2.02.2011

How I Quit Smoking with Yoga


It is said that the average smoker will try and fail to quit smoking seven times before they finally succeed, if they succeed at all.  Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances on the planet, more chemically addictive than heroin, alcohol, cocaine, or caffeine.  Smoking causes respiratory diseases, is closely linked to several kinds of cancers, and results in an increased risk of stroke and heart failure.  Beyond the litany of detrimental health effects, cigarettes have a way of taking over one's life.  As any smoker will know, whether or not he or she chooses to admit it, nicotine cravings can shape ones schedule, work, relationships, and daily habits.  Give cigarettes a chance and they will own you.  Consider yourself warned.

I smoked heavily for seven years.  I had my first cigarette as a senior in high school one night when the parents were away and I was feeling bold.  Then, still in school, I started working nights at an all-night diner, slinging eggs and pancakes until dawn.  After work, I'd shower, gather up my books, smoke another ciggy and head off to school, all abuzz with nicotine and caffeine and financial independence.  Smokes and coffee became a way of life, a means by which to extend my waking hours indefinitely until light and dark, day and night were lost in the grey nicotine haze.

Eventually, I started living more healthfully.  I made time for sleep.  I started eating fresh, whole foods and drinking more water.  A couple more years down the road, I started doing yoga.  But I still smoked.  A lot.  It became part of my identity.  I was "a smoker" and to change that would mean to change an element of my character, to give up a little piece of who I thought I was.  And yet, I hated myself for smoking, and I realize now that I smoked because I hated myself.  It became a vicious cycle of self-destructive behavior, deciding every day to quit, and every day failing to act on that decision.  This pattern created a deep rut in my psyche that became more and more impossible to emerge from.  The yoga scholars among you may recognize this pattern as samskara.
"Samskara:  mental impressions stored in the subtle body and existing as an archetype for the brain (Hatha Yoga Pradipika)."
By continually allowing myself to light up in spite of my compulsion to quit, I created an ever-deepening imprint on my mind.  With every failure to act on my desire to quit smoking, my resistance to cigarettes became weaker and weaker.

Yoga, as it tends to be, was the catalyst for change.  In spite of the smoking, my body responded quickly to the physical practice.  I grew strong and vibrant.  I learned to love and honor my physical body... but I also learned that my body is not me.  I am not the body, and though the body suffered less as a result of the practice, the state of my mind, skewed as it was, became more and more apparent.

Meditation brought the issue front and center.  I learned to step back and quietly observe, to allow truth to surface.  Whenever I sat, the reality of my smoking habit was always the first to disturb my peace.  The thoughts would sneak up and take over, How much have I smoked today?  Way too much.  I'm killing myself.  I'm going to die of cancer.  Maybe I'll quit today.  Maybe I'll never have another cigarette again.  Yeah, right.  Who am I kidding?  I'll light up after practice like I always do...  And so it went.  Every day. 

I had made one serious but failed attempt to quit a year before the final smoke.  It lasted about a week, and my mind worked overtime day and night trying to justify another cigarette.  Eventually, it succeeded and I caved.  So how did I finally quit for good?  Not with iron will, or mind-over-matter mentality.  Not with harshness or rules or self-abasement.  Just the opposite.  I was finally able to quit smoking, cold turkey and without any pharmaceutical assistance, with compassion, acceptance, and patience.

I arrived at a place of acceptance.  Acceptance for myself, for my past, my habits, and my desires.  I fully realized that my decision to quit smoking was not going to make the cravings stop.  I came to accept the fact that I WOULD experience cravings, and that these cravings would cause me suffering ONLY if I continued to berate myself for having them.  I replaced the self-loathing with compassion, supplanted the harshness of my resolve with softness and patience.  I acknowledged my nicotine cravings without judgement, but rather as a normal and necessary part of the quitting process.  With this attitude of mindful compassion and acceptance, quitting became easy.  After a few days, the cravings slowed and, after a few weeks, they ceased altogether.

I am not a smoker anymore, but somehow, I am still me.  Just a freer, healthier, and happier version.  The smoke-free me revels in the peaceful quiet of meditation, undisturbed by the constant conflict of dependency, and drinks the sweetness of the breath, unblemished by the ruins of tar-filled lungs.

29 comments:

  1. Your story is so beautiful, inspirational and courageous. Thank you for sharing your journey of loving yourself.

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  2. Thank you for sharing. I am a smoker myself, but not a happy one. I have quite successfully managed to restrain myself to less than 10 a day, and sometimes I manage 2-3 weekdays without one, but cigarrettes are a big part of my social life and it is a constant battle... like having a demon and an angel on each shoulder. I never mention this in my blog because I was afraid of having hate comments (as in, 'you are an insult to yoga') so I am very grateful you have decided to write this post so I can see I am not alone :)

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  3. Lisa - Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    Mixandmatch - It's all part of the journey.

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  4. I hope the right people get to read this post because it's a great example of how transformative yoga, is and how it can help in situations where change has previously seemed impossibly hard. It's an inspiring post and I'm happy for you. :-)

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  5. One day I just stopped. I'd smoked on and off for well over a decade. I had my first cigarette at 14. I loved it (and if I'm honest I do occassionally miss it).

    But then one day I thought "tomorrow I'll quit". And I did.

    And I haven't had a cigarette since.

    Desikachar says that when we start practicing yoga regularly there is no need to vow to stop doing this that and the other. One day you will stop because you won't want to anymore. And that's the yoga.

    Certainly worked for me.

    And for you.

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  6. I am amazed.....we have the same story...down to the details. Often I find myself wondering in what ways Yoga has changed me that I've not recognized...As all of the ways I have are wonderful.

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  7. Great post. Thanks for sharing. Similarly, yoga was what made my choices to stop smoking, drinking, using drugs into a lasting reality. It's a powerful, transforming practice - never ceases to amaze me.
    I have a blog about yoga, health and creative living - check it out if you like -

    http://athayoganusasanam.wordpress.com/

    blessings
    frances

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  8. Rachel, Ashley, and Frances - It's very cool to hear from people with similar stories. Inspiring too, I hope, for those searching for a way to quit.

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  9. Megan, this is amazng writing, you have a gift that just flows out of you. I love reading your posts

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  10. lovely words, especially the conclusion. when reading your words it was like reading my mind. Stopped 2 weeks ago and your experience is highly motivating , thanks for sharing it

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  11. Hello, I stumbled across this via Google. Today is my six weeks since quitting smoking and Yoga has been a huge part of my ability to get this far.

    I was really happy to come across this tonight. Thanks!

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  12. The reason I landed up on your site through google was my quest to find a source that could help in quitting smoking. Reading your article felt as if someone was reciting my story of failures. Well, I finally quit today after constant lies to myself. In order to eradicate the urges, I am starting Yoga and at least 45 mins of walk. Fortunately, have been to 3 such international-level yoga classes so I know how much is good at a time. I've also kept 2 pictures of my wife - one at bed side and other on work desk to keep reminding myself of loosing the person I love the most if I don't quit and might ultimately die. You are doing a good job of motivating people and changing their lives. God Bless.

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  13. Hello, I just want to say "Thank You" for sharing your experience. I've been struggling for the past year trying to quit, and reading your article has renewed my hope to continue trying and being honest with myself.

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  14. This is incredible, i wasn't aware that yoga can be that much helpful, i will definitely share this information with my husband who is a heavy smoker.

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  15. There are many things which can be helpful if you want to give up smoking, first you have to make up your mind that you will do it no matter what happens than start working on it.

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  16. awesome..made me think, I can quit...Thanks for sharing....thanks google to show this up in results...

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  17. I also quit smoking after 30 years and started hot yoga as part of my quit plan. That was a year ago and it's been a huge help in the journey, I am so gratefull and if I can do it you can too!!

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  18. Your story really resonated with me. Smoking really takes over the body and the mind. I am 38 days smoke free after 20 years of smoking. I started practicing yoga again to help me and it has so much. I feel like i am as i supposed to be. I am thankful for yoga.

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  19. I enjoyed reading your story! I have been smoking for 6 years. I went from 1 pack lasting a week to 4 packs a day (raging nights of drinking and smoking til dawn, to be young and stupid) to now a pack lasts about 2-3 days. I have been doing for 6 months and still smoking regularly. Smoke before and after class. It never effected my cardio or my breathing. I eat healthy, drink a lot of water and yet I still smoke, which doesn't make any sense. This article helped me to try again with compassion, patience and self love.

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  20. I was a smoker for 14 years. I recently quit after two weeks of yoga. I'm still continuing yoga, and will make it a part of my lifestyle forever. It gave me the desire to quit. I have not had a cigarette in a week. Although yoga is not a miracle cure, I can tell you I have yet to experience a craving or temptation to light up a cigarette. Through yoga and meditation (daily) I have had no inclination to smoke. I hope more smokers at least give yoga a chance. It may not work for everyone, but there is certainly no harm in trying it out. Thank you for sharing. Your story is very relatable.

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  21. Thank you all. <3

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  22. This is the story of mine. Now I am more confident about me. May the cosmic energy bless you.

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  23. I'm glad I came across your page and thanks for taking the time to share. Good stuff!

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  24. quit long ago, before meditation and yoga, after realising
    [the key] that 'I' was lying to myself when asking myself
    'why am i doing this?!' that realisation, broke the deception..
    never had another one.. dont recall strong withdrawal..
    this goes to actual neurology and narcotic addiction..
    supported by, allowed this to self deception..
    long time meditator and now yogi i still see people
    capable of knowing, still trapped by, this deception
    still smoking.. yoga and meditation shed light on
    many things,, but first you must allow yourself
    to realise this deception common to - all - addicts
    then, to stop, in that moment.. to be your real self..

    if you are dirty, realise that, bath, then do yoga
    and meditate.. dont look back..
    namaste
    carl

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  25. hello sir,this post is very inspiring and confidence building.i am 21 years old and a smoker,not a regular one although but when i smoke i smoke 3-4 cigarettes one after other.i have been smoking for almost a year and during this one year i have failed nearly 4 times triying to quit smoking.i have discovered my trigger(loneliness and porn).everytime i watch porn i end up smoking few cigarettes.i want to quit both smoking as well as watching porn.once i didnt smoke for almost a week but unfortunately it lasted for only a week.now i am beginning to negative changes in my body and i am afraid.i have started doing yoga recently but i am still smoking.please help me sir.

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  26. One question: Is Yoga even a good friend for influencing you to smoke in the first place?

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    1. I'm not sure I completely understand your question, but I will do my best to answer it. I started smoking years before I began to practice yoga. While the two habits overlapped for a while, yoga never made me want to smoke, and definitely helped me quit. As for yoga being my friend... I guess I've never thought of it that way.

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