Confession: I used to be a smoker.
Of course, people who have known me for a long time knew this already, but it might surprise some people who have gotten to know me more recently. Especially since I talk and teach so much about the breath. Heck, even when I was a smoker it used to surprise people when they found out. I guess I never fit their expectation of a smoker—I was always pretty healthy in most respects, exercising plenty and eating mostly healthily (although now I shudder at some of my eating habits)—but I did have a few nasty habits like smoking and drinking to excess. I'll leave my thoughts as to why I had those habits for another post.
Eventually I got fed up with feeling like I was a slave to these habits and I decided to stand my ground. I picked a quit date and started weaning myself off cigarettes.
I began by skipping one of my habitual cigarettes—the first one being the coveted "morning coffee cigarette". I guess I thought that if I could kick the toughest one the rest would be easier.
I'd wake up every morning (this is pre-daily yoga practice) and go into the bathroom of the small house I shared with my wife and do some deep breathing. I wasn't consciously practicing pranayama and I didn't really have any set intention. My instincts just told me to breath deeply every morning for about 10 minutes or so. I don't even think my wife knew what I was doing in there—although in retrospect she may have had some concern hearing heavy breathing coming from the bathroom every morning.
What I was unconsciously doing was becoming intimate with my breath—and by extension, my body—after a prolonged period of disconnect. Sure, I was body aware—as an avid cyclist, semi-regular weight lifter, dilettante martial artist, I certainly used my body and pushed it's limits, often injuring myself in the process—but I wasn't really intimate with it.
When I started skipping other cigarettes, like the "after lunch cigarette", I'd replace them with "breathing breaks". If I was at work or home, I'd step outside and take some deep breaths or go for a walk around the block. What I found was that the breathing breaks were as energizing as the nicotine rush, and I never experienced the crash that inevitably leads to the "craving" for another cigarette.
After a month of weaning, I quit for good.
It's been years since that last cigarette, and since then my life has unfolded in the most amazing ways. I feel like that last cigarette was the first step to reclaiming my life and truly living my dreams.
I'm still working on making the dreams happen, but every day I feel supported and empowered on that path by the intimate connection I have with my breath and body
If you're thinking about giving it a shot, please consider replacing that first cigarette with a morning yoga practice. Make it your first priority and I promise you that it will change your life and empower you to make decisions that serve you, not enslave you.