The Power of Yoga to Change a Life
I’d like to share with you a personal triumph story that came to me this week. It’s about the power of Yoga to change your life. After the latest news report on the dangers of secondhand smoke, I had asked for any tips ex-smokers might be able to share in order to help others ditch the habit. This gentleman was kind enough to send me his story (along with permission to post it), and I’m so glad he did. It brought tears to my eyes. Enjoy the inspiration…
“I had been smoking since around 14 years old. We got suckered in back then, as kids do I suppose. I had tried the regular cigs and could not for the life of me see what the attraction was, they tasted horrible. One day a friend passed me a pack that he assured me tasted like chewing gum, these were menthol cigarettes. He was right, it reminded me of mint or mint flavored gum, what harm could a pack or two or ten of these do me.
This was the beginning of a three decade’s plus long addiction, and to paraphrase Oscar Wilde; Such an unsatisfying addiction, there never was.
I was fifty years old when I finally quit. I was lucky, the time and place was right and this is the most important thing I feel. A few factors and circumstances came together to bring this about, without these it would not have happened.
It was late 2008. I was in India, something of a lost soul after a very bad divorce that had turned a drink habit into a drinking problem. After around two months in that country I had massive a spiritual awakening, a real cliché I know, but that’s why they are clichés after all. I guess you know the one – guy thinks he has it all, family, career, the house, the car, the whole thing – is that all there is, loses it all in the blink of a tear filled eye, drifts around lost for a few years and turns increasingly to that great pain killer booze and seeing as this is essential a story about nicotine, also leans increasingly heavily on cigarettes, lot of them, like a couple before he gets out of bed in the morning and then throughout the day, including in bed in the night time, falling asleep boozed up, cigarette in hand. Slow suicide.
So there I am in India minding my own business and someone offers me a blessing one day and would you believe it, it turns out it’s my time for this and I promptly leave my body, yes I do and return instantly to Source become all things. I find out it was all an illusion after all, Maya, and before you can say Jesus Christ Superstar, I’ve merged with the universe, in fact I discover, I am the universe and guess what, it’s all Love and its infinite and eternal and seeing as there is no time or space, because it turns out this is also an illusion, eternities not so bad after all and its about as blissful and good as you might imagine, actually its far more than you might imagine , the mind being fairly limited when it comes to these things Well that’s what happened and that’s the truth, now back to the cigarettes.
Not long after this somewhat life changing experience, I headed to the north of the country on the advice of a friend to take a yoga course; you and I know this as Trika yoga or Agama. I signed for the first level, one month intensive yoga. I was still smoking at this point because even finding out you are the universe isn’t enough to break that addiction.
So here’s the factors which came together to separate me from the old tyrant cigarettes. There was only one other smoker on that first level class , so naturally we formed a band of brothers, us against them . You notice how addicts of whatever persuasion stick together but this was short lived ,as after a few days he quit smoking, obviously not a serious smoker thought I. So I was on my own.
Not only was I now on my own, which is a great help not being in a peer group of smokers but I was in a country that was down on smokers in general. In many public areas smoking was not allowed and drew the attention of the police, the criminal cigarette smoker, what a concept.
So already the chips are being stacked against smoking but had not yet reached a critical mass. Now I was doing the yoga and lighting up as soon as I left the hall at the end of the session and having a last puff before the session began in the mornings.
Then one day a technique was introduced, you will know it, Udyhana Banda, basically expelling all the air from the long suffering lungs and holding a void retention, or holding as long as you can with no air, as opposed to holding the breath, this was holding no breath. I managed to maintain this unenviable position for around 2 seconds, before collapsing into hacking, choking, coughing fits, and this really began to tell me something, and on top of this coughing a foul taste was brought up into the mouth akin to licking a used ashtray, Yuk!
So this was a defining moment I feel looking back. This moment had been reached before numerous times throughout my life but had only lasted days before falling back into the trap, usually after taking one drink too many and seeing the will fold and collapse under the cosh of the stupefying drink.
So here was another supporting factor about where I was. I was in a dry town, Rishkesh, North India. I had already gone many days without a drop of booze and I could not remember when the last time in my life this had happened. So one day I decided to cold turkey.
I had a slight help, my previous smoking comrade who had quit the days before me had some nicotine gum with him. This gave me something of an aid in my quitting, even if on the level of a placebo. I realized quickly, all the things that I had previously associated with cigarettes had to also go. So that was goodbye coffee, goodbye booze and goodness knows what else. I quit so many things in those early days I will never really know stopping taking which one made me begin to feel good. Maybe it was all of them, because I had gone a few days, or maybe a couple of weeks without a drink before stopped smoking, I had already begun to feel more alive without the drink.
I had also stopped eating meat. Again this was something to do with the location, Rishikesh being a Holy Hindu town, so it was not easy to get hold of, but after a few days of not having meat, and heaven forbid, looking back to my previous life, that heart attack on a plate, The Full English Breakfast, I began to feel more alive, less lethargic and more active in general.
So it was difficult for me to pin point the precise thing that made me feel this way, this healthier, more alive me. Would I have still felt this way if I had carried on eating meat, or taking the booze or not started the yoga, maybe quitting one but not the other, I don’t know but what was for sure was my body was now getting all its Christmases at once and had never felt better. I had drank and smoked and eaten meat since early teen years, so I had to conclude, I had never known another way and had therefore perhaps never known what it was like to be truly alive.
I very quickly noticed a beautiful benefit of not smoking. As my lungs shook off the years of abuse they had been subjected to, I began noticing and feeling air in parts of my chest area I had never felt before. I should explain, my lung capacity had obviously been reduced over the years and little by little I had begun to survive on shallow breathing, that’s not filling the lungs.
Within days of stopping smoking and certainly within weeks, I began to feel the air reaching right down to the bottom of my lungs and in particular at the lower sides of my back, it was like, “Hello it’s been a long time since we saw you down here fresh air, but welcome home.”
I still marvel at this feeling of air actually filling the lungs, we get so used to things and accept them as the norm, perhaps compensating in other ways, but this feeling of an easy, natural inhalation feels about as sweet as it gets. I wonder as I write, has there been any research into the obvious consequence of a nation of smokers and the affect this shallow breathing might be having on them as regard, Shallow breathing would be associated also with the fight or flight response, i.e. Fear, so are smokers in a state of constant fear be this not on a conscious level, and the damage on top of the smoking damage this level of toxic release from fear would be having to the person would be considerable .
I personally got the added bonus of also saying goodbye to that other incapacitating substance, alcohol. I feel certain if I hadn’t stopped drinking, I would have fallen back to the smoking on the first inebriated chance. Even something as seemingly inoffensive as a cup of coffee, screamed in my head cigarette, so this also had to go, on reflection I don’t miss any of it.
It’s been four years now and I am well out of the woods. I do feel for smokers though, I know it carries with it a form of self loathing and is certainly the strongest addiction I encountered. We have to take care though that we do not replace one addiction with another and while we are patting ourselves on the back in congratulatations over the defeat of this or that substance, another one is sneaking in the back door in disguise. In my case I developed a raging sweet tooth, candy bars and biscuits by the packet,which I have only recently address and controlled .
We excuse ourselves as we always do with habits, with words like, well I deserve it I don’t drink , smoke etc anymore, so I deserve some of the “good” things of life, not realising that we are slowly drawn back into some of the symptoms from the previous discarded addictions, mood swings, fatigue to name but two.
Moderation in all things might be the word but abstinence in something’s would definitely apply.
I would say looking back to those smoking days, and particularly when the smoking became intense and assumed the role of a psychological crutch, that no amount of horror stories about its bad effect, or photographs on packets of cancerous tumours and the like, would have mattered in the slightest to me.
I feel in fact the reverse is true and they could have something of an perverse encouraging affect to the smoker, he is after all the “outside” ,”the outlaw’ or has been increasingly cast in this role, and so probably immune to this form of fear tactic.
Smoking is also another form of suicide, be that a slow one, so there’s also a sort of bravado, ”Hey bring it on”, feel about it all, and “who‘re you trying to scare with this shit, you wanna hear some really scary stories, let me tell you about my life, etc, etc.”
So there are many conflicting factors for sure but it does boiled down to an almighty strong addiction and this there is no denying.
I doubt if you would ever find someone who has stopped, that does not bless the day they finally said goodbye to cigarettes. The time has to be right for the person to stop and the support has to be there and also lifestyle changes will have to be considered. It is not easy to stop, it is though brilliant and perfect to be free, and that’s exactly what it is, freedom.
I could go on and on, as could one who has discovered a new life, a life free of illness, and incapacity, and this is no exaggeration, I have had nothing more than the odd slight cold these last few years since stopping smoking, and where as a cold would have lingered weeks in my smoking days, and I would have had to carry on smoking through the sore throat and tortured lungs and chocking cough, now that rare cold, is if anything, little more than a 24/48 hour wonder.
That’s my Story Kathleen, far from unique I am sure. Oh I also might add, when I left the UK those years ago before India I was on the strongest prescription for a very high blood pressure rate, when I asked how long I would need to take these pills for I was informed, for life. I asked how I might break free of this need, I was told you would have to quit, smoking, drinking and meat eating, I remember at the time responding with words of the, And pigs might fly variety, well pigs it turned out did fly, so I discarded those pills along with the packs of tobacco I had in far way India those years back.”