It truly is a day to celebrate independence and freedom. As I celebrate 6 years since I quit smoking this Independence Day, I’m reminded of the new habit I adopted to replace the old habit of smoking. I was a smoker for 15 years, and had attempted to quit many times; I tried everything. But it wasn’t until I explored my thinking about why I smoked that I could make the choice to quit for good and stick with it. No pill, gimmick, fad or new quit-smoking program could help me understand this addiction. Quitting smoking simply made sense once I faced the demons in my mind.
I remember my last cigarette vividly—the morning of the fourth of July; a breezy, sunny, gorgeous New England summer day.
I had my coffee in hand, sat down and initiated my smoking ritual. I took my first drag and exhaled out slowly, marveling at the vibrant green trees, birds chirping around and the clear blue sky. I watched the smoke dance around me and felt as though it was shackling its chains on me once again.
I had planned on quitting the next day but decided in that moment I was done being prisoner to my addiction. It didn’t taste or feel good anymore. As I began my journey back to health, I realized that it didn’t serve me to smoke. I found myself feeling more deserving of health every second.
I didn’t even take one more inhale. I dashed it out and sighed relief. Cold turkey. Let’s do this.
In that moment, I closed my eyes and really thought about what I enjoyed about smoking. Being someone who smoked outside, I discovered it wasn’t really the cigarette—that was the addiction—but instead it was the peace and ease I felt in those few minutes of quiet and stillness that I had to myself.
I also discovered at this point that I enjoyed deep breathing. Even though it was with a cigarette, I was still taking deep, calming breaths! I realized then that the deep breaths—not the cigarettes—had helped calm my anxiety over the years.
I was interested in finding this relief without inhaling carcinogens.
In my new life as a non-smoker, I knew I would need to replace this habit with something else or I was doomed to fail. I knew I needed to be very compassionate during my detox and this time of healing. Every time a craving for a cigarette would arise, I knew I needed to remind myself why I quit and that I deserved to be healthy. It would certainly be easier to just have a cigarette. I decided, though, that my healing was more important than that craving. I knew it was possible to overcome, with some hard work. Deep down, I knew I was strong enough and I knew I deserved it.
I knew I would miss my smoking breaks, so I began to take breathing breaks instead. You don’t have to be a smoker or former smoker to practice breathing breaks. I still practice this when life seems overwhelming or stressful, or just when I need a moment to myself, as a way to connect to inner peace.
Being a mother to a ten month old with eight teeth and a small business owner, believe me, I need breathing breaks.
Here’s how you do it.
- Come into a comfortable seated or standing posture outside in a quiet or secluded area, close to nature if you can.
- Set an alarm for 3-5 minutes or however long you prefer (choose a soothing tone for when the alarm goes off). Turn the ringer off on your phone.
- Choose one point to focus on – a flower, tree leaf, grass or a spot a few feet in front of you.
- Choose something that will not move.
- You may also choose to close the eyes.
- Take in a slow and deep breath. Connect to that particular space and time and feel your place on the earth.
- Feel the feet and legs grounding down.
- Feel the torso, spine and head reaching toward sky.
- Continue taking deep breaths and use your senses to fully absorb your experience:
- Feel the temperature of the air or a breeze on the skin.
- Feel your clothes.
- Feel your physical body as it sits or stands.
- Notice distractions and life happening around you.
- When thoughts come in, notice and come right back to feeling this experience.
- Breathe and enjoy presence and peace.
- I invite you to use this time to be, rather than using it to think about a situation or your to-do list. Let those things go and feel your being as you breathe and find freedom.
This simple practice, in just a few minutes per day, literally transformed my life and helped me to kick the smoking addiction for good.
It takes 21 days to form a new habit. So, try these breathing breaks for 21 days and notice if your anxiety or stress are lower, if you’re able to quit smoking, or…if you just feel better and realize that you’re present, watching this beautiful life unfold around you. After all, you’re a human being, not a human doing.