Meditation is an ancient practice that’s often extolled for its various physical and mental benefits, but can it help you quit smoking? Once you develop a habit of smoking, it can be very tough to break free. It requires a lot of willpower and an understanding of the consequences of your actions.
Meditation helps you stop smoking by reducing stress, which is a common trigger for lighting up cigarettes. It also increases your self-control and develops mindfulness so that you can recognize and let go of your cigarette cravings without acting on them.
Just 10-20 minutes of daily meditation can improve your life. Read on to learn how the science-based benefits of meditation can help you stop smoking. We’ll also discuss how you can get started with meditation practice.
Understanding smoking addiction
Cigarettes contain nicotine, which is a highly addictive compound. It creates a state of dependence by altering the levels of chemicals in the brain.
The brain has a built-in reward system. When something makes you feel good, you want to do it again. As nicotine enters your bloodstream, it binds to receptors in the brain and triggers a rush of dopamine and noradrenaline. This change in brain chemicals also alters your mood and concentration.
You end up experiencing a rush of pleasure. Each puff of cigarette gives you feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Initially, it also reduces stress and anxiety. So overall, it’s an enjoyable experience for the smoker.
Nicotine acts fast and is therefore highly addictive. After a few days or weeks of regular smoking, you get stuck in a habit loop that’s difficult to break. The brain craves dopamine and compels you to smoke. Like any other addiction, the more you smoke, the more your brain becomes dependent on it.
When you try to quit smoking, you may experience irritability because of the body’s craving. You may also experience fatigue since nicotine is a stimulant. It affects brain wave function and sleeping patterns as well, so insomnia is also common among those trying to quit smoking.
How can meditation help you quit smoking?
Some of us smoke to feel normal or blend in with people. Others use cigarettes to cope with stress and anxiety. Some people just want to “live in the moment.” A majority of smokers don’t even enjoy smoking anymore – they just can’t do without it.
Smoking is addictive and quitting is an arduous process. Meditation can help us in our journey toward a smoke-free life by addressing the root of the problem and helping us become mindful of our cravings.
Here are three ways in which meditation works to help you quit smoking for good:
1. It reduces stress
One of the most common triggers for smoking is stress. Many people use cigarettes to feel better when they’re anxious or stressed. Taking a few puffs makes them feel relaxed. They know that in the long term, smoking is hazardous for their health, but they also enjoy the few stress-free moments of smoking.
In truth, smoking is just an escape from the real issues of stress and anxiety. The relief is short-lived, and it doesn’t do you any good. On the other hand, meditation can help you understand and relieve stress by teaching you to be mindful of your thoughts and emotions.
Research shows that meditation also reduces the levels of cortisol – a stress hormone – in our body. It induces the relaxation response and calms the mind, reducing the need for cigarettes.
2. It increases self-control
Self-regulation plays a crucial role in breaking destructive patterns and establishing healthier ones. Recent brain scanning studies have revealed that smokers have less activity in the brain regions linked to self-control. When they experience cravings, their will power is overcome by the urge to smoke, and they’re unable to control themselves.
Research reveals that meditation and other mindfulness-based practices increase our self-control. Meditators show better connectivity between areas of the brain associated with self-control. The more mental discipline you have, the more you’ll be able to deny those urges until they lose their strength.
3. It develops mindfulness
Every time you repeat something, it creates a neural pathway in the brain. If you have strong neural pathways of a particular activity, it becomes a habit. Smoking turns into addiction when it becomes automatic. As soon as the craving arises, smokers light up a cigarette without even thinking about it.
Meditation directly challenges this lack of thought. It trains you to notice and accept your current state and surroundings on a moment-to-moment basis. Regular meditation practice will make you more aware of your cravings.
When you watch your thoughts and let them pass without engaging, you’re training to let go of your urges. Meditation gives you the power to ride out your cravings without acting on them.
Scientific research on meditation and smoking
A 2013 study included 27 smokers who smoked 10 cigarettes on average every day. 15 of them were given mindfulness training involving body relaxation and mental imagery. The training continued for two weeks, and they practiced mindfulness for a total of five hours.
The researchers found that the participants who went through the training experienced a decrease in their craving for cigarettes. Mindfulness increases a person’s self-control and reduces stress, so they’re better able to cope with addiction symptoms.
Their fMRI scans showed that smokers had less activity in areas of the brain linked to self-control. Activity in those regions increased after the mindfulness training, while the non-training group experienced no significant changes.
In fact, many participants didn’t even realize that they had reduced smoking until an objective test revealed the results. This means that meditation reduces your craving for cigarettes, even if you have no intention to quit smoking.
Related: Is Meditation Overrated?
How to practice mindfulness meditation
Now you’re probably excited about practicing meditation for smoking. Let’s briefly discuss how to practice mindfulness meditation to overcome your smoking addiction. We’ll look at breath meditation, which is the simplest and most common form of meditation.
Here’s how to do it:
- Set a timer for 10-15 minutes.
- Sit cross-legged on the floor or sit in a chair. Keep your back and head straight.
- Rest your hands in your lap and relax your body.
- Take a few deep breaths from your belly to settle in.
- Return to regular breathing and let your body breathe on its own.
- Notice the sensations caused by breathing in your nostrils, or be aware of the rising and falling of your belly. Don’t interfere with your breath; just watch it.
- You’ll get distracted, and that’s part of the process. Gently bring your mind back to your breath.
These are the basics of breath meditation. For more detailed instructions and tips, read my complete guide to mindfulness meditation.
Also, if you find it difficult to do it by yourself, you can use guided meditations. Here are some guided meditations from UCLA. You can also look them up on YouTube.
Once you start practicing meditation, you’ll need to stay regular. If you’re having difficulties building a habit of meditation, read the article on 10 practical tips to make meditation a daily habit.
Let’s face it, quitting smoking is not a piece of cake. Although meditation can help you on your journey toward a smoke-free life, you still have to gather the courage and be willing to rid yourself of cigarettes.
If you’ve tried going cold turkey or medications and failed, meditation can be an excellent way to increase your willpower and help you quit smoking for good. The benefits of meditation are backed by science, and it’ll bring much-needed positivity into your life.
Good luck and happy meditating! 😊