|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 41 ]
One of the biggest points of conflict in many cultures today is smoking. Here there is very little room for ambiguity; either you smoke, or you don’t; either you condone smoking or you don't -- plain and simple.
No matter what the justification, the reality is that not a single habit has contributed to more human disease and suffering than smoking. The list of the damaging health effects of smoking is enormous. You'll have no trouble finding the facts online so I won’t spend time on them here.
Is The Smoking Habit Compatible With Yoga?
I will, continuously throughout this course and beyond, profess the health benefits of yoga. There is nearly nothing on the physical, mental, emotional or spiritual level that the practice of yoga cannot affect in a positive way.
It would seem then, that you will expect me to say that smokers should practice yoga because it is good for them. Not so fast! I do suggest this, but not without due caution. I encourage everyone, smokers included, to embrace the yogic life.
Likewise, I insist that everyone, smokers included, must eventually leave by the wayside their detrimental lifestyle habits if they ever hope to receive the far-reaching benefits of yoga and to make significant advances in physical health, as well as along the higher spiritual path.
With regards to the physical practices of yoga, however, there are some cautions for the smoker.
Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri strongly warns smokers to avoid some pranayama practices, and from my own medical training, I agree with him on this point. Certain practices such as the vibhagha pranayama (which will be taught in this lesson), as well as many of the techniques which follow here in this course, work to open up the lungs and to increase their capacity.
In the same way that weight-training causes new muscle and bone tissue to form, these lung-expanding breathing exercises cause new cells within the delicate lining of the lungs to be formed.
If cigarette smoke (or any other kind of smoke) were to come into contact with these newly formed lung cells, they could become irreparably damaged. It would could be equivalent to breathing smoke into the lungs of a newborn baby.
So you see, there is the conundrum. It might be suggested that those who smoke are among those in most need of yoga, yet the very nature of their habit makes some of the most beneficial beginner’s practices in yoga potentially dangerous.
I must, therefore, suggest that anyone who wishes to take up yoga, first and foremost discontinue smoking.
On top of that, it is not only enough to discontinue smoking, but one's lungs should be smoke-free for several months before engaging in the lung-expanding pranayamas, such as vibhagha pranayama, which will be introduced next, and kriyas such as the hathenas (to be introduced in a later lesson).
Dr. Swami Gitananda himself refused to teach pranayama or any advanced hatha yoga techniques to those who had been smokers, insisting that it takes two years to clear the nicotine from the body tissues via the bloodstream...
NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.
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