Dear Mr. President,
I know you're trying to fix our massive problems, all while moving us forward on multiple fronts. I voted for you, and rejoiced when you won.
Yet, I also want you to quit.
I'm sure your stress levels are unbelievable. Yet, if you want to help create change we can believe in, then you must stop bumming cigarettes. I know you've done it, and might do it again, because you told Men"s Health about it.
And you haven't come out with a definitive statement since then about totally putting down the pack. So, in service of my president, and my country, I am going to offer you a quick and easy way (yes, there is one) to replace those stress-related smokes with a more powerful habit to suit the powerful man you are.
Because now, Houston, we have a problem.
Cigarettes are one of the greatest causes of preventable death in our country, with obesity nipping at its heels. We don't need any more high-profile leaders leading our youth by example into the addictive mire of smoking.
And though bumming on the campaign trail isn't the same as heavy usage, no amount of carcinogens is OK. By it's very nature, doing something is saying that it's OK for others to do. I can't drink vodka and then tell you to lay off the hard stuff.
And no, our president doesn't have to be a role model for everything and I know he's not perfect. But he is undeniably cool. And by his natural emanation of coolness, he makes bumming cigarettes seem much, much cooler than it is.
Sharing a chocolate chip cookie with a friend is said to release all the calories, which is a harmless joke. But it's not as if, when smoking someone else's cigarette, all the death falls out.
Do cigarettes kill everybody who smokes? No.
Neither does staph infection, but I'm not going to go out and bum some from someone and see. I've decided that if the odds are good that the choice in question is deadly, but avoidable--I'm going to avoid it.
I can't tell what's in everything I eat, drink or breathe, but I sure as hell don't have to pick up a pack at the store on purpose.
Yet, I have to admit something to you, Mr. President, since you admitted it to us:
Even though every little harmless-seeming cigarette is a flirt with the can't-turn-back-now Big C, I, too, love smoking. A well-timed cigarette can be just what the doctor ordered if you know what I mean.
However, even though I have a crush on cigarettes, I also hate dying. So, I find myself at odds.
I may be a relatively detoxified yogi now, but I used to smoke a pack a day. When I smell that first puff, what we used to call the "butternut" and which was always my favorite part, my whole body squeezes and I want...just...one...drag.
And yes, I still bum one once in a while. My last one was a few days back, and that's when I decided to lead by example, and offer you the same tools I'm offering myself.
So before all you smokers brush off the "healthy" chick, let's be clear that I'm talking to the sometime smoker in my own mirror, too.
And I don't think I accept my friends' offers to join them outside because movies and the media make it so inviting. I, like the president, am not easily swayed by advertising executives marketing to my target group. I also have a sneaking suspicion that if Barack Obama wants to smoke, it's not because he wants to be just like Joe Camel.
So, Mr. President, and readers, I invite you to do what I promise to do this month--own our proclivity for bumming smokes (and smoking) and stop this nonsense together. In so doing, I will teach you, readers, how to get all the benefits of a cigarette--without ever smoking another one again.
Because really, we're after the ritual, the alone time, the sense of calm and space and camaraderie and relationship we get with this often-deadly lover. None of us want to be codependent, but, dysfunctional or not, we are. They might be hurting us, but cigarettes are always there for us when we need them, and we keep going back for more.
Though cigarettes are quite the stimulant, smokers most often cite the sense of calm, and centering as their primary reason to reach for one.
Mr. President, if anyone in this country needs a freakin' ciggy, it's you. I get it. But let's get all of us that moment of Zen--and the buzz, too--without all the carcinogenic accoutrements.
Because, as we all know, stress happens. So what are you going to do about it?
We have to deal with life's pressures somehow, so why not choose the coping mechanism that makes your life better instead of worse, and actually solves the physical imbalance of stress rather than masking it with a literal smokescreen?
THE BUTT-KICKING BREATH:
Use this technique any time you would normally choose to smoke, or any time stress or anxiety gets the better of you.
This breath has been shown to slow your brain waves down, switching your central nervous system from the fight-or flight of anxiety to the still waters of the parasympathetic, and release endorphins that give you that same glad-to be alive buzz without, oh, say, the carbon monoxide.
It lowers your blood pressure, oxygen consumption and heart rate, detoxifies you. It also increases your lung capacity, which tends to diminish in smokers. Importantly, this breath gets you back into mastery of your moment, so you can decide what to do next.
Best of all, every time you use it, you will feel better and your health will be better, instead of feeling better mentally and emotionally, but actually being worse physically. And a win-win is more optimal than a win-lose any day.
1) Go to a different, smoke-free spot to enjoy your moment, since inhaling other people's secondhand smoke doesn't really count.
2) Sit comfortably.
3) Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts. Let your chest and belly expand as you do this. Hold.
4) Breathe out through your mouth for about 8 counts with pursed lips, as if releasing smoke. Press the air our slowly with your belly and ribs. Hold.
Do the Butt-Kicking Breath for as long as you want or until the cravings and stress have dissipated. And watch...they will.
"That's it?" You might say.
Yeah, that's it.
And by "it", I mean "the power to calm yourself down anytime, anywhere, without killing you".
I'm aware that to quit smoking, you'll have to go through withdrawal, whether mental, emotional or physical. I want you to know that the Butt-Kicking Breath will help you get through the 14 minutes it takes to bust a strong craving. It will help cleanse your body of toxins faster, and give you a tool to use while you support your efforts with the Patch, the gum, or whatever you need to ease the transition.
Eventually, though, you will find the power in being a DIY stress-reliever. Any time you hit drama in your life, reach for this breath. Find center yourself. And then, you're free.
Smoking has other draws, too, that you can switch over to healthier habits.
You want a ritual? Whenever you're stressed, go for a walk, and do your breathing practice. With every exhale, release your shoulders more, and with them, your crappy day. Realize this too shall pass.
Seeking community? Join a vigorous yoga class, shape up your body, and meet other people who support your smoke-free lifestyle, and are choosing to de-stress sans emphysema and families who have to pay their medical bills long after they're gone.
Oral fixation? Try having more sex. Your partner will thank you (and me). Or, though not quite the same, keep tea tree or cinnamon toothpicks around. It worked for my husband, after smoking for 20 years. The toothpicks, I mean.
Want to avoid the weight gain that can come with quitting? Don't smoke more...move more. Take this opportunity to learn the joys of eating well.
Mr President, am I being hard on you? Smokers--ditto?
I think you're all rock stars. I'd vote for all of you for a second term. In fact, that's what I'm trying to do right now.
It's just this bad habit of yours has been fooling you into thinking you're handling your stress. In fact, the smokes are managing you.
Yoga and mindful breathing is all about taking control, real control, of your life. I know you can get the relief and peace you're looking for in another, more life-affirming way. And I'm all for trading up.
In fact, Mr. President, and readers...I'm starting today.