It was not instantaneous, easy or even a very straight line. My journey from smoker to non-smoker was more of a spiral. I began when I waited tables in early high school, continued into college where it became a symbol of independence and faux sophistication. I quit in my final semester only to have my boyfriend and roommate collaborate to buy me a carton when I was having trouble finishing my honor's thesis. I finished in days, so they weren't wrong: just misguided.
I quit again a few times in grad school and picked the habit back up solidly while working weekend nights as a Paramedic. I also picked up the habit of going to a local yoga studio on my off days. The pressed tin ceiling tiles reminded me of places I loved in downtown Kansas City, where I spent as much time as I could late in high school. The effect of yoga and then lying in savasana under those tiles made me feel loved and at home in ways that were rare after moving a thousand miles for the job I'd dreamed of when I was a little girl.
I began to clear time after these classes, learning that the emotional release was undeniable and life was better if I just went with it. Sometimes I'd know for what or whom I cried, others it was realizing how intertwined the suffering of the world is, seeping down generations in ways that people always seem to swear they will interrupt. I didn't cry on duty, in uniform and this demarcation seemed wise to me. At the same time, I began to admit to myself that the pattern may be more meaningful than I'd like to admit.
Until one night after a series of calls that would make Hulk Hogan weep, I felt a tear trickle down my face as I walked all focused and upright out of the trauma room and down the hall to my rig. I passed our unit by and proceeded to the smoking area, out past watchful eyes and cameras. I packed, picked and lit, inhaling: the tears dried up. As I inhaled the smoke, I began to feel clearer but less connected: focused on the next call.
All packed back in, I went back and pitched in, getting us back in service and finishing my chart. But even with the sense of mastery I was enjoying I couldn't ignore that I was giving up feelings for functioning in a world of suffering, and I knew my days as a smoker were numbered.
How did yoga play a part in this realization? It was another year before I finally quit in October 2007, a year I spent having the pattern assert itself over and over again, observing myself and my habits, my patterns: how little I smoked off duty, which calls I'd crave a smoke after, how I'd smoke extra to hang out with friends who were also avoiding pasts and hearts full of pain by treating others who hurt similarly and then pretending they were different.
I practiced yoga under those lovely tin tiles and at home in the yoga room my husband created for me, under trees on sand and on duty. I'll list some of the practices that I found particularly potent below, but really it was the relentlessly loving feeling that came from practice that began to dissolve those bonds from the inside out. The steadiness that practice brought allowed me to see and watch myself without excuses or condemnation, only awareness and love. And the more I saw, the more data I gathered on myself, the more I allowed myself to feel the connections I was finding, the less I smoked. Until one day, in a hot tub in Santa Fe, I knew I was done.
There have been moments, evenings and events that have tempted me: as much as I don't like the taste of old smoke, there's something beautiful about the first few drags that even now I can't deny - a sensuality and luxury, perhaps. But being connected immediately to my intuition and feelings and gut is far more luxurious, rich and sensual and that connection is clear as the New Mexico sky to me.
The Yoga Sutras tell us, "when you consistently cultivate the opposite thoughts and emotions, the unwholesome tendencies are gradually destroyed." II.34 My experience quitting smoking showed me how real and effective this method is. It's not the quick fix method, but it is long lasting and creates a lifetime of understanding.
If you're considering starting or tailoring your yoga practice to lessen your suffering from habits that aren't simple to change, consider incorporating these 4 principles and 5 practices into your life: