I was a smoker for more than half my life. That is until 298 days ago when I quit smoking and became a non-smoker.
My decision to start learning about Ayurveda gave me the push to quit. I knew that smoking wasn’t in line with this life change. I would feel this dichotomy regularly, yet I was struggling so much. I had changed how I ate. I was disciplined in my routine. I was getting healthy, but I was still smoking. I couldn’t let it go. And I felt a lot of shame about it.
When I decided to take the next step in my Ayurvedic journey by completing a certification training course in Ayurvedic Body Therapies at the Sivananda Ashram, I made it my mission to quit by the time the course started. That gave me three months to quit, for good this time. I ramped up my quitting efforts to make my deadline. I began keeping a journal of the when, where, what and whys of each cigarette. I went to regular acupuncture sessions. I rationed out cigarettes. But nothing seemed to be working. I’d see a slight reduction in number of cigarettes per day, but I wasn’t feeling any closer to quitting. In fact, I was beginning to feel hopeless, like I’d never be able to quit. I boarded the plane to the ashram as a smoker and unfortunately I returned home and continued smoking. I didn’t achieve my goal.
A couple months later, I began my Ayurvedic Health Counselor training at the Ayurveda Integrative Wellness Institute. I learned about the importance of Panchakarma and the healing practices that make up this detoxifying cleanse. I realized that in order for me to be the best healer possible, I would need to experience each aspect of Ayurvedic healing. I knew it was time for me to experience firsthand, the Panchakarma cleanse which is considered the ultimate shodhana chikitsa or purification therapy in Ayurveda. The Charaka Samhita states that the qualities of an Ayurvedic physician are theoretical knowledge, extensive practical experience, dexterity and cleanliness. I knew as an Ayurvedic healer that I not only have to “practice what I preach” but that I also must be a pure vessel for the healing of Dhanvantari and cosmic consciousness to work through me.
How was that going to be possible, when I was harboring a secretive, unhealthy habit? I knew I needed to “kick the butts” in order to be ready to meet with clients. I knew I couldn’t counsel people on their health and myself do one of the most unhealthy things. When I registered for Panchakarma, I didn’t make any sweeping declarations or ultimatums. I decided to go with an open heart and an even more open mind. I left all expectations at the door and allowed the experience to unfold.
As I packed for my trip, I debated whether to bring the book “Absolute Beauty” by Pratima Raichur. I only had the last chapter left to read, so I knew I’d need to bring a second book along with me. It seemed silly to bring two large books instead of one, but in the end, something compelled me to bring both. While I was on my Panchakarma cleanse, I read that final chapter of Pratima’s book. It contains this quote by Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.” Something clicked as I read it. Our minds hold all the power. It said what I needed to hear. It gave me the power to know I could quit smoking.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.” – Henry Ford
People used to tell me being a smoker was part of my identity. And I believed them. It wasn’t until I learned how important the stories we tell about ourselves are that I understood that I could change that narrative at any time. So I am a non-smoker. I am. I was a non-smoker on the first day I quit and I will be one forever. Even if one day I falter and I have a cigarette, I am still a non-smoker. I’ve changed the narrative.
Ayurveda teaches us that we have the power to heal ourselves, we just have to be willing to make the change. I wasn’t allowed to smoke on the Panchakarma retreat and there were moments where that was excruciatingly difficult. However, at the end of those 7 days, when it was time to leave, I didn’t feel much like a cigarette anymore. I guess my story was already starting to be rewritten. I had effectively changed my identity to non-smoker.
After I returned home from Panchakarma, my cravings for cigarettes were few and far between. And the cravings that didn’t go away, were usually assuaged with a few deep breaths and a minute or two of time. I’ve surprised myself with how easy it has felt at times. I know that I released what needed to be let go at Panchakarma. I know that the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda healed me and continues to heal me. I’ve experienced, firsthand, the transformative power of Panchakarma and Ayurveda. I’m a non-smoker. I believe it so it’s what I am. And my actions, behaviours and thoughts naturally fell in line with that. How empowering is that?! You can change, just by flipping the script. Tell a new story about yourself. Change your narrative. And see how much it changes you.
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