Yoga and Smoking Cessation

This article was written by: Vironika Tugaleva, from Toronto.

Yoga is the practice of quieting the mind. - Patanjali

How right Patanjali was, not only about the nature of yoga, also the endless noise, anxious interference and badgering from the mind. John Lennon once said "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." For a smoker, life is what happens while you're having a cigarette.


Yoga teaches us that people develop addictions to correct an internal "imbalance" and use the obsession to distract from their deficiency. Any smoker will tell you how important a cigarette becomes for stress relief, social coolness and to introduce and conclude every day events like meals and going to work. In the depth of the habit, the only way to feel completion after a task or gain emotional balance during hectic times is to inhale bad medicine.

It is important to separate the factor of nicotine addiction from that of psychological addiction. Cigarette smokers are much more like Pavlov's dogs than they are mindless fiends for an addictive chemical. The 2002 study "Real-world efficacy of prescription and over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy" found that 90.8% of nicotine patch users and 91.5% of nicotine gum users start smoking again within six months. Nicotine definitely plays a part in the compulsion, but not a lead role.

While chemicals can be substituted, the discrepancy in a person's life that leads them to smoke cannot be cured with drugs. It can be treated only with self awareness and the will to transform into a different state of mind and body. What needs to be cured is more than just the itch.

Yoga can succeed where other methods have failed, because it is an effective substitute for smoking, says Ina Marx in her book Yoga and Common Sense. In fact, yoga as a replacement therapy seems to be taking off as a popular and satisfying route towards being smoke-free. If you or someone you love needs help quitting, yoga is a safe and effective approach. To succeed, it is necessary to devote oneself wholly to the three major aspects of the practice of yoga: pranayama, stretching, and awareness.

Self-awareness and Willpower

Before abstinence comes self-awareness. The way a cigarette smells, the amount of seconds it takes to inhale and the thoughts during a craving are all part of a pattern that is subconscious. With self-awareness, one can no longer deny the addiction and cannot enjoy a cigarette without feeling self-betrayal. Now, there is willpower.

If you try to practice yoga one time smoke-free and another time having smoked before or after the session, it is certain that the cleanliness of the body without smoke will feel more compatible with yoga. Constant self-awareness will lead an individual to notice the increase in vitality and self-esteem with the elimination of cigarettes and lead to a conditioned (subconscious) response of disgust to smoking rather than a forced (conscious) reaction.

After one chooses to give up smoking, yoga helps with the inevitable anger and depression associated with the quitting process by encouraging the individual to deal with these emotions in a peaceful way that is helpful and not destructive.

Typical symptoms of withdrawal include irritability, anger, anxiety, restlessness, mild insomnia and depression. These can be awful and, even worse, unnecessary. A 2008 study published in Addictive Behaviours separated a group of individuals who wanted to quit into two groups: one was warned of the extreme and unpleasant nature of withdrawal, while the other was told it would be an easy and fairly painless process. The group with higher perceived risk "experienced higher levels of cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and depression than participants with lower risk beliefs."

Perception of pain is controlled largely by your mind. Yoga is not just a series of stretches; it is a way to become aware of the mind, the body and, by this, achieve peace with oneself. Negative feelings such as those listed above can be overcome with ease through focus on positive aspects of the journey: better health, more energy, no more cigarette odor everywhere, financial gain, etc. One should examine the quitting process with a breath-like simplicity: good coming in and bad going out.

Physical well-being

The body has an innate urge to be natural and clean. Addictions are survival mechanisms for the mind, but if the body were allowed a chance to speak it would choose vigor and fitness over an easy solution. First interviewed by the Yoga Journal, Jen Levin, a smoker for 17 years, quit with the help of yoga.

'As I saw my body and mind get stronger, smoking began to make me sick, and it no longer made sense,' Levin says. 'I realized that if I could endure the pain in my body, then I could deal with the pain of not having a cigarette.' The increase in circulation, muscle tone and general form can only flourish properly without the interjection of carcinogenic smoke. This feeling will triumph in all self-aware yoga practitioners and they should choose to follow their body's needs rather than those of their addicted mind.

Yoga is also the best long-term solution for smoking cessation because it has visible physical and noticeable emotional results that cannot be denied. Instead of short-term solutions like gum, hard candy or binge eating, yoga provides a life-long way to get become healthier, more energetic and happier about oneself.


The awareness and physical aspects of yoga are as closely related to one another as they are to the pranayama (deep breathing) part of yoga smoking cessation therapy. The first thing required is to remember, from gaining awareness of the addiction, how many seconds you inhale, hold, and exhale the smoke for. This knowledge creates the template for a custom, specialized breathing exercise.

It is curious that most regular smokers do not acquire a body high from cigarettes as they used to, but rather smoke to ward off withdrawal and follow routine. It has been suggested by many nicotine cessation professionals that deep breathing contributes to the relaxation offered by a cigarette.

"When you begin Yoga breathing exercises," adds Ina Marx, "you will be bringing more air into your lungs than they have known for years . . . with the increased supply of oxygen in the system, the desire to smoke is killed."

This theory is plausible on the account that large amounts of oxygen can produce a drug-like effect on the body as well as the fact that inhaling smoke and air is such a similar process. Therefore, if pranayama is performed in a way that mimics the smoker's typical method, the body will feel either equal to or better than it would with nicotine.


At the end of the day, all addictive behaviors require a replacement. The basic foundation of the 12 step program is the conversion of addicts and alcoholics into practicing Catholics. While the devotion to a religion is emotionally satisfying for some, yoga has proven an amazing alternative for smokers, alcoholics, drug addicts and mental health sufferers who want to pursue a different lifestyle that provides physical, mental and emotional gains. The benefits of yoga to the individual far surpass those of addictive behavior rendering it one of the most effective and side-effect free ways to improve one's livelihood.

You experience real freedom and happiness when you are no longer enslaved to those charms, attractions and temptations that conflict with your inner wisdom and bring you pain.

-Leonard Perlmutter
Philosopher, Educator, Author and Founder of the American Meditation Institute


Apostolides, Marianne. "How to Quit the Holistic Way." Psychology Today Magazine Sep/Oct 1996.

Marx, Ina. Yoga and smoking. In Ina Marx, Yoga and Common Sense. Indianapolis and New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1970, pp. 116-122.

Pembroke, Galina. "Healing Addiction with Yoga." Self growth, 1996. http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Pembroke1.html

Shiffman, S. et al. "Real-world efficacy of prescription and over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy," Addiction 97.7 May 2002.

Stukin, Stacie. "Freedom from Addiction." Yoga Journal, 1999. http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/679 Weinberger, A., Krishnan-Sarin, S., Mazure, C., McKee, S. "Relationship of perceived risks of smoking cessation to symptoms of withdrawal, craving, and depression during short-term smoking abstinence." Addictive Behaviours 33.7 2008: 960-963.

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