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Miriam Hospital: Yoga to Help Women with Quitting Smoking

Thursday, May 05, 2011


Could Downward Facing Dog, Warrior Position, or Pyramid Pose help you to put down that pack of cigarettes?  That’s what Dr. Elizabeth Bock at Miriam Hospital is asking with her study on the ways that yoga might help women quit smoking.   

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of morbidity and mortality among women in the United States.  Studies have also proven that women have a more difficult time quitting smoking than men do.   The study on yoga is part of a larger array of studies at Miriam Hospital that look at how exercise could facilitate smoking cessation.   

Bock says that those studies on exercise were been successful, and she thought yoga might be helpful as well, so she planned a pilot study that will provide the necessary information to established a full-scale efficacy trail. 

For women who are afraid of gaining weight when they quit

One of the rationales behind using exercise and yoga as a way to quit smoking is that many smokers are afraid of weight gain if they quit. Bock says this fear has been stereotyped to women, which is why the studies on exercise and smoking cessation only examine one gender.  “Men are as afraid of gaining weight,” Bock says, and will expand her study to include men when a larger efficacy study is funded.  

The trial uses Vinyasa Yoga, a particularly athletic form of yoga, so that it could pair with the previous studies on exercise.  Bock says she also wanted to harness yoga’s meditative principles to help increase mood and stability.  “We have taken a baby step in the direction of yoga and mediation, but a step away from regular aerobic exercise,” she explains.   

Her preliminary study examined two groups of 30 women smokers who wanted to quit smoking. For 10 weeks, these women would either attend two yoga sessions a week or two wellness classes.  Wellness classes consisted of lectures on topics like health, diet—anything except exercise or yoga.   

After and before these classes women were given a questionnaire about their mood.  “We would ask, how do you feel at this moment? Anxious? Energized? Jittery? Sad?” says Bock. Next they would compare the questionnaires from before and after the sessions. 

Yoga improving mood

The women who attended yoga, like the women who exercised, showed a powerful increase in mood than the women who attended the wellness program.  Their positive mood scores increased, their negative mood scores decreased. This decrease in stress showed the participants that there was a substitute for the perceived calm they got from cigarettes.   

Bock notes that this only indicates the short-term effects of exercise and yoga on mood.  They study does not indicate any changes in long-term increases in mood and stability.  “It’s a little like taking a medication—it works every time you take it, but it doesn’t keep working.” 


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