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Meditation Can Help Smokers Quit

Update Date: Aug 08, 2013 12:32 PM EDT

Meditation has constantly been touted as a beneficial practice because it can soothe the body and relax the brain. When done correctly, meditation clears the mind of stress and worries. Several studies have found that meditation is effective in boosting cognitive abilities while calming the mind. Now, a new study is reporting another positive effect of meditation. According to the researchers, meditation can be very effective in helping smokers quit even when the smokers did not start meditation as a quitting method.

For this study, the researchers recruited 27 participants who were all active smokers. The participants joined the experiment without the goal of quitting their habit. As a part of the study, the participants were split into two groups. The first group was taught simple methods of relaxing various parts of the body. The other participants in the mediation group were advised to just focus on the music and on the moment. In order for the body to relax, the mind cannot start thinking about all the worries in the past. The participants were involved in this training for 10 days. The sessions took place at night and lasted for half an hour.

After the experiment was over, the researchers calculated that the smokers who learned the meditation technique were 60 percent less likely to smoke than the smokers in the relaxation group. Although researchers were not too surprised to discover the association between smoking cessation and meditation, they were shocked to see that the effects were there even though the participants did not have the goal of quitting. After the 10 days, the smokers in the meditation group cut back on their smoking but were unaware of the fact that they did.

"The study suggests that something is going on in the training that caused this implicit lessening of craving that results in people smoking less without even noticing it," commented Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the University of California Davis Center for Mind and Brain, according to TIME. Saron was not involved in the research. "One of the core pieces of knowledge that you can gain from practicing mindfulness meditation is that your behavior doesn't have to immediately follow from your feelings."

Although meditation might be able to help the mind curb addictions, experts noted that meditation might not be helpful in preventing addictions from starting in high-risk individuals with mental illnesses. For example, people suffering from anxiety or depression might find meditation frightening rather than soothing. Determining how meditation can help people based on certain factors could potentially make it a new and inexpensive treatment option.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

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