The practice of Mindfulness Meditation to quit smoking and stay smoke-free

Anger, anxiety, sadness, stress, tension... all those sensations that invade you during your withdrawal give you only one desire: to relapse. Don't panic! This condition is temporary and there are ways to deal with it in complete serenity. The Mindfulness Meditation is one of them.

Mindfullness panorama

One of the promising practices of well-being is the Mindfulness Meditation. There are many prejudices opinions about this practice, some of which are even contradictory or confusing between the practice as such and the benefits it can offer. So how can we define "Mindfulness"? How can we understand what it represents and what it is not? And of course how the practice of Mindfulness Meditation can help you in your journey towards a smoke-free life?

Mindfulness: What it is?

Within the "Meditation" concept, several types of practices coexist. We will focus on the Mindfulness Meditation, defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as a particular way of paying attention. Indeed, meditation consists in paying attention to the present moment intentionally and without judging this experience. Meditation is not an easy practice as many might think. Training is often more than necessary, because regulating our attention to a particular situation without automatically reacting requires a great deal of energy and effort.

What exactly does it mean to pay attention intentionally, in the present moment and without judgment?

To keep it short and sweet, practicing the Mindfulness Meditation requires a kind of synchrony of you to synchronize several abilities, intrinsic natural qualities, which are part of human nature. Qualities that we can all experience and cultivate. More specifically, there are three skills to focus on: paying attention intentionally, paying attention to the present moment, and paying attention without judgment.

Pay attention intentionally

We can be attentive to several things that happen at a given time. Whether it happens "outside of us" (to see a car pass by) or "inside us" (a thought).

In addition to the ability to be attentive, we have the ability to choose: what, when and how to pay attention. Hence the use of the word "intentional", as it implies having: "the intention of", or "the will of". In Mindfulness, attention is voluntarily focused on a given moment with an attitude of openness and caring towards oneself, others and/or the world around us.

Although this ability is natural in all human beings, we can all practice focusing our attention voluntarily with kindness and openness to a specific situation. The effect of this training makes it possible to appreciate the moments considered pleasant as well as to welcome with a favorable disposition those considered unpleasant or even painful.

"The only way to influence the future is to take ownership of the present, whatever it may be."

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Pay attention non-judgmentally

As we practice meditation, we can categorize our experiences and again, a third aptitude is needed: to pay attention without judgment. We have learned throughout our lives to put names, to categorize, and even to judge our experience. This learning helps us to better understand the world we live in, to save energy, to communicate with others in a specific way and to adapt our behavior to the world around us.

How is it possible to describe an experience without judging it? First, by being aware of the reflexes we have when it comes to describing an experience. These are just a few examples: "good", "bad", "ugly", "beautiful", "bad", "nice", "the best", "better than/less well than... ». The use of each of these words requires judgment and comparison with previous experience.

So how could we do otherwise? Imagine that we intend to pay attention to what is happening at this very moment in front of us. We could say, "Today, the weather is good or bad". Or more precisely, we could say: "I observe clouds, light, the rays of the sun. I observe and hear the wind blowing on the trees. I observe a range of colors in the leaves of trees. I can feel the power of the wind on my face and its temperature. I can smell a variety of odors, coming and going. By using this type of vocabulary, we will not be able to know whether you like what you are experiencing or not (by the way, this is not the question or the objective of this practice). Of course, the second description is longer, but it clearly describes our experience of that particular moment. In addition, this description is shared without any judgment.

Meditation means: paying attention intentionally to the present moment and without judging this experience.

Mindfulness: What it is not

Now that we have clarified what Minfullness is about, we can explain what it is not.

A relaxation or breathing exercise.

If we return to our example, the same statement may be pleasant for some people and unpleasant for others. This type of observation can be a source of calm, happiness or anxiety. Be aware that the practice of meditation does not always provide the same feeling of calm and relaxation to everyone. Moreover, calm and relaxation is not its objective. The Mindfulness Meditation is not a relaxation or breathing exercise. Thus, its objective is not to seek a state of calm and relief either. Although in many cases, living in the present moment means leaving aside our sources of concern and/or regret; and, consequently it means reducing the sources of stress and discomfort.

Knowing or mastering everything

Often, we also have the preconceived idea that being "mindful" means being fully aware of ALL our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. This implies anticipating each element in one's life, knowing and mastering everything. Fortunately for us, this idea is wrong!

It is essential to distinguish "To be mindful" which means "to be aware of", and "to have a mind full" which means "to have a mind full of everything we want to become or achieve".

Synonymous of resignation

Another preconceived notion of mindfulness meditation involves one of the attitudes to be developed when practicing meditation: the acceptance of what is really happening. Often, we are outraged when we talk about acceptance. "Why accept violence or injustice? ", " Does accepting my cravings implies that I will always be a smoker? ».

In fact, acceptance is not synonymous of resignation. Accepting your reality does not question the mobilization of your resources to change one of your unhealthy habits, to drop a cause that is close to your heart, or to tolerate injustice. Acceptance implies observing reality as it is in the present moment. So, to observe the unchangeable part today and the part that YOU can change at that moment.

For example, when a very strong craving happens, what do we have to accept? First, I have to accept that the craving is there with us. Normally, this craving wants to meet other needs that are more difficult to hear. For example, a craving for cigarettes is a response to social needs (being awake at an evening event), or physical needs (sleep, hunger or thirst) as well as emotional needs (a peak of anxiety). Second, you must embrace the fact of being human. That is, a being with needs to be satisfied, but without the magical powers to instantly fulfill them. And finally, it requires an acceptance of our current resources to respond to this desire. For example, by acknowledging that it is possible to respond in any other way than by smoking (drinking water, going out for a walk, taking a break from work).

Does accepting these realities (the craving, the inability to make it disappear instantly and the possibility of responding to it by smoking) suggest that we must smoke? Does that mean we are current smokers? No, no and no! Because accepting these realities does not mean "resigning" or "submitting" to this craving.

Meditation is not a relaxation exercise, nor does it mean knowing or mastering everything, and it is certainly not synonymous of resignation.

How to practice meditation to stop smoking and stay smoke-free?

First of all, let us recall how the mechanism of addictions works. We have learned through social learning that starting smoking is not a problem. Smoking has been normalized by famous people or by those around us, people important to us. Then by conventional conditioning, we learned to associate specific situations with smoking. You just need to see a certain object, think about a particular situation or feel a particular feeling to make the craving appear. For example, seeing a bottle of alcohol, a cup of coffee or an anxious thought will trigger the desire to have a cigarette. As time goes by, some automations are installed by operating conditioning. We repeat certain behaviors because our brains have a reward-based learning system. If we perform an action and it gives us a sense of well-being (increased pleasure or decreased suffering), we will be tempted to perform that action all over again.

The practice of meditation can impact several barriers that are necessary to overcome in order to free oneself from tobacco. To do so, we must use the same three levers that are described above. The first one is to pay attention to our cravings for smoking. The second is to adopt a kind attitude towards ourselves. The third is to accept what is happening in us so that we can later understand and change it.

The Mindfulness Meditation allows us to step back from our automatic behaviors and thoughts and our desires to act on any emotion or sensations. It also allows a detachment between stimulus and response. So as we train, we dissociate the links between what makes us want to smoke and the act of smoking.

Useful exercises of Mindfulness Meditation

You can meditate! That is, to observe with curiosity, kindness and acceptance what is happening right now. With the same metaphor of Kabat-Zinn, we will propose you to experience meditation. In his book, he highlighted the absurdity of proposing to someone else to eat for us. Indeed, when we go to the restaurant, we do not eat the menu believing that it is the meal. In the same way, we do not feed ourselves by listening to the server describe the menu. You have to eat the meal so that it feeds you. In this way, we have thought about proposing three exercises that can be practiced according to your availability.

Meditation exercise during a craving to smoke:

You can pay attention to this craving, its strength or intensity, what it pushes you to do. Remember: you have always the ability to choose the most suitable way to respond. Being attentive will allow you to respond in the best way possible rather than simply reacting.

Meditation exercise while smoking:

You can be aware of the act of smoking as such and what it does to you. Yes, we are telling you to smoke in a conscious way, so in a most kind way with yourself. Paying attention to the smoking experience is quite different from smoking in a distracting way.

Meditation exercise to accept our thoughts:

You can be aware of what is happening around you. Perhaps, there is a thought that comes and goes in a recurrent way, an emotion, a comment that has produced in you a very strong emotion and that makes you vulnerable to your desires to smoke.

Sources:

As a continuation of the application of CBT-based methods, the Kwit withdrawal solution is also inspired by the "R.A.I.N." approach, resulting from the Mindfulness Meditation. It encourages people to recognize, accept, analyze and take a step back from cigarette addiction in this instance.