At a dinner with friends this weekend, the topic of youthful vices came up, smoking, specifically. One of my friends offered an explanation of why smoking, despite the nicotine that gets one's heart racing, was a soothing practice for smokers. "It's because of the breathing," she explained. Smoking cigarettes makes the smoker focus on inhaling and exhaling and also slows down the breath.
As a former smoker, this made a lot of sense to me. It also reminded me of one of my original worries when I quit smoking. I smoked in college and in my first year of my Ph.D. When writing papers for my classes or my seminars, going out to smoke was my break and my reward for getting work done. When I quit, I worried that I wouldn't get to have breaks any more.
Because smoking invites a focus on the breath, it does offer a meditative aspect. A lesson might be drawn from the less healthy practice of smoking for those of us who have trouble concentrating on breath.
Let's say we take a 3 minute breathing break in the middle of the day. We could lay down on the floor, place a hand on our low belly, and draw attention to inhaling so that the hand rises, and exhaling so that the hand falls, trying to do so as slowly as possible.
Of course, this is where yogic breathing has the advantage over smoking--after such a practice, we are physically as well as mentally renewed and restored.
Sometimes lessons can come from strange places. I would never recommend that yogis or academics take up smoking, but we can learn from them nonetheless. Often, during a busy day, i think, "but there's just no time to take a little break!" But when I was a smoker, I did in fact find this time. If it's possible to find break time for something so harmful, isn't it possible to carve out 3-5 minutes for something much healthier?
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