By By Libby Sentz
August 29, 2008

libby-yoga(TODD SENTZ)Its been a month and a day since I abandoned my binge-smoking ways, but only yesterday did I truly kill my desire to smoke.

The most apt description of what Ive been fighting is this: Smoking creates an itch in the lung that only a cigarette can scratch. This past week my lungs have felt like flea-infested varmints. Perhaps Id revived the nicotine monster by cheating with a puff here and there, renewing old cravings. Or maybe my lungs desired smoke because I put myself on a roller-coaster ride when I started slapping the nicotine patch on willy-nilly last week. (I didnt follow the directions at all.)

But this feels different than a nicotine craving. It is a very specific wanting that crops up in my lungs. Yesterday I was dying to get in there and scratch it. I looked through the advice Ive received in the past month and considered the three options that seemed most likely to reach my lungs.

  1. Smoke a joint.
  2. Use a nicotine inhaler.
  3. Practice yoga.

You probably guessed that the first suggestion didnt come from a medical source. Smoking marijuana cigarettes damages the lungs. But the woman friend who swears by this method is no sloppy stoner; shes a successful ex-smoker. She told me to fill up a cigarette case with joints and light up whenever I get that craving in the lungs. This breaks the habit, she promised, because a gal can only smoke so much ganja.

Hmm. It was fun to think that getting high as a kite every day could improve my life, but I seriously doubted I could keep a straight face while saying: “But Im just doing this to quit smoking, officer.” So I looked to option 2.

Sucking on a nicotine inhaler probably wouldve been a great solution. Unfortunately, I was not prepared when the need came yesterday. First I wouldve needed to go to the pharmacy, which meant Id need a prescription, which meant Id need a doctors appointment, which meant Id just have to wait. (Not that getting marijuana wouldve been any easier.)

Patience has not become a virtue of mine since I quit cigarettes, so I went for the more convenient option 3.

[ pagebreak ]I dusted off my old green yoga mat and sat in a cross-legged position to practice some yoga breathing techniques, or pranayama. I started out with three basic breathing exercises that I remembered: ujjayi (ocean-sounding breath), dirgha (complete breath), and nadi (sweet breath). Then I moved on to the energizing breath of fire.

Theres irony for me in the name breath of fire. See, I was quite the yogi a decade ago, but as I deepened my practice of yoga, I accidentally deepened my smoking addiction. In yoga I had learned to take long, slow inhalations, to send my breath to tense or empty places, to let my breath sit there, still and calm, and then to release it in slow motion. Then I started doing this with cigarette smoke, holding it in deep and long. Eventually, after hip surgery, I abandoned yoga, but genius that I am, I stuck with the smoking.

Coming back to the yoga mat as a nonsmoker is like diving into a pool for the first time after a long hot summer. I lost myself yesterday in the yogic breathing. Was I immersed for 15 minutes? Forty minutes? When I stood to begin sun salutations, I realized that the itch was gone! The breathing had filled my lungs with pure relief.

I didnt recognize the strength of my own breath or my own mind before, but now that I remember how to breathe fire, the nicotine monster is no match.

This is Libby's final post about quitting smoking.

Read previous posts:
Quitting Smoking Gave Me Hips (August 8, 2008)
Sparring With My Smoking Triggers (August 1, 2008)
Catching My Breath After Years of Running on Smoke (July 25, 2008)
Thank You, Wise Ex-Smokers, et al (July 18, 2008)
Can I Walk and Not Smoke at the Same Time? (July 15, 2008)
Dare Me to Quit (July 9, 2008)

Read Katherine's quitting blog