Meditation has shown potential benefits in decreasing a person's desire to smoke without them even realizing. A study was conducted by Texas Tech University and University of Oregon researchers was involving 60 students, around half who smoked, and enrolled them into relaxation classes.
Half the students did muscle relaxation exercise while the other half did mindful meditation. Smokers who practiced mindful meditation reduced their puffing and inhaling habits by by two thirds by the end of two weeks. Also they were unaware about their change in smoking habits.
When the students were asked if they had smoked less they replied no, according to the lead author of the study, Yi-Yuan Tang. There was a 60% reduction in smoking which is reflected by the amount of carbon dioxide in the lungs, two weeks after the study.
"The students changed their smoking behaviour but were not aware of it," said Mr Tang. "When we showed the data to a participant who said they had smoked 20 cigarettes, this person checked their pocket immediately and was shocked to find 10 left. We then measured intention to see if it correlated with smoking changes and found there was no correlation. But if you improve the self-control network in the brain and moderate stress-reactivity, then it's possible to reduce smoking."
Results that improving self-control can help reduce smokers cravings was published in the July edition of Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
According to neuroimaging studies smokers have less activity in the brain regions associated with self-control, raising questions around whether targeting these neurobiological circuits could be a way to treat addiction.
Work had begun on how drugs affect areas of the brain that enable people to self-regulate, create goals and be able to achieve them said Nora Volkow, director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse. "And how those changes influence the behaviour of the person addicted," she added.
Other studies showed how integrative body-mind training decreased a participant's levels of the stress hormone cortisol, also increased their immune reactivity.
Stronger connection between regions of the brain responsible for self-control have been identified.
Though mindful meditation has shown to change the brain so people are less motivated to smoke, the questions about how often this therapy would need to be conducted, how long the benefit last and whether some individuals benefit more than others are still unanswered.
"Mindfulness meditation, as well as other strategies that are aimed at strengthening self-control, are likely to be useful for the management of addiction, but not necessarily for everybody," Ms Volkow said.
"However, understanding how our brain works when we do interventions that strengthen self-control can also have multiple implications that relate to behaviours that are necessary for health and well-being."
The mindfulness study was very positive as it argues that being taught mediation will help you make rational decisions, said associate professor Renee Bittoun, head of the Smoking Research Program at the University of Sydney. But she says it doesn't say it helped anyone to quit.
"That's the interesting thing for me. Reducing the numbers of cigarettes that you actually smoke isn't always a satisfactory end point because people vacuum clean the next lot. What this means if you don't have as many cigarettes you tend to compensate by drawing really hard on cigarettes. It's not always a good strategy but at least it looks like it makes people less urgent (for a cigarette) and the decisions about whether they will or they won't might be in the forefront of their brain. Overall this is a good because what we need to do is a combination of all these things. Getting people aware of their dependency. So there are advantages of being mindful of your urges, that is what these studies are showing," she said.