Interesting new research suggests that practicing mindfulness may be helpful in smoking cessation efforts. A recent study indicates that mindfulness alone (absent explicit instructions to stop or information about the dangers of smoking) has the potential to significantly reduce neurological cravings after being exposed to visual smoking cues. Although this research is highly preliminary, this information could prove to be helpful for those with a history of failed attempts at changing behaviors using conventional methods.
This particular study enrolled 47 treatment-seeking smokers into the study who had little or no experience with meditation. Participants were asked to abstain from smoking 12 hours before their study session, at which time they were given a brief training in mindful attention techniques. They were then placed in an fMRI scanner and shown photos of smoking and neutral images. While in the scanner, smokers were asked to either take a passive or mindful attentive stance to the images, followed by a rating assessing the image’s impact on subjective cravings.
Findings suggest that mindfulness significantly reduced neural activity in regions of the brain related to cravings as well as self-reported cravings of the participants. The researchers conclude these findings suggest that the simple act of awareness may naturally curb the desire to smoke for those trying to quit.
Contrast this with prevailing approaches to smoking cessation typically favored by behavioral medicine, which tend to emphasize external self-regulation of behavior and consciously executed attempts to control, reduce, or suppress cravings. Yet willpower-based approaches to health behavior change in this and other areas, such as dieting, have shown limited effectiveness.
Such findings generate hypotheses regarding the potential of yoga and mindfulness to catalyze non-conscious regulation of other health behaviors. If mindfulness/yoga were shown effective, it could considerably shift current treatment techniques. For instance, consider going to the doctor and receiving a prescription for yoga or mindfulness training, covered by insurance, rather than being given a stack of educational materials or assigned a restrictive diet.
Have you found that using medication techniques, you have begun to eat healthier, exercise more, or quit smoking?