A recent study found that a single 30-minute session of hatha yoga reduced cravings to smoke among daily smokers. This may come as little surprise to yoga practitioners; anecdotally, many former smokers quit after starting the practice of yoga, and research suggests yoga practitioners are less likely to smoke than their non-yoga practicing peers.
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Furthermore, yoga has been shown to improve parameters considered barriers to successful tobacco cessation (i.e. perceived stress, negative affect, weight control), and features constituents that may optimize self-regulation (breathing, focused attention, mindfulness) which may support attempts to quit smoking.
Researchers randomly assigned 76 smokers to one of three conditions following a 1-hour nicotine abstinence intended to increase cravings: 1) 30-minutes of brisk treadmill walking, 2) 30 minutes of Hatha Yoga, and 3) a nonactivity control condition. Questionnaires assessing craving, mood, and smoking cue reactivity were administered prior to, immediately following, and ~20 minutes after each condition.
Compared to the control condition, both yoga and walking were found to lessen cravings, increase positive affect, and decrease negative affect. Smoking-cue driven cravings were decreased in the walking condition, whereas general cravings were attenuated in the yoga group.
There are a number of potential ways that yoga may reduce cravings. One such way is by instilling mindfulness, the quality of being present and aware of each moment as it unfolds without judgment. Research suggests yoga promotes mindfulness, which has in turn been found to reduce overall cigarette consumption and attenuate cravings. One layer of mindfulness is body awareness. As one becomes more attuned to experience, sensation, and breath, cigarettes may no longer prove quite as alluring across a number of domains.
Two other potential mechanisms or mediators which may explain yoga’s beneficial effects are acceptance and self-compassion. At the heart of yoga is an acceptance of life as it is, honoring one’s strengths as well as limitations, and cultivating compassion for onself and others (although the extent to which this is taught and valued varies across traditions). Emerging research on the construct of self-compassion suggests it’s preliminary efficacy in reducing food cravings and smoking frequency, while support for acceptance-based protocols, while in the early stages, is even more robust.
Research currently underway may help us understand more about how yoga reduces smoking cravings. Scientists at Brown University have a grant from NCCAM to investigate the impact of an 8-week, cognitive-behavioral (CBT) program plus twice-weekly yoga classes, compared to CBT plus an educational control intervention. This study also aims to elucidate potential mediators, or mechanisms, such as increases mindfulness and spirituality, which may explain why yoga is an effective smoking cessation aid.
Have you or your friends found yoga to be effective for your attempts at quitting smoking?