11/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Take a Cigarette Breath

I've always said that smoking is the American meditation. (Maybe the European one, too?) Taking a moment for yourself, focusing completely on your breath, noticing all the little sensations in your lungs, skin, and brain -- isn't that what meditation is all about? Yes, you could choose nicer companions than tar and ammonia. But let's not neglect the little health routine that you've learned from smoking.

The pattern is a long, slow inhale through pursed lips, and a long, deep exhale with a relaxed open mouth. That's a breath you'd learn in yoga.

  • Pursed lip breathing is done to reduce anxiety. It restricts the flow of air and thus slows your breathing, heartbeat, and mind. It's a "cooling" breath. It also requires the use of your diaphragm (the often-underused breathing muscle across the base of your ribs).
  • Extended exhalations are considered cleansing. They clear your lungs of stale air more completely. If you're really exhaling, the belly draws up and in and gives your digestive organs a little massage, too. (If you've got a lungful of smoke, you're probably going to exhale completely).
  • Breathing through the mouth is often a fuller, deeper breath, which relaxes the torso and the face. Breathing through the nose just gives you a filter... but that's why you've got your cigarette! (Ok, you can inhale through the nose if you really want to be strict about it).

Put it all together and you've got the Cigarette Breath. It's a perfect relaxation trick for anyone (except children under the age of eighteen), and especially for smokers stuck in a meeting/airport/closed-off place. Just pretend you're smoking a cigarette. It helps.