Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Giuliani Out of the Race

This is actually really bad news for Democrats, who could lose the pro-life Catholic (once stalwart Democrats a generation ago) and working class evangelical Protestant votes to the Republicans in the general election.

Just to clear the record on abortion....

Here's McCain's ambiguous views on abortion during his last presidential run.

And McCain criticizes Romney for not being pro-life here.

In Democratic news, John Edwards also quits the race.


Impressions of Eternity: What do we mean when we say 'God'?

The link above is to book review in Commonweal written by Lawrence Joseph of Do You Believe? Conversations on God and Religion, or Tu Credo?, by Antonio Monda.

I have not read the book, but it sounds fascinating.

Apparently, Monda, a devout Catholic, runs in circles where he routinely encounters some of America's most famous thinkers, writers, artists, actors, etc....

In this book, he conveys conversations with some of his famous acquaintances that begin with the question, "Do you believe in God?"

Those who join the conversation include Toni Morrison, Saul Below, Eilie Wiesel, Grace Paley, Derek Welcott, Salman Rushdie, Paul Aster, Jonathan Franzen, Richard Ford, Michael Cunningham, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Paula Fox, Nathan Englander, David Lynch, Jane Fonda, Daniel Libeskind, and Art Scheslinger Jr.

Some interesting snippets of the conversation are in the review.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Has Archbishop Burke Lost It???

You may remember Archbishop Burke from the 2004.

He sparked a firestorm by publicly stating he would deny John Kerry communion because of Kerry's pro-choice stance.

I did not agree with Burke's stance at that time. Yet, he did have a bit of a leg to stand on with that one.

Now he is going after a pro-choice Catholic basketball coach at a Jesuit university that isn't even under his jurisdiction.

That's right. A basketball coach.

I mean, c'mon.

This isn't someone who writes legislation or signs it into law.

This isn't a theologian on the Church's payroll.

This is not any sort of "public" position authorized to make statements on behalf of the Church or the state.

In fact, coach Majerus' views don't represent Saint Louis University.

I don't even know why the bishop feels compelled to a coach's view on abortion, even if the coach is popular and influential.

I am pro-life. But spokespersons for the Church don't need to say much of anything about the political views or theological opinions of a basketball coach.

I hope I'm not insulting the intelligence of coaches in the way I am writing this.

Majerus may have a very intelligent and well informed opinion.

Nevertheless, it is obvious that he speaks for nobody but himself on this issue.

He's a coach for Pete's sake.

If the bishop feels compelled to say anything about what a coach believes, it is sufficient to say the coach is not an expert on Catholic theology and his views do not accurately reflect the teaching of the Church.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The 2008 Election

I'm finding it hard to get as "fired up" about the 2008 election as I was in 2004.

It isn't that the race isn't interesting. It is extremely interesting.

I just haven't made up my mind yet.

But some readers have expressed a desire for me to write more about current politics.

We have a very real chance of having our first woman or first black president.

Either prospect is historic and long overdo. How can this not be exciting?

And there are some genuine differences between these two to keep it interesting.

And John Edwards certainly has been giving it his all with his working man's populism, not to mention that Kucinich and all had added some spice to the early Democratic debates.

On the other side, the Republican race is still pretty much wide open, with more variety than we've seen in years: from John "Maverick" Mccain, to the pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-business and hawkish Rudy Guilianni, to Bible thumpin' Mike Huckabee, and the polished flip-flopper who may turn out to be the first Mormon president by trying his darndest to appeal to Bush's base.

I'm enjoying watching this thing.

What if the race wound up to be between Clinton and Giuliani? Would conservative pro-life Catholics sit out the election?

Would these Catholics support McCain, who favors embryonic stem cell research?

With each turn of events, I imagine what the folks over at Crisis or First Things or the Catholics who write for NRO who were so noisy in 2004 would be saying.

When Huckabee won Iowa, I imagined how that would look against either Clinton or Obama.

Would conservative Catholics really get behind an evangelical Protestant minister?

Based on "moral values", they should.

Then there's Romney's Mormonism. Will conservative Catholics OR conservative Protestants get behind that?

Being that I have never been a registered Democrat, and I have been a registered Republican, I am also amused at what is going on with the Democrats.

No matter how I personally vote, and no matter what I want or hope, I expect the Democrats to win in 2008.

And since June of 2002, when the first whispers of war with Iraq were heard in public, I have vehemently opposed any and all Republicans who support this illegal, unnecessary, ineffective, overly expensive, immoral use of state ordered and sanctioned murder to protect American oil interests.

I opposed the neocon war in Iraq long before it started, predicted the outcome before it started, and began a political journey out of conservativism because of this awful unjust war.

If we can raise all the money we have to fight this terrible war, the government can, and therefore should have spent similarly on ending global poverty long before 9/11.

When half the world lives on less than $2.00 per day, perhaps there would have been no 9/11 if America did more to preempt war with international development.

Regardless how we each feel about fighting global poverty, since at least the 2006 elections, it seems the majority of Americans have come to share some of my own grave concerns about this miserable war of aggression.

And we have also all become very concerned about the state of our own national economy.

At this early point in the 2008 elections, it almost seems like the Democrats would have to actually work hard to lose, and a loss would be an earned loss.

Such things have happened though.

As it appears to me to be shaping up today, Barack is the candidate who can win the most independants and swing Republicans.

In my own gut, and in what I hear others saying, there isn't any question about this.

What I am writing here is gut feelings - but gut feelings that I hear others expressing around the water cooler, or what have you.

If Hillary wins the party nomination, she will likely still win the general election - but by the narrowest of margins....even against Huckabee....or Romney....or Guiliani....or McCain....or Mickey Mouse.

The problem with Hillary is that a lot of people who are not Democrats hate her already.

It surprises me that the Democrats don't seem to really believe this.

She will likely win a general election against the currently despised Republicans, but by a narrow margin.

And she'll lead a nation that will be just as polarized under her as it has been under Bush - because many of her enemies would seem to prefer death to dealing or compromising with her.

People who love Hillary are least likely to get this - and there are people who really love Hillary.

These people seem to me in my own anectodal experience to tend to be more often women than men, and more often life-long Democrats than anything else, and more often pro-choice than pro-life. Oh - the Washington insiders seem to be blind too.

In Hillary, the pro-choice Democrat women feel they finally have a spokesperson.

When others say "Hillary seems cold", they say things like "I saw her at [name the event] and I honestly found her to be very warm and sincere."

And they really mean what they say when they say this sort of thing...and they really believe that the rest of America will see the same warmth and sincerity they see.

But that ain't goin' to happen, IMHO.

People who hate Hillary (and there are a lot of people who hate Hillary) are predisposed to see even the most genuine act of warmth as political showpersonship.

I don't hate Hillary.

I'm the oddball pro-life Catholic registered as a Republican who thinks she is not overly cold, and that she might actually mean it when she says something like the abortion rate ought to be zero.

I am not endorsing Hillary here.

I disagree with her on some things - and I do very much hold her vote for the war in Iraq against her. As I journey left on all issues but abortion in my own political thinking, Hillary is seeming too conservative. I also don't like the way she and Bill are distorting Obama's record either.

Nevertheless, I don't hate Hillary - and I can see that she does have a warm side.

But if I don't hate her, I don't love her either.

I love the idea of a woman president, but how I wish it were some other woman.

On the flip side, if it had been Hillary verses Condoleeza Rice, I think Hillary might get my vote - or I might abstain.

I liked Libby Dole a few election cycles back, but I was more politically conservative those days.

Barack is the candidate I think could exite me, and win over the independants and swing Republicans.

It isn't that he is a "moderate" or "wishy-washy" on the issues.

Rather, he seems to find a third way, a win-win, or at least a viable compromise on whatever issue(s) he is addressing.

He knows how to frame the issue, and, perhaps more importantly, he sees solutions that others don't always seem to see.

And I can't see him losing a single vote from the Democratic base to any of the Republicans. He is a true progressive in his basic approach.

Unless he screws up, I believe that Barack would not simply win by a narrow majority.

I believe that his victory could very well be clear and decisive, so that he could preside over a less polarized nation.

Assuming he is not assinated by some white power extremist nut (a very real possibility), Barack is the candidate most likely to change the tone of politics in America.

And that exites me.

We need that after the last three heated elections.

I'm not necessarily endorsing Barack here. He's not the messiah, and while his message of hope resonates with me, my ultimate hope is elsewhere than politics.

Chances are, a human being preaching hope will let us down somehow. We can wait and see for now.

I also don't agree one hundred percent with every detail of everything Obama says. Yet, he does have more substance than people give him credit for having.

On abortion, he and I would not see perfectly eye-to-eye, but as with Hillary, I do think he is sincere about wanting to reduce abortion rates.

Hillary is distorting Obama's abortion position to lump him in with us pro-lifer's so that the Democratic base will vote for her.

Truth is that both Hillary and Barack have one hundred percent approval ratings from groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL.

This will remain a major stumbling block to many Catholic voters. It is probably a big part of why I can't get too exited at this stage about any of the Democrats or about Rudy.

But will this single issue lead me to abstain? Hard to say.

However I wind up voting, watching this thing play out is interesting.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Why Can't the Priests be a Little More Like Gurus?

Sorry for the continued slow blogging.

At work, we lost seventy percent of our revenue, and everyone is scrambling to either find new sources of revenue, or find new jobs.

At home, I still have the prematurely born baby we're trying to protect through cold and flu season.

I wrote last about how prayer and yoga and some other healthy living has helped me finally quit smoking after 23 years.

I discovered at work another yogi - errr - yogini. She's a yogini, and I'm a yogi - the word is gender specific. Both words refer to students of yoga.

This yogini is less into the hatha aspects (physical exercises), and more into the whole philosophical and religious aspects of yoga - though she does do a little hatha.

There are many people in my office, and though I've known this woman for some time, I can't say we've ever had much opportunity to interact until recently.

She's the daughter of professional artist who has sold works at over $10,000 a piece, and she's a bit of an artistic personality type herself.

I don't know how yoga came up, exactly, but she wound up asking me if I do it, and I responded that I do hatha yoga - power yoga heavily influenced by Iyengar.

She told me about her own dabbling in hatha and kundalini yoga, and emphasized that raja yoga is more her thing.

She was telling me about her guru, and made some sort of comment like "Isn't that what our priests are supposed to do?"

I was thrown a bit, because I did not think she was Catholic, and wasn't positive that she knew my own background (though many of my co-workers know I am an ex-seminarian).

I mentioned that I am Catholic.

She stated that she had been raised Catholic too, but she wants from "our priests" what she feels she gets from her guru.

She stated that she knew some Jesuits who were more like this, but otherwise had little experience with priests who understand contemplation.

That was the real key to her....That she feels most priests she has experienced know little to nothing about simply sitting quietly in the presence of God.... She felt that few priests she knows could direct or advise someone who begins to experience God in silence.

I mentioned to her that not only the Jesuits, but most Franciscans I know - indeed, most religious order priests - seem more experienced with contemplation.

I also suggested that the writings of the early desert mothers and fathers does have more the tone of Hindu gurus, though I had no clue if she was familiar with these writings.

She immediately agreed without any need of explanation, and wondered aloud why Catholic priests don't still talk and act more like the desert mothers and fathers of the early Church.

She asked (rhetorically) why confession isn't more like a disciple consulting a spiritual guide?

She wondered aloud why confession isn't more a means letting go of the past in order to live in the present moment, rather than condition one must meet in order to gain some future reward or avoid some future curse?

We both agreed that one of the fascinating things about the Hindu system of ethics is that there is little use of shame or guilt to motivate one to pursue virtue.

Rather, the yogi seeks general happiness and well being, and naturally discovers through trial and error that virtue feels good, and vice does not, and that karma (justice) cannot be escaped.

Instead of shame and guilt, our past mistakes are simply learning opportunities.

Of course, I have too much Catholic guilt to go too deep into the Hindu system. I'd be frightened YHWH will strike me down if I tried to use a symbol of Ganush in my prayer.

I couldn't escape my Catholicism if I wanted to, and I don't really want to. I love being Catholic.

That said, I do think there are elements of goodness we occasionally glimpse in other religions that we ought to try to cultivate within our own tradition.

Indeed, that is partly why I practice hatha yoga. In a religion of God incarnate, we should be able to bring physical health and bodily exercise into our spirituality and living.

I shared with my co-worker that I pray the rosary combined with deep breathing or use centering prayer as a means of stilling the mind.

Her face lit up - "Yes", she said, "That's what it should be. Why don't more people see that?"

Of course, I've mentioned on this blog the dangers of quietism, narcissism, escapism, individualism and so forth. For those who think I am headed in that direction, I am not.

Indeed, in my recent post on yoga, I pointed out these potential pitfalls and made reference to the Pope's warning regarding a "cult of the body". I also wrote about the danger of a sort of guru worship.

I'm not suggesting that priests should be exactly like gurus.

Yet, they ought to be something like we imagine many gurus (and not all gurus are the same).

To the point, there ought to be an obvious sense of love, compassion, inner peace, calm, maturity, and so forth that makes them sort of charismatic leaders one would naturally turn to for advice.

We ought to feel attracted to priests as advisers because of a sort of aura emanating from him, rather than because he wears a uniform.

This aura ought to radiate from the person in a way that would seem obvious even if a bishop never laid hands on him (or her).

And even for those priests who don't naturally radiate this sort of aura, there ought to be a sort of obvious striving for this sort of aura.

Indeed, to certain extent, I think this is what is meant by striving for holiness.

I do know priests like this, and I've mentioned that my experience if that priests in religious orders convey this more than many of their diocesan/secular counter-parts.

So, I'm not saying this doesn't exist.

But I am saying that I have had the same experience as my co-worker too.

I am not suggesting that a priest should only be concerned about contemplation and leading people into the contemplative experience.

I am not saying we need contemplation at the expense of sacramental worship, bible study, community building, family ministry, social justice advocacy, social service ministry, education, etc.....

But even amid all these other activities, priests should have some first hand experience with contemplation.

And they should be able to convey that they have this experience....and this could and should ideally be conveyed best in one-on-one settings like the sacrament of reconciliation.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Happy and Healthy New Year!

I'm a day late, but I wish everyone a Happy - and healthy - New Year.

I got to thinking that many people try to give up smoking on New Years, and many who try this will fail.

I write from experience.

Well, it wasn't a New Year resolution, but I finally managed to kick the habit. It's been only about four months - but it feels real this time, and this is the longest I've been without a smoke in 23 years.

I probably should have posted this BEFORE New Year's Eve, but what the heck.

If you've tried and already failed, my advice is simply to be open to the whole of 2008 being the year you quit - even if January 1 was not the day you quit.

Every individual is unique, but here's what worked for me.

Prayer helps!

To some extent, I feel grace compelled me to quit.

It's like having a nasty cut that seemed to be getting worse, but eventually heals on its own.

In other words, I'm not sure I quit smoking by my own efforts.


I am sure I did NOT quit by own efforts.

I needed the help of a higher power.

I took my desire to quit to God - even to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

I explained to the priest that I knew that the Church doesn't have any official or authentic teaching that smoking is a sin, but I felt moved to quit by what seems like grace.

I explained that even if there is no teaching saying smoking is a sin, I did feel that I could use my money for better things, and take better care of my body, and so forth.

The day I made my confession was my first smoke free day in 23 years, and I've stayed with it almost four months now.

I not only took it to confession, but I made sure to stick to daily prayer routines, such as daily Mass, Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, and at least ten minutes of daily scripture reading.

By the way, this prayer routine was set as a New Year's resolution several years ago, and once I adopted it, I've pretty much stuck to it.

I'm going to switch topics for a moment here and speak of that other New Year's resolution I made so many years ago to pray this way every day.

The inspiration was a homily by a priest who stated that our resolution should not be simply to pray more often in a vague sense.

This priest said that our resolution to pray more often should not be a relatively 'easy resolution' to pray a single prayer form (such as a decade of the rosary) on a daily basis.

The reason NOT to do this is that when you slip, it's hard to get back on track.

And besides, the goal of prayer forms is to reach a state of unceasing prayer consciousness.

Rather than 'easy to keep' resolutions, this priest stated that our resolution should be spiritual and seem impossible at first, and we should thrust our hope on God to help us succeed.

He specifically stated the idea of making our resolution daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, AND five decades of the rosary daily ALL AT ONCE.

Then, if you slip on one, you will pick yourself up with the other more quickly.

And, by the grace of God, that becomes a sort of way of life.

So, on any given day, I may miss saying the Rosary, or an Hour, or Mass, or what have you. But on that same day, I will do all the rest. On some days, I manage to keep the full resolution, but there is NO day when I don't pray.

Of course, simple spontaneous prayer in your own words and quiet listening to God are important "ways" to pray - and the routine I suggest may be more "formal" and "structured" than some people are called to embrace.

I'm not suggesting that one legalistically adopt specific prayer practices, so much as one make a specific commitment to pray by the means right for you - and make the specific commitment a challenging commitment.

Maybe spending a half hour in quiet centering prayer both morning and evening is right for you, with some time in lectio devina during your lunch break.

Maybe being specific about the times to enter into the 'observe, act, reflect' model of social justice prayer is what you need. Maybe spending a full hour with scripture is right for you. Maybe Ignatian meditation is right for you. Maybe litanies are what will work best for you.

The point is to pick something that you can commit to specifically, and make it a challenging commitment.

I'd say making a spiritual resolution like this is more important than a resolution to stop smoking. Indeed, forming a habit of prayer ought to be considered a sort of precursor to smoking cessation.

Yet, I honestly believe that prayer helped me stop smoking - so my point is that if you want to quit smoking, make a specific (and difficult or challenging) resolution to pray more frequently.

One last point on this subject of prayer as a sort of aid to stop smoking.

I mentioned that I made the commitment to pray years ago, but only quit smoking this year.

During much of that time, I thought that my smoking was a way of staying humble.

Something clicked inside that this was a mistake - while I was praying.

God does not want me to destroy my body. God did not want me retreating from people and heading outdoors to smoke. God did not want me wasting money this way.

I don't know if enjoying the pleasures of creation through smoking is a sin, per se. I'm merely saying that even if smoking does not "anger" God, it doesn't particularly please Her either.

Smoking was not God's way of keeping me humble. Rather, quitting was my way of recognizing that I needed God's help to take care of myself.

It was quitting that humbled me!

Though I consider myself off the weed for good now, there were many failed attempts before - and not till I brought God so fully into the process did I manage to quit.

It's only been a few months, so I also need to acknowledge that I need God's help to really stay smoke free. It's never been as easy as it is today in the last 23 years.


I increased my exercise - specifically adopting a "power yoga" routine for a minimum of one hour per day.

To some extent, this too seemed a movement of grace.

I've been dabbling in hatha yoga since about 1995 or so.

My introduction to yoga was with Richard Hittleman's Yoga 28 Day Exercise Plan.

Over time, my practice was inconsistent, and when I did practice, I often mixed it together with other forms of exercise.

There's an old story among yogis that a beginner approached his teacher and asked if smoking would get in the way of yoga. The instructor responded, "No. But yoga may get in the way of your smoking."

Well, I decided to stop simply dabbling with yoga - and stop trying to mix it with other forms of exercise.

I adopted a "power yoga" routine using Rodney Yee videos.

This was one of my 2007 resolutions - to be more consistent with a more challenging yoga practice.

The first time I did "power yoga", it kicked my behind. This is a tough work-out that will make you sweat.

Don't be fooled by the contemporary name. Power yoga is authentic hatha yoga brought to America by Indians like B.K.S. Iyengar.

I primarily alternate Yee's Yoga Burn, then Intermediate Yoga the next day, and then Power Yoga: Total Body, and then I cycle back.

I have some other videos by Rodney, Shiva Rea and others that I use occasionally, but these three have formed the core workout. Each one is one hour long, which seems just right for me.

Recently, I ordered Mark Blanchard's Progressive Power Trilogy on Netflix. It's a great work-out (really great). The only problem is that 90 minutes is longer than I want to spend in exercise. I may buy this one for days off from work.

I should say a word about yoga and these instructors as a Christian blogger.

Yoga teachers tend to be held to a higher moral standard by the public than an aerobics instructor or other physical trainer, because of the aire of spirituality associated with yoga practice.

For those in the loop on yoga gossip, I am aware that Rodney Yee has been involved in scandalous affairs that ended his twenty year marriage - and that Mark Blanchard can come across in his videos as arrogant to some, and/or inappropriate in the way he interacts with female students.

Some yogis (yoga students) are turned off by this.

Nobody's perfect - and I do not expect to necessarily learn exercise from one who is a living saint.

It would be nice if I met a saint into power yoga, but the fact that an instructor is not yet a perfect saint does not mean she or he cannot lead me in a good work-out.

And one can hope that these yogis ARE growing spiritually, and will overcome their weaknesses, whatever they may be.

To be a Christian is to avoid rash judgment of the person, even if critical of specific actions when necessary.

There can be a danger of a sort of "guru worship" among yoga practitioners, and a Christian needs to be careful of idolizing his or her instructors - whether in the classroom, or on a DVD.

On a deeper level, some Christians wonder whether the practice of hatha yoga is compatible with Christianity, regardless of the moral rectitude of the instructor.

I see absolutely no reason whatsoever that hatha yoga (the physical practice) cannot be practiced by a Christian.

I also see no reason that pranayama (controlled breathing) or some yogic meditation techniques could not be combined with Christian prayer forms (like centering prayer or the rosary).

It is true that some yoga practitioners become deeply involved in Hindu religion and/or New Age philosophies that border on pantheism, nihilism, or even polytheism.

However, there is nothing inherent in the techniques of hatha or pranayama and so forth that causes one to become susceptible to pantheistic philosophy, nihilism, or polytheism.

Rather, people who embrace these Hindu aspects of yoga after being introduced to hatha are often trying to fill a spiritual void that was already present and otherwise is not being filled.

What I mean by this is that I think someone who is entirely unfamiliar with Christian meditation will naturally find eastern meditation attractive - because the human person is drawn to meditation, whether eastern or western.

If that person is exposed to meditation for the first time in a yoga class, rather than a church, that person will naturally be drawn to the spiritual side of yoga.

There are aspects of eastern religion that are good and holy. Vatican II is explicit on this point, and we need not deny it.

Yoga does not expose one to demons. There is goodness in Hindu spirituality, including the practice of yoga.

Even if raised a Christian, it is possible that one may have little to no exposure to contemplation, meditation, the varied means of prayer, or even any semblance of regular daily prayer.

This can even happen to one who was raised in a household that went to church every Sunday, and sent the kids for some sort of religious instruction.

To such a person, even ten minutes of daily pranayama done with simply a quasi-spiritual intention can be life changing in a positive way.

Nevertheless, practicing hatha yoga will no more make a mature Cristian a Hindu at heart than weight-lifting or jogging by itself will make a Hindu raised in India become a Christian at heart.

This said, one thing that attracts me to yoga is that people who practice it tend to seek to integrate physical exercise into their spirituality - whether that spirituality is eastern or western.

I believe that the West has unconsciously divorced spirituality from the body in ways that are unhealthy, never intended by Christ, and even influenced by heresies such as gnosticism.

I am not claiming to know that Jesus practiced surya namaskar (sun salutations). I am merely saying that it is a denial of the incarnation itself to suggest Jesus did not care about the body at all.

Jesus spent much of his time healing bodies, and the Church has long held the corporal works of mercy in high regard. We must care for human bodies - including our own.

The historical roots of this divorce between body and spirit in the West are too complex to address in this post, but my point is that I do not believe the divorce is inherently Christian.

We westerners tend to live our spiritual lives from the neck up, and ignore the sacrament of the body, which possesses such dignity that God became incarnate in a human body, and promises to raise our bodies in the general resurrection of the dead.

Hatha yoga, practiced in moderation and integrated with other spiritual practices, is a way of embracing a spirituality of the body - consistent with the more intellectual "theology of the body" that has recently developed with the late Pope John Paul II.

I heard somewhere that the current Pope Benedict XVI has warned that yoga can lead to a "cult of the body".

I assume this refers to a sort of narcissism and/or social elitism based on physical appearances, or confusion of physical sensations with authentic spiritual growth.

These sorts of spiritual dangers would seem to be true of any form of physical exercise - and I do not believe that the Church or the current pope opposes physical exercise as a general rule.

We can also be certain that good health is not a requirement of being saved. Yet, good health cannot hurt, and it may help, since grace builds on nature.

Yoga demands a sort of mindfulness that can make its practice a form of meditation.

It's not the same type of meditation as an Ignatian exercise, but it is a form of meditation.

Moreover, now that I am practicing this more intense form of yoga on a regular basis, I have discovered that it is simply a great work-out by western exercise standards.

It feels great!

One nice thing is that you do not need expensive shoes or clumsy equipment.

I find that yoga seems to provide a more functional strength than weight-lifting did for me, and "power yoga" will tone your muscles in all the right places.

Each "asana", or pose, works muscles that western styles of exercise seem to neglect.

Further, it provides greater flexibility than any western exercise form I know.

Finally, my experience is that it as good a cardio work-out as any other form of exercise I've ever done.

Some literature suggests otherwise on the issue of cardio work, but I am convinced that this is because the studies in question looked at a style of yoga different than what I am doing these days.

Power yoga ignites "agni" (lights the "inner fire" - creates heat - makes you sweat - increases the heart-rate).

Yoga helped me deal with the stress of my wife's high risk pregnancy and the early delivery of our second child.

As I became busier during this time, yoga and prayer became some "me time" to recharge, so I could continue to meet my obligations and duties to others.

Returning to the issue of quitting smoking, I increased my yoga work-out to one hour per day of power yoga before I actually quit smoking.

Just as the old story goes, I did find that yoga got in the way of my smoking. The more I challenged myself on the mat, the stronger the desire to quit smoking became.

Maybe it is because yoga demands some deep breathing and intense awareness of the breath - but yoga helped me quit smoking.

When cravings hit, deep breathing is often what the body is really seeking.

As with prayer, I do not want to suggest that only one form of exercise is right for every individual on earth.

It may be possible that weight lifting, or running, or swimming, or gymnastics of calisthenics, or aerobics, etc.... are the right exercise for you. The point is that if you want to quit smoking, I do think that forming a regular exercise routine will help.

Like establishing some sort of challenging prayer routine, it may be that forming a regular habit of exercise is an important precursor to smoking cessation.

Just to cover myself, I should mention that one should talk to a health care professional before beginning any exercise regimen.

Eat Right!

Do not deny yourself the pleasure of eating and satisfying hunger!

Many "diets" are stupid (if it means depriving one's self of food).

Rather, eat right.

I am a vegetarian, and have been for about 15 years. It may seem contradictory for me to say one should not deprive one's self of food when I deprive myself of meat.

Here's what I mean.

I do not intentionally go without food as a method of weight control, and I have never been overweight in my life.

I do not even think about my weight, to be honest.

People are genetically different, and some people are naturally shaped different than me.

Few of us have the genes of supermodels, and I don't think we should strive to look like someone else.

When I speak of being "overweight", I am not referring to the way a person looks.

I am speaking of increasing your health risk.

That said, if we achieve a healthy weight, even if that is a bit larger than some supermodels (some of whom are unhealthily underweight), most of us would not "look fat" by the standards of most other people anyway.

If you feel great, chances are you will look pretty good too.

You do not have to starve to feel great. The only time one should intentionally go hungry is to fast for some sort of spiritual purification!

When I first went vegetarian, I ate more food, rather than less.

I needed more calories to keep from withering away - vegetables pack fewer calories per ounce than meat.

Despite years of being a vegetarian, I recognized right before I quit smoking that I had formed some poor eating habits - such as skipping breakfast in a rush to get to work, and using cigarettes and coffee as a hunger suppressant until lunch time.

I was also snacking on chocolate or potato chips in the afternoon more than I used to do - and I knew my cravings for these types things could increase when I stopped smoking if I was not careful.

Many smokers fear that if they quit smoking, they will automatically gain weight.

This did not happen to me, and it doesn't need to happen to any smoker trying to quit.

As with prayer and exercise, I set out before smoking cessation to correct my eating habits BEFORE I quit.

In this case, it was only a few weeks before I quit - but I made changes.

I planned out my meals - not taking anything away - but adding food to my diet so that I would not use hunger suppression as an excuse to smoke.

For example, I planned out how I was going to be sure to get a healthy breakfast. I added a healthy breakfast of fruit and whole grains to my diet!

At the same time, I did not add ho-hos and potato chips as my substitute for smoking after lunch.

I added a snack of an apple ten minutes before my usual chocolate cravings tend to hit.

I added more water to my diet too, to be sure I am getting six to eight glasses as we are supposed to.

I eat more today than when I was smoking, and I have not gained a single fraction of a pound.

This is partly because of the exercise, but the other half of the equation is the type of food I eat.

To drive home the point, you can literally eat lettuce and drink water all day long - every single waking moment, and you are not going to get fat.

I'm not suggesting for a second that you try to eat lettuce literally all day long.

Nor am I suggesting you make your eating habits "boring".

I am merely emphasizing that it is not how much you eat that causes weight gain. It is what you eat that causes weight gain.

And you do not need to "deprive" yourself of foods you like. Just eat more healthy food before you eat what is not classified as health food.

All I am suggesting is that if you plan three meals and a couple of snacks comprised of a wide variety of healthy fruits and vegetables, prepared with with a variety of spices that you enjoy, you can probably eat more than you do today, experience a wider variety of taste sensations, and you will not get fat.

If you decide to go vegetarian, and you pay attention, you can eat just as much protein as a carnivore, and find just as much iron and calcium, and so forth.

I eat more variety too than I did when I ate meat. I eat Italian, Thai, Indian, East African, etc....There are probably thousands of ways to add variety and flavor to vegetarian dishes.

You do not have to be a vegetarian to control weight, but I think it is harder for a carnivore, since meat has so many more calories per ounce.

Other reasons to consider a vegetarian diet in addition to health are good stewardship of the environment, compassion for animals, and lower food bills.

Regardless, the relationship between diet and smoking cessation is that if you plan your food patterns as part of your quitting strategy, you will feel better physically, and avoid some excuses for going back on the weed.

Chew on Cardomon Seeds

This is the one idea that worked for me AFTER I decided to quit, rather than before.

This idea came from my increasing interest in yoga. I found it in an article on ayurvedic yoga.

Without going into extensive detail, according to ayurveda, there are three bodily doshas, and illness is caused when the doshas become imbalanced.

You do not need to understand what a dosha is, or why cardomon seeds work.

All you need to know is that the ayurvedic system claims that balance can be restored to any body type addicted to nicotene by chewing on cardomon seeds.


You don't even need to know that chewing on cardomon seeds has anything to do with ayurvedic yoga.

I don't know if I believe in doshas.

What I do know is that when the nicotene cravings were strongest, chewing on a cardomon seed or two gave what seemed to be instant relief.

Further, the distorted sense of time that had occurred other times I tried to quit smoking did not occur this time around.

I went through two standard size bottles purchased at a regular grocery store. After that, I haven't needed this crutch.

Get six to eight hours of sleep.

If you are tired, your will power will feel weakened. Also, nicotene can act as stimulant, and tiredness will tempt you.

Studies show that less than six hours of sleep can dramatically increase the risk of heart disease.

Ironically, more than eight hours of sleep can also increase health risks.

Six to eight hours with an average of around seven to seven and half hours seems just right for most people.

As with prayer, diet and exercise, I planned out how I was going to give myself at least six, preferably eight hours of sleep every night.

This meant cutting back on some activities (like blogging, watching TV, and staying at work longer than I was really being productive).

Many of us feel pressed for time - but if we're really honest with ourselves, there is time to treat our bodies and souls right.

Be social!

You might feel a little edgy when you first quit smoking.

Furthermore, some of the ideas I am suggesting involve developing some introverted habits like more time in prayer and a yoga home practice or other exercise regime.

Be sure to counterbalance these introverted activities by spending some quality time with family, socializing with co-workers and working effectively, continuing (or starting) any volunteer activities you do, participating in church activities, and so forth.

Indeed, make a very conscious effort to engage people while you are trying to quit.

There's something about feeling connected to the human race that helps us get through tough times.

Some folks suggest that you tell your family, friends and co-workers that you are quitting smoking. If you've never tried that before, it may be a good idea.

In my case, I told nobody other than God and that priest in confession that I was intending to quit.

Indeed, I told nobody that I had quit (not even my wife) for at least three or four weeks.

In my case, the idea of telling everyone of a plan to quit ahead of time had led to embarrasment and shame in prior failed attempts.

That said, I was encouraged to keep on keepin' on by the signs of human love around me in day-to-day living.


Ok. You're a smoker and you've read this far, and you're thinking to yourself, "Joe. This is not really a strategy to quit smoking. Except for the cardomon seeds, you're just preaching healthy living."

Well, that's true.

Thus, even if my "method" doesn't lead you to quit smoking, you are not going to be any worse off - and you may be better off.

I return to an analogy I already used above - a cut healing itself.

God made the body with this awesome ability to regenerate itself without any "effort" on my part - and this principle seems to sort of apply to virtue and vice.

I don't think that I quit smoking by an act of pure "will power".

Rather, I think that what some people call "will power" was caused by something already natural to the human person and enabled by grace.

I think I discerned that at some deep level I wanted to feel better than I felt, and I started to change those things in my life that were not making me feel good, and adding things that do feel good.

Out of this, the desire to smoke simply weakened on its own, while the desire to quit smoking sort of gathered its own steam.

I was slightly worried when I quit smoking that I might pick up a worse habit - like abusing alcohol.

That hasn't happened. I am actually drinking less now than when I smoked.

I am finding that as I pay attention to the body, drinking simply doesn't feel good at a certain point.

My conclusion is this: don't try so hard to simply quit smoking. Instead, try to change your whole life to a healthy life-style, and smoking or not smoking will fall into place on its own.