This story begins with me growing up as a good kid whose most extreme rebellion was getting drunk on Boone’s Ferry Fruit Wine at my senior prom. When I went away to college I indulged in my new-found freedom forever destroying the taste and smell of Southern Comfort, Jagermeister, and Ice 101. This is also the time the sweet hook of tobacco plunged deep into me. The rest of my 20’s were filled with exploring other recreational drugs like ecstasy, cocaine, weed and mushrooms. Almost all of these vices held my attention for a brief time, then faded away…except tobacco.
I am a smoker. The mere thought of this statement sends messages of self-hate, embarrassment, and shame coursing through my veins.
Over the years I secretly tried to quit many times using the patch, quitting cold turkey, and snapping rubber bands on my wrist trying to curb cravings (thanks to Sissy from ‘Sordid Lives’). None of those worked. That sweet hook was deep in there. In my previous professions as an art student, bar tender, even working in the media, I was never alone when stepping outside for a smoke break. My current profession in the yoga arena, a profession where I preach and teach about the importance of breath, health, and preventative care, brings those internal self-hating voices to the point of shouting. I have had teachers in the past who were brilliant in the yoga room, but their personal life was filled with hypocrisy. I refuse to be a teacher who reinforces the notion of do as I say, not as I do, which is why I am writing this piece today.
I have been studying with my friends, siblings, and teachers Chief Alex Turtle & Chenoa Egawa for years now. They taught me the powerful properties of tobacco, and how we use them in our most sacred Ceremonies. While out on my Vision Quests, for days we go without food and water, but use tobacco to pray for our loved ones, our life, and for a vision. It’s said that when you inhale tobacco, this sacred smoke blends with your Spirit and as you exhale your prayers are carried up to the Sacred Ones attached to this offering of tobacco. For awhile there, I found myself “going out for a prayer” a couple of times a day. I quickly realized that I was satiating my craving, and the real power of my prayers were being tainted by my desire to simply enjoy some tobacco.
The Biggest Impact
Last August, I was teaching at Wanderlust in Whistler, BC with Ana Forrest, Charles Pentland, and Teresa Joe. We had just finished supporting Ana in her “Power of Ceremony” talk in the Speakeasy. As we were wrapping up, I serendipitously had two women come up to ask me a question. They asked what we in Forrest Yoga would recommend as a way for them to stop smoking. Admittedly, I glanced around to make sure the rest of my team was out of earshot, and let them know that I was working with the very same issue. I explained to them the sacredness of tobacco, and let them know regardless if they were smoking hand rolled organic tobacco, or a Virginia Slim…tobacco is tobacco. I asked them to pay extremely close attention to what was going on inside just before they reached for their smoke. Was it a coping mechanism? Was it out of boredom? Was it in response to stress? Regardless of your beliefs, whatever energy you are running internally when you smoke this sacred plant, is embedded in the prayers being sent up to the Sacred Ones. If stress is consuming your body and mind while you are smoking, you are literally praying for more stress.
I didn’t realize it then, but I was mainly talking to myself. Since that conversation, every time I have reached for a smoke, the question of what emotions am I sending out, and what will come back to me in return has helped me, more than any patch could have, to greatly reduce the deepness of my smoking addiction hook.
Now, before you go, “I’m not a smoker, smoking is gross! This doesn’t apply to me.” I urge you to look at all the facets of your beautiful internal brightness as well as the secrets that live in your shadows. Your vice may not be smoking. It may be numbing out while eating, being drawn to abusive relationships, being addicted to exercise, numbing feelings out of your life, fear to truly be yourself, or any number of other vices that push us further away from our Spirit.
I’m putting this out there for you as a question. Can you look at the things you are wanting to put down; then, can you look at them from many (many, many) other angles until you find a path that will actually help you to loosen the grip of the hook. In today’s modern (often BS) yoga world, I can’t tell you how many classes I have been in where someone says, “Let go of what isn’t serving you anymore. Just put it down.” We are all perfectly imperfect humans, and if it was that easy to let go of these bad things, we would all be enlightened! It’s just not the case. Incorporating your internal courage and taking baby steps, truly feeling the little wins along the way, will help you evolve in a stronger, deeper, more true expression of yourself! I wish us all luck & support on this journey.