Butting Out: Can Yoga and Meditation Help People Quit Smoking?

If you’ve ever tried to quit smoking, you know how difficult it is to break the habit. Tobacco use has been cited as a major risk factor for cardiovascular and respiratory disease, cancer, and premature death. But nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant and relaxant, and most smokers find it hard to quit.

Can yoga and meditation practices assist in smoking cessation? A group of researchers at Oregon Health and Sciences University conducted a systematic review of the research studies on smoking cessation involving mind-body practices to find out.

A total of fourteen studies met the criteria for inclusion in the review: Three studies used yoga to help people quit smoking, 3 focused on breathing techniques, and 8 emphasized meditation.

There were considerable differences among the studies in regards to the sample sizes, types of practices used, their duration, and the length of follow up of participants after the conclusion of each program.  Of the 3 yoga studies reviewed, two reported using a “slow paced”, hatha style, while the third used a “dynamic” vinyasa style. Five of 8 meditation studies used mindfulness techniques, 2 employed body scan practices, and one focused on the effects of Transcendental Meditation. There were also marked differences in the studies that focused on breathing techniques.

As often with research on the effects of yoga as therapy, the different treatment approaches, varied populations, and disparate research strategies made it difficult for investigators to make definitive conclusions or recommendations when comparing studies.  Still, the researchers concluded that, “Mind-body practices could be beneficial for improving smoking cessation”. They continued to note that “due to the scarcity and limitations of the studies available, more clinical trials with larger sample sizes, adequate control conditions, measures of adherence and compliance, and objective standardized outcomes, are needed…”

Current primary treatments for smoking cessation, including cognitive and behavioral therapies, as well as pharmacological treatments including nicotine replacement therapies and atypical antidepressants have moderate effects. In view of this fact, the results of the research review on the effects of yoga and meditation in smoking cessation are encouraging.

While traditional smoking cessation treatments help many to quit smoking in the short term, long-term abstinence poses a considerable challenge for most tobacco users. Including complementary therapies like yoga and mindfulness practices as part of smoking cessation programs may help to increase mind-body awareness, and to cultivate greater emotional control and behavioral restraint.

There is general agreement that mind-body practices including yoga, breath exercises, meditation, and others are tremendously useful for stress relief. It is likely that those trying to break the tobacco habit might benefit from adding such practices to their repertoire, particularly during the stressful process of dealing with cravings and desire. It may make the task of butting out just a little bit easier.

B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT 500 is a psychologist, research scientist, educator, author, yoga and mindfulness expert and creator ofBREATHE: 7 Skills for Mindful Relationships. Her mission is to reduce stress, increase health and wellbeing and improve the quality of relationships. She offers classes, workshops, writing and research that combine the wisdom of applied neuroscience, psychophysiology, psychology and contemplative science and practice. Her goal is to empower individuals, groups, leaders and organizations to reduce chronic stress and increase awareness, attention, compassion, mindfulness and effective communication to strengthen relationships, release dysfunctional patterns and unlock new and healthy ways of being. Dr. Bullock is a Certified Viniyoga Therapist and Faculty at the Integrated Health Yoga Therapy (IHYT) Training program. She is the former Senior Research Scientist at the Mind & Life Institute and former Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. For more information see www.bgracebullock.com

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