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Young woman smoking in morning

I have been practicing yoga since 1999; teaching full-time since 2004. My practice is at least 2 hours per day of jappa, 1 hour of meditation, a regular asana practice, weekly pujas, as well as various other sadhanas on a daily or weekly basis.

And I smoke.

I smoked my first cigarette at the tender age of 12. This was preceded by years of dreams in which I smoked. I had my first smoking dream when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I can’t imagine this is common.

The response many have to this fact is usually one of disgust. “How could you?” “You can’t be a yogi and a smoker!” “I thought yoga was a discipline.” “That’s disgusting.” “You know it causes cancer, right?”

My answers (in order): Easily; Yes I can, It is; So are you; No shit.

Some yogis wear their spirituality like a Birkan bag. It’s the perfect accessory for every yogi on the go! For some, spirituality isn’t just the new black – it’s also a competition, creating warring tribes fighting to see who is most yogier-than-thou.

When these folks are faced with any thing that they find offensive they attack with a show of their superiority. Any opposition is met with an accusation of being “judgmental.”

The irony, of course, is how judgmental it is to call someone judgmental.

What is it about yoga, a practice that many associate with compassion, that turns people into judgmental, know-it-all, yogier-than-thou assholes? Oh, right. They were always assholes, and now they have a whole new philosophy to attack people with. The practice hasn’t changed them, they changed the practice.

I’ve faced a lot of criticism for smoking (and for a lot of other things). But I believe that it’s better to be honest about my bad habit, rather than present myself in a dishonest manner. I don’t hide this fact from my friends, colleagues, or students. And I know I’m not the only teacher out there that smokes.

I love smoking. It soothes me. It brings all of my awareness to my heart, allows my mind to slow down. I love the ritual, peeling the lid back on a pack, sliding a cigarette out and bringing it to my lips. I love the flash of light as it is lit. I love that first drag.

I hate smoking. The smell of stale smoke in my hair and clothes. I hate the weight in my chest and the sensation of my lungs stuffed with cotton. I hate the sore throats. I hate needing tobacco to calm my nerves on bad days.

I hate feeling as though I host a demon within me, resembling the love-child of Jimmy Durante and a fetal chicken, that so often whispers to me: “Psst! Have a cigarette!” I hate feeling powerless in the face of addiction.

Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” – Mark Twain

I’ve smoked for years at time, at one point up to 4 packs a day. I’ve quit for many more years. But it is always with me. The desire is a constant companion, the act more loyal than any friend, always there to offer comfort. I am now down to 2 cigarettes a week, soon I hope to quit… Again, and for good.

I can also find comfort in my practice. I retreat to my practice, into mantra and meditation. But there is an immediacy to smoking that nothing else has ever paralleled. I’ve looked for a release from this burden in my practice. And since that has failed, I’ve begun looking into the philosophy.

rahuAccording to Shivadayi, a NYC based Vedic Astrologer, the shadow planets Rahu and Ketu are responsible for smoking. And of all the planets, Rahu and Ketu are representatives of our past life karmic credits and debits. They are also always seen as moving backwards in the sky, which is seen as malefic.

These planets are associated with revolution, counter culture, extremes from criminality to addiction to asceticism. And Rahu is associated with smoke in all its forms, obfuscation, confusion, air and fire, and smoking.

In yogic philosophy, astrology is believed to be a map of our karmas, and a poorly placed Rahu can indicate a karma that will destine someone to be a smoker, revolutionary or yogi.

Sometimes a student might spot my cigarettes or catch me smoking. They smile, and happily exclaim “You smoke?!? That’s so cool!” It isn’t. It’s a burden. But my ability to show myself as I am, to expose my weaknesses and human frailty, to refuse to hide my faults, that’s cool.