Breathe deeply: herbal support for smoking cessation: Ceara Foley explores a holistic approach to letting go of America's favorite addiction.
Let's look at the so-called benefits of smoking. It is a means to take a relaxing break from responsibilities. "Smoke breaks" are routine options at must jobsites, while sadly, if an employee simply asked for a "breather" they may be met with more resistance. This ties in with the usage of smoking as a way to deal with stress. Without stress-relieving tools, many people find themselves grabbing a cigarette at the first sign of mental and emotional tension. Smoking also relaxes physical tension and focuses the mind, providing a distraction from stressors. All addictions must be addressed on three different levels: the physical, mental, and emotional. Holistic healers worldwide have recognized for thousands of years that these three "bodies" cannot be separated. The health of each of these human planes affects the others and the whole person.
In Chinese medicine, the five element theory paints a portrait of five types of people. Each has a corresponding element, organ, color, season, and emotion, among other attributes. If we look at the lung type or the "metal" type, much is revealed about the smoker's predicament. While every smoker is by no means necessarily a metal constitutional type, we can look at smoking as a metal type imbalance or a state of the lungs. The lungs are the seat of grief in the body, particularly the grief that comes with the inability to let go of something. A person with a balanced metal element is able to freely deal with change. Like the healthy lungs, this person is able to take in new experiences with each inhalation, and on the exhalation, release the past and what no longer serves them. Someone with an imbalanced metal element becomes overly methodical ... stuck in their ways, so to speak. The breath is no longer a relaxed, involuntary birthright, but a rigid pattern. Many of us have experienced emotional wounds that we are unable to heal. Unable to release this grief, the smoker uses cigarettes as a tool to cope. Yet one can see how the tool perpetuates the condition, making the breath increasingly weaker as well as diminishing the capacity to release the pain and breathe in new joy. Interestingly, the "yang" organ at the other end of the lung meridian is the large intestine. Blocked emotions can also manifest as constipation. Many smokers also rely on tobacco for its laxative effect, again relieving a symptom but not addressing the underlying issue.
So in order to successfully quit the smoking habit, a person must seek physical, emotional, and psychological support. First the individual should set a date to quit. Prior to that date, changing smoking patterns and switching to a new, less favored brand can help the person with a metal imbalance break free from binding patterns.
Flower essences such as honeysuckle, gentian, gorse, walnut, and Star of Bethlehem are a wonderful way to work with the emotional and psychological issues associated with smoking. Honeysuckle aids in letting go, gentian and gorse allay depression and despair, walnut helps in times of transition, and Star of Bethlehem is specific for releasing a traumatic experience. Rescue Remedy, also called Five Flower Formula, is a blend of flower essences formulated specifically for times of stress. It aids the being in recentering after any type of upset and is a wonderful ally to have on hand when a craving arises. Flower essences are safe and will not interfere with any other type of treatment. For more information consult The Flower Essence Repertoire or other flower essence resources.
Another key aspect in quitting is positive stress management. Breathwork is probably the most important practice to include in a quitting regimen. When we crave a cigarette, we are truly craving a breath. Pranayama and other types of breath therapy help us master stress, release pain and tension, and calm the mind; all things sought after with cigarettes. (See breathwork articles in this issue of New Life Journal.)
Movement is another form of stress release. It provides all of the so-called benefits of smoking without the negative side-effects. It allows us to create personal time, creates mood enhancement and demands that we pay attention to our breath without having a cigarette to do so. Replacing smoking with movement not only increases circulation and lung health, two things depleted by smoking, but also helps allay the weight gain that can come with quitting. Movement is imperative to move oxygen, vitamins, minerals, and joy through our bodies.
Nutritional support includes eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, which cleanse the body, flushing chemicals like carbon monoxide out, and again diminishing weight gain. Foods high in antioxidants such as the beta-carotene in carrots can help reduce the risk of smoldng related cancers and heart disease. Fruits high in bioflavonoids, such as blueberries, can help strengthen the heart and blood vessels and restore compromised circulation.
Much addiction stems from a nutritional depletion causing a metabolic imbalance. Cravings are the body's way of attempting to substitute the lacking nutrient. Very often, supplementing amino acids to the diet can increase the mount and efficacy of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, thereby decreasing cravings. B vitamins, essential fatty acids (EFAs), and phytoestrogeas in beans and flax can also help rebalance the body's nutritional foundation. Flax and magnesium can help with keeping the colon end of things moving.
Herbs have a wonderful way of affecting all layers of the body: physical mental, and emotional. Therefore, they can be of tremendous use when one embarks on the road to fresh breath. They may be smoked, drunk in teas, used as capsules of tinctures, or even chewed Another part of quitting is to analyze relapse triggers and figure out how to avoid them, so you may want to choose not to smoke your herbs if you feel this practice will perpetuate your habit. While I have found these herbs to be safe in my own usage, some of them should be approached with care. Please do not use them if you are pregnant, nursing, or on medications. As with all herbal support, please consult a certified herbalist or holistic heath practitioner and your doctor before taking any herbs.
Some specific herbs that may be of use are calamus, lobelia, licorice, passioaflower, St. John's wort, mullein, kava, skullcap, gotu-kola, chamomile, lemon balm, and catnip. Most of these herbs have been used traditionally to relax the nervous system, promoting a calm sense of well being and reducing pain. Mullein has been used specifically to help clear out smoker's cough and was commonly smoked by Native Americans with lung congestion. St. John's wort has been proven to boost two brain chemicals, norepinephrine and dopamine. These are also increased by nicotine, therefore St. John's wort can give much of the desired feeling of smoking without the addictive component.
Lobelia boasts a similar claim. It also binds to nicotine receptors in the brain, satisfying the craving for nicotine. Lobelia can have an emetic effect in large doses, causing vomiting, and therefore should be used with caution. If one smokes after ingesting lobelia, they will experience nausea as well, which can be useful for the quitter. Kava, passionflower, oatstraw, chamomile, lemon balm, skullcap, and catnip are all mildly sedating herbs that can replace smoking in times of stress, reduce the agitation of quitting, and also provide nourishment for the nervous system. Of all of these, skullcap is believed to be the best for calming the nerves while withdrawing from an addictive substance.
Calamus is a root that comes from India. Its Sanskrit name, vacha, literally means "speaking." Calamus is another nervine that has a specific affinity for the throat, enabling us to speak our truth, an ability that stored grief can inhibit. Calamus is also a bitter herb, which will provide digestive support while quitting. Like lobelia, it is an emetic in large doses that when combined with nicotine will cause nausea and can be used as a deterrent in this way. This root can be chewed as an oral placebo when cravings arise, as can licorice root and kava root. Licorice root can actually repair damaged cilia in the respiratory and digestive tract. Smoking literally burns out these beneficial "hairs." Speaking of "burn out," licorice has also been used to support the adrenals when extreme fatigue or exhaustion is present. This is common among those that smoke due to a large amount of stress in their lives. Licorice should not be used by those with high blood pressure or a tendency towards water retention.
Replacing smoking with a nice herbal tea is a wonderful treat. Try out my recipe for Breather's Tea (page 17). When we are free of cigarettes we can smell the tea more, taste the tea more, and breathe deeply with the satisfaction of knowing we are giving ourselves a real treat: health!
1 part oatstraw
1 part lemon balm
1/2 part mullein
3/4 part skullcap
1/4 part licorice
Ceara Foley is a Traditional Herbalist, Director of the North Carolina School of Holistic Hethalism, mother, and non-smoker after over a decade of smoking. Contact her about upcoming classes at 828-683-6275 or www.herbsheal.com
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|Title Annotation:||Herbal Healing|
|Publication:||New Life Journal|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2004|
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