I used yoga to quit smoking. I did so after I noticed that after my Power Vinyasa class I was less eager to grab a cigarette. It also turned out that I liked the taste of fresh air, so when I decided to give up smoking, I just figured I would do a ton of yoga and it would be easy.
Turns out that quitting smoking was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The craving struck and sat like a piece of lead on my throat and tongue. Sometimes, it settled around the center of my chest. The craving created a real physical ache as well as annoying mental repetitions. “If I only had… I would feel better…”
To break a habit you have to use the force of willpower and willpower is essentially the movement of the spirit. You need willpower to move through a craving. Logically, cravings just cause us mental pain, and this mental pain is the feeling of an old habit breaking. To pass through cravings is to be in touch with the divine force of will. In a craving you can sense the movement of your spirit, strengthening your connection to your spiritual anatomy.
“Food is a very emotional experience,” LOAY Director Adam Frei told us. I thought to myself: I don’t have any emotional issues with food – I’ll eat anything! But then, I realized I couldn’t have my Chai Tea Latte and I cried! Chocolate cake, even though I never ate it, became my newest obsession. But I stuck with the diet; I ate my salads and drank my juices. At first my body didn’t feel very good. I was tired and hungry all the time. I realized I was detoxing. Then I adjusted and began to feel calmer, cleaner, and my yoga practice felt solid.
Overcoming my cravings meant I had to stake out uncomfortable territory. I had to re-visit what I had done when I quit smoking.
Here are five ways to get rid of cravings and live a healthier life:
- Make a list of why you want to give something up and allow that to become your mantra. Why would I want to follow a yogic diet? Because “healthy body, healthy mind”. So when I craved chocolate cake I asked myself “does this cake cultivate a healthy body better than a banana?” Of course the banana wins this round!
- Take one day, one moment, and one breath at a time. This is what they say in Alcoholics Anonymous and I used it to quit smoking. Each morning I would think, “today I am not going to smoke.” If during the day the craving was bad I would think: “right now, I am choosing not to smoke.” If I was in front of a store ready to jump in and buy a pack of cigarettes, I would think “now I am inhaling; now I am exhaling” as I breathed.
- Read spiritual literature. Sri Dharma Mittra recommends this all the time! When you are feeling uninspired and uncertain, the Bhagavad Gita can point you in a good direction. Arjuna also didn’t know why he was supposed to fight, and Krishna gives him a ton of reasons why he should. Sometimes you might not be sure why you’re fighting your cravings, so you too can apply Krishna’s counsel.
- Practice Pranayama. It can be as simple as a square breath: Inhaling for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four. If the craving is strong you might try a stronger, more complicated Pranayama: like Nadi Shodana with Kumbakha (alternate nostril breathing with breath retentions). As Swami Sivananda said “the veil is removed by the practice of Pranayama. After the veil is removed the real nature of the soul is realized.”
- Remove the tempters. Clean your kitchen of those culprit foods. When you shop at the grocery store first go to the fruit and vegetable section. When I tried to quit smoking I stopped going to the smoker’s corner on my lunch break and I went to the park instead.
These are just techniques to test out in the laboratory of your own experience. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a cigarette or a piece of chocolate cake. After I had decided to quit smoking I slipped up for a good year before I was actually able to buckle down and commit to a daily yoga practice. During the LOAY Teacher Training Diet one day I walked into a Starbucks and had a cup of tea and a scone and enjoyed every moment of the sugary and caffeinated goodness. But the next day I woke up and was back on track.
Over the long run the cravings get less and less. And now, three years later, if I smell a cigarette it makes me feel sick. Now, most sweets are too sweet for me since I spent half a year not eating sugar.
You can create the life you imagine! It just takes time, awareness, and as Sri Dharma says, a little bit of ‘angry determination’ to get back up again after you fall.
Sara Schwartz lives in Queens, New York with her husband Yancy. She currently teaches at Yoga to the People, where she received her 200-hour certification in 2010. She recently graduated from the Dharma Yoga Center Life of a Yogi 500-Hour Teacher Training. “Offer up the fruits of your practice” is her favorite advice from Sri Dharma Mittra. She is very grateful for the guidance of Sri Dharma and all of his teachers.