I smoke heavily...Is it harmful to meditation? How do I give up? I tried, tried and tried? Thank you.
—ela singh, India
Nicotine is harmful to your spiritual practices, in part because it diminishes one of your most important faculties: Willpower. Nicotine is a depressant, so it has a calming influence, but the yogi needs to learn to become and stay calm through conscious inner processes, not external influences. Nicotine is also a stimulant, but the yogi needs to learn to raise his or her energy level, again, through conscious inner processes, not external influences.
I know it can be very hard to quit smoking, and I do not know of any approach to quitting that has worked for absolutely everyone. One natural approach that has worked for some is, every time you feel the urge to smoke, to go outdoors and do 5 minutes (even 2 minutes might work for some people) of deep breathing. It can be a good, healthy substitute for smoking.
Another important ingredient of success is to stay away from smokers. Environment is stronger than willpower, Paramhansa Yogananda used to say. And it is true. That likely means keeping your distance from certain friends, because smokers tend to have other smokers as friends (non-smokers often don’t want to be around smokers). Well, it all depends on how much you want to quit. It may be difficult to stop smoking, but at least you can choose environments that include fewer (ideally, no) smokers.
Of course, there are many other approaches to quitting: patches, hypnosis, etc. Keep trying whatever resonates with you. Don’t ever give up. Just keep telling yourself, “Although I haven’t yet succeeded, I will!”