I know someone who is giving up smoking and they are getting mild anxiety attacks. They asked what can be done, and whether stopping smoking can cause high Vata and anxiety. Here is my response…
Yes it is possible that stopping tobacco brings on anxiety. Nicotine only temporarily lowers anxiety. The key thing to know about nicotine and anxiety is that nicotine only produces a temporary relief from anxiety, that also compromises overall physical health. Many people turn to cigarettes when they are anxious, and the physiological effects of the nicotine can create a calming sensation. However, this usually only works until the substance work through your system, meaning that on-going anxiety provoking situations will return the person to same level of anxiety as he/she had before the cigarette. So if you are now getting some anxiety, then you ought to find out why and treat that. Ayurveda would definitely suggest that Vata reducing treatments take first place and see how the situation pans out. The advice below should be useful.
The best way to give up tobacco is to find someone else who has done it and ask for their help! Otherwise, the most important ‘tool’ is awareness. Awareness has to be the first and the last word on giving up any addiction or habit. The habit of smoking can be given up only when you sincerely want to change the habit. The habit can be changed, but it takes time. Manas needs to be reprogrammed, and this requires awareness.
The clarity of your awareness depends on Sattva, so anything that increases Sattva has to be used as a support to giving up the habit. Especially important are therapies that target Prana Vayu including Nasya therapy (drops of Bramhi Oil in the nose daily for example) and Pranayama (breathing exercises).
Herbs can be used to support the coming-off of tobacco or other addictive substances. They help to (a) improve Sattva (b) remove toxins from the Srotas (c) rejuvenate damage done to Dhatus (such as lungs for smokers, Liver for drinkers). Herbs help to counteract transitory states of depression or anxiety. The most useful herbs are Maṇḍūkaparṇī (Centella asiatica) and Sweet flag (Acorus calamus). The dosage of both these plants are quite small – seek professional advice from a qualified herbalist if you want to use them. They can be used internally and also added in small amounts to the cigarette and smoked.
The following protocol is suggested as a starting point:
- In cigarette: add a pinch (500 mg maximum = ¼ level tsp) of Centella asiatica.
- Internally: 2 parts Centella Asiatica : 1 part Calamus. 750 mg / 2 x day.
The main Ayurvedic psychological approach with quitting smoking or other addictions is to not stop all of a sudden but to reduce in gradual steps. While this is being done, the act of smoking should be turned into a meditation, that is to say, full non-judgemental awareness should be directed to the total experience of the act of smoking. All five senses should be the subject of awareness, as well as any thoughts or emotions that come up. Increased attention to the act of smoking is the key. Analysis is not the point of this. The idea is to notice everything about the act, all sensations, sounds, smells etc. If this is practiced with total dedication, Consciousness will do the rest all by itself and Buddhi/Manas will function in favour of the change of habit.
One trick is to introduce something different to your routine of smoking – such as the hand you use to smoke with. This forces us to be more aware of the activity (which is otherwise a somewhat robot motion that we go through) essentially tricking you into becoming more aware. This has actually been tested scientifically (I heard about this while listening to a BBC Health Podcast).