Adderoll and the “up” was not as intense. I probably used it a total of 5 times in France; I honestly forgot about it.

All things set aside, I no longer take medication. At all. Yoga taught me that going fast has its consequences; eventually the body will catch up with the mind. I have always been a speed demon in skiing, running, learning, reading, you name it I’ve tried to go fast doing it. Yoga taught me the joys of going slow, of actually enjoying the moments as they come and go instead of always rushing to the next thing. Being in a rush is not how you want to live! Because truthfully, life is happening all around you all the time; when you are solely focused on only one things its easy to miss what is happening around you.

Now I think that I am learning to slow down even more; to allow my mind to fluctuate rather than reacting to sensations or feelings. Now I am be able to observe these peaks and valleys as they happen. This is especially important in emotional intelligence; to sift through situations with intuition and mindfulness rather than bulldozing others to get what you want (something I have done my whole life) or by forcing your own agenda on the situation. Slowing down allows you to actually enjoy the things that you cultivate and create in your life, rather than just moving on to what’s next. Take a deep breath and enjoy the flow; it will only happen once.

Carpe Diem is a concept that I think fits in well here, but lets tweak it a bit to Carpe Omnia. Seize every moment of your limited time.

5 Replies to “Learning to Slow Down”

  1. Wow, I totally loved this article. Not only for the content, bit also for the style. You have excellent writing skills.
    We have one daughter with ADD. Also creative and talented and struggled so much during high school. The catholic sisters at her boarding school had to monitor the taking of aderol daily as she didn’t want to take it as it made her feel “flat”. She had been having trouble with the law, so boarding school became a pathway we took rather than juvenile hall.
    Do you have any idea why ADD has become so prevalent, particularly in America?

    1. Thanks for the questions Inga; I’m hugely passionate about this subject because it was such a struggle for me when I was younger. I’m sorry to hear about the struggles of your daughter and empathize with her aversion to the drugs and the rules. Its a small miracle that I’ve never had any trouble with the law outside of speeding tickets. This is going to be a long response.

      I’m not sure that the actual symptoms or behaviors of humanity have changed too much in the last 10,000 years; at least as far as I can tell, we think and live similarly to the people like the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians. I think that the real shift has been in our own awareness of how individuals behave, especially in light of the evolution of the pharmaceutical industry. Prescription drugs have changed everything. Pharma companies want to sell more drugs, which gives teachers freedom to ‘suggest a solution’ for the problem of behavior in school. So its an easy way out for a lot of teachers; instead of dealing with base behaviors and thought processes, they can blame it on a disorder and tell the parents to give the kid a pill instead.

      What we call ADD today is essentially under-stimulation for the person exhibiting symptoms. The brain is a muscle, which is why these people tend to be so creative and gifted; they have powerful brains that want to explore, touch, yell, run, scream, jump, etc, etc. Imagine never being able to flex your muscles and having your joints ache all the time because you have a powerful frame, but you never exercise, lift, or play sports. This is essentially how it felt inside of my own head when I was young. These kids are bored. So they stimulate themselves. Its really that simple. This is why I would distract kids when I was 5 and 6; it was far more stimulating that the teacher’s material and worth the consequences of a brief telling off.

      I think that there are three primary factors that contribute to the “ADD problem” in America (there’s probably a lot more reasons than I listed. I recommend “Driven to Distraction” as a reference; I read it and agreed with almost everything the author said). The first is the American mindset of convenience, we can fix this behavior easily with just a pill (by the way, I completely sympathize with your daughter, those medications definitely have an effect on personality, social life, friends, family, etc. It changed my personality to be on it. Its powerful stuff). The brain will eventually adapt to the medication, after a few years, a decade, whatever, and will then need to change dosages or use a different drug. Second is the rise of technology and the massive amount of environmental stimulus in the world today; these people are being stimulated at the levels that their brain loves and thrives on, just not in the classroom. The third, and really overarching reason why ADD has become more prevalent, in my opinion, is the continued decline of quality in the American schooling system. Public schools are a joke, the CAL state system is undeniably broken, and most of all, school is getting in the way of actual learning. Teachers are kept from being able to do their jobs properly, aren’t compensated appropriately, text ‘books’ are so out of date it even funny, everything is regimented and strict in school. This is insane for a creative society, and children are constantly overlooked. Its really a mess.

      I honestly believe this is the biggest problem of our time; not war, nor pollution, nor religion, or spirituality, or fossil fuels, or climate change, or animal extinction, but education is the biggest one. For the single reason all of the other problems can be solved with improvements in education. It would empower our children to be who they are meant to be, rather than fitting them inside of a box, isolating them, and changing them to fit a system that leads to more life in a box; classroom to cubicle to grave, some people spend their whole life in a square. As a culture, we need to learn how to prosper as unique and radically different individuals. I can’t tell you how much incredible potential I see wasted in our youth. But I have hope that when the younger generations mature we will have learned from our parents and will be in a position to change these malfunctioning societal systems for the better.

  2. Love this! I have to laugh when I meditate but it does help after I’m able to get the extraneous thoughts away. I’m working towards getting off my meds and I’m thinking that Yoga will satisfy my meditation needs and also my inability to sit still! But, I also need to work on slowing my movements with my brain. My son has not been medicated since middle school (he’s 25 now). He has discovered Yoga recently and loves it! It has helped with the ADHD along with his daily gym workouts, running and healthy diet. (he also just got his trainers certification). Who knows? Maybe I’ll have my own personal Yoga Master in the family soon! Thanks for sharing. I’m looking for a Yoga class or group today!

    1. Meditation is definitely tricky at first; I’m glad you’re enjoying it. Yoga is great because its a moving, breathing meditation and you can get some laughs in with a good teacher. Best of luck to your son thats great for him. Thanks for stopping by, good luck with your yoga class.

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