This section was written by an ex-smoker of 40 a day for 15 years who, through yoga, came to understand the real reasons for smoking and the intricate personal web which causes both the initial as well as the continuing adoption of such a habit.
It is well accepted by most people, that the smoking habit is both a strong physiological as well as psychological addiction. It is now accepted that the physical addiction to nicotine may even be stronger than heroin and other illegal narcotics. The life-threatening effects of smoking are well documented and the myriad non-specific ailments that smokers suffer are also well known. There are many “quit smoking” campaigns and methods which have had varying degrees of success with different people. These methods, which depend mainly on the attitude and willpower of the person performing them, along with a few lifestyle “tricks”, all focus on “giving up smoking”. They focus on the cigarettes, the act of smoking and the substance of nicotine and tar as the baddies. But the cigarettes and nicotine are not the problem, nor is the smoking itself. They are only symptoms of the true problem. In reality, it is the smoker who is the problem, since all of those things are wrapped up within the organism of the person’s body, lifestyle and their unique personality. But as well as neglecting this whole area of the personality of the smoker, what is rarely addressed in this whole issue is - the interconnection between: (i) the biological addiction to a known toxin, (ii) the psychological addiction to a social habit, and (iii) the spiritual malaise which causes a continuity of actions towards a slow and premature death by self administered poison.
To date, such a complex personal equation has never been satisfactorily addressed by either the doctors, the psychiatrists or the religious teachers. The science of yoga has methods which address each and all of these factors in an integrated way. When recommending the use of Jala Neti and other yoga techniques to help with giving up smoking, it is not intended that smoking be given up straightaway. The symptom (ie smoking) is not the focus of the “treatment” or work to be done. It may take some weeks, months or even years as the habit tapers off, to get to the bottom of the real problem and really cure the smoker.
Most smokers would each have differing degrees of difficulty conquering and understanding each of those areas listed above, and therefore any programme of giving up must cater for the individual personality and the deep down motives of the smoker. For example, some people may well be able to exercise an immensely strong willpower and stop the cigarettes on one day, but even this is not enough to stop physical symptoms of withdrawal. The cigarettes may have stopped but other negative habits may be taken up to cope with the abstinence resulting in manifestations of alternate neuroses. The withdrawal feelings and recurring cravings may still last for years. The tension, irritability and frustration may never leave them.
Others take longer to cut down and eventually give up smoking by stopping (and re-starting) many times over many years. This approach can help to lessen withdrawal discomforts but, over that time, they will still have to undergo the same processes of resolution in their body and mind that the immediate stopping method would have caused.
Admittedly, some people never want to get to understand “why” they smoke. All self understanding causes self confrontation and this might explain the refusal of many to even try giving up. But with yogic methods, it does not have to result in any discomfort – physical or mental. According to yoga principles, smoking, like any addiction, habit or personality flaw, is not to be fought against. Rather, it is to be understood as both a physical and mental cause and result of ones own personality. This is why it is so hard to break such cycles. A case of which comes first - the neurosis or the habit???
Given that there are always unconscious motivations for doing such a self destructive thing, ones self awareness must be increased along the way to the point of not wanting to be self destructive anymore. This is a much wider issue than just the smoking aspect. Removing the cigarettes, or stopping the act of smoking can still leave remnant self destructiveness which will, sooner or later, just remanifest in other forms or most usually as smoking again. Ones perception and understanding about living, breathing, thinking, feeling and acting must change. Changing from cigarettes to nicotine chewing gum will not help in this area, neither will sticking little nicotine patches on your arm help in increasing ones awareness of thoughts, feelings and actions associated with the causes of self destruction. Such methods can only ever be an incomplete solution to a far more complex problem. In giving up any complex addiction, each of these 3 interconnected areas need to be addressed.
The Physical Addiction
A smoker’s body needs its daily hits. The whole biology has been modified over time to revolve around the regular intake of the cigarette’s chemicals. Therefore as the habit is reduced, the body has to be re-educated to what is normal and what is healthy. This cannot happen over night. So that the body can begin to experience its natural state again, one needs to detoxify the blood stream of nicotine gradually, so as to avoid the strong side effects of going “cold turkey”. Of course, cutting down the input of the addictive substances and gradual modification of lifestyle factors will accelerate this process. Therefore the teacher or therapist must regularly assess the balance between the body’s addictive needs and the desired cleansing regime. Too much too fast will possibly cause regression. Everyone knows that there is residual nicotine build up in the bloodstream, the muscle structure and the brain which keeps maintaining the addiction. But who would think that reprogramming the nostrils and using saline cleansing techniques would be an effective way to start breaking such physical addictions? Jala Neti is only one of the many yoga cleansing techniques which are of assistance in respiratory remediation and circulatory detoxification. On a retreat or in a consultative therapeutic situation, the student would also be taught all the other techniques for body detoxification. These involve specific yoga postures, exercises, breathing regimes and cleansing kriyas.
This whole area of blood cleansing is also tied in with diet, the digestive system and the bowels. One cannot hope to clean out years of airborne toxins (much of which is swallowed and absorbed into the digestive tract via the nasal mucus) without addressing the matter of food and diet. Nicotine is well known as an appetite suppressant and therefore as this crutch is removed, all sorts of digestive difficulties and food trips are sure to manifest. After many years, a smoker would have little or no sense of smell, little or no true palate appreciation. Giving up smoking is the ideal opportunity to re-educate the palate and set up a better eating regime. All these things are part and parcel of yoga’s broad approach to physical therapy and healing.
In assisting the breaking of the smoking habit, Jala Neti is the first and foremost technique to be employed. If you just think of Jala Neti as a pretty neat way to flush out a bit of old mucus from the nose, then you have missed many of the deeper elements which are at work in the realm of yoga’s psychic methodologies. There exist subtle connections between the olfactory nerves, the brain’s electrical impulses, the hormonal system and the patterns of mind which cause ingrained habits and actions. Without even knowing it, whilst clearing out mucus, you are “massaging” the nature of the mind and creating better function of each of these, as well as better harmony between them. As well as re-sensitising the mechanism of smell and sinus function, Jala Neti helps to purify the nasal capillaries which carry the gases in the blood which the brain analyses with each breath. Whereas odours can be detected some distance away from the body by a healthy sense of smell, and their meaning transmitted to the brain, a much stronger message is carried to the brain by the gases actually inspired through the nose.
But - look what a smoker is doing! They are not inspiring through the nose. They are drawing that toxic smoke in through the mouth. As a result, the brain does not actually know that the body is ingesting that smoke, nicotine and all the other chemicals of treated tobacco. The whole filtering, sensing and protection mechanism is being by-passed by mouth breathing the smoke. What chance does the brain or mind have of preventing or breaking such an addiction under those circumstances? The only time when the olfactory senses get any indication of smoking, is if the smoker exhales through the nose, in which case, the spent smoke is much less potent since the lungs have absorbed the desired chemicals. This exhalation through the nose actually traps even more of the smoke particles in the mucous lining on the way out, which then run backwards and are swallowed. The result is a mixture of cigarette by-products in the stomach. If you wanted to let the brain know that you were in fact smoking, put the cigarette filter up your nose and draw it in! Then you’ll see what the body’s natural reaction would be! You would either have a massive head spin, vomit or faint. Such is the true response of the nasal mechanisms and the brain to cigarette smoke entering the body. So for a smoker, wherever there is cigarette smoke in the air, the brain adjusts the psyche and the physiology to what it is normally accustomed to, and the addiction is maintained. But if the nasal passages have been reprogrammed by Jala Neti on a regular basis to smell properly so that they can identify good clean air, the brain thinks - “Hey, what’s this rubbish coming in, I don’t like that” and sends a message of revulsion to the mind. Due to this, the smoker will be less interested in the cigarette at an unconscious biological level and can sometimes even feel nauseous in the presence of cigarette smoke. That makes it much easier to give up if you are automatically turned off the smell and taste of unnatural substances by the body’s own protection requirements. These mechanisms of nature’s design are there to ensure that all gases should enter the body through the nose, and that only liquids and solids should enter via the mouth. That is the greatest trick of smoking and the single strongest reason why it is so hard to give up. The brain has no defence against it. If you give the brain back its defence mechanisms by cleansing the nostrils and lessening mouth breathing the body will naturally start to reject consuming the poison.
The Psychological Addiction
As well as the obvious physical factors which sustain smoking, there are the psychological areas which also need to be addressed. To satisfactorily resolve the emotional aspects of addiction, one must strengthen the personality of the smoker who does so for reasons such as peer pressure, image, rebellion, etc, and which is due to association with certain places, people, events, etc. To take away or transfer such habits is no solution to the inner weakness of a smoker. It can actually make them feel less powerful, less capable, less in control of their own life. Therefore, some other form of self image needs to be established, a new form which is built on ones true worth, not one reflected by others.
All yoga practices in general, and specifically Jala Neti, help in making one more of an individual, and therefore responsible for ones own actions, even under great emotional or mental pressure. Relaxation and meditative techniques help a person to confront their insecurities and neuroses safely and gradually. Meta-physical tools such as resolutions, visualisations, thought analysis, witnessing, concentration, all help a person to come to terms with both their problems and the solutions arising from them.
Neti of all kinds affects the function of the pituitary and pineal glands. To the yogis, a clear state of mental perception is dependent on the workings of these two small, but important glands. By practising Jala Neti on a daily basis, one is removing the dross of the mind as surely as one is removing dirt from the airways. The mental effects of Jala Neti are frequently commented upon by practitioners, although they often find it hard to articulate exactly what the psychological changes are. They say things like “I just feel better in my mind”, “I can understand better where I was before”. Such comments allude to awakening of intuition. Such realisations help greatly in breaking the ignorance of unconscious habits. Another effect of Neti is to help ones strength of mind. Improving faculties such as discrimination, decision making, resoluteness and intuition are useful in breaking the physical, social and innate personal habits of any addiction. Detachment, such as being able to be in a room with all of your smoking friends without either having to resort to a cigarette or run out of the room screaming, is developed. In a spiritual sense, Neti helps to create a vision of positivity, both of oneself and of others.
The Spiritual Issue
And last, but most importantly, one must resolve the deep spiritual malaise inherent in a smoker, which causes them to even consider consuming such a cocktail of unnecessary and poisonous substances. Why is their life not satisfying enough to just get on with it without trying out a dumb thing like smoking in the first place? What, deep down, is so wrong with their life and their view of life that they would want to make it even worse in the long run by smoking? Is the oral fixation of sucking on a small paper cylinder the only way they know to create a feeling of peace and relaxation? Insecurity, fear, boredom, anger, anxiety, low self esteem, self destruction, etc, are all transference reasons for smoking. Yoga, meditation and neti cleansing all work on resolving such unconscious conflicts within the psyche by expanding self awareness and increasing relaxation at the physical, mental, emotional and psychic levels of the personality. Giving up smoking then can be seen as a trigger to discover more about ones make up and discover a better spiritual self perception. This being the case, the real question is – “What is their addiction to spiritual malaise?”
There are so many other areas of life which smoking interferes with, such as digestion, vitality, sleep, thinking, nervous temperament, hormonal function, motivation. Many of these things can be improved through all the yoga practices as it works holistically on all areas. To get back to a healthier and more balanced situation in which addiction to any substance has no place, all these areas need to be addressed. In no small way the practice of Jala Neti can touch all of these areas, both physically and mentally and can be a way of making the first steps back to health and a normality which finds smoking a very strange thing to contemplate – let alone do.
Info supplied by Yoga-age.com