Rationale: Breathing exercises have been proposed as a way of combating cigarette cravings, potentially presenting a low-cost, easily scalable smoking cessation aid.
Objective: The aim of this study is to evaluate the acute impact of breathing exercises based on yogic pranayama on cravings in abstaining smokers.
Methods: Participants visited the laboratory on two occasions 24 h apart and were asked to abstain from smoking 12 h prior to the first visit until the end of the second visit. Smokers (N = 96) were randomly allocated to a yogic breathing exercise (YBG) or video control (VCG) group. The former was instructed on breathing exercises, practised these for 10 min and asked to use these when experiencing cravings until the next visit. The latter was shown a breathing exercise video for 10 min and asked to concentrate on their breathing. Strength of urges to smoke, other craving measures and mood and physical symptoms associated with cigarette withdrawal were assessed at the beginning and end of the first visit, and again at the second visit.
Results: At immediate follow-up, in the laboratory, all craving measures were reduced in YBG compared with VCG (strength of urges: F(1, 96) = 16.1, p < 0.001; cigarette craving: F(1, 96) = 11.3, p = 0.001; desire to smoke: F(1, 96) = 6.6, p = 0.012). There was no effect on mood or physical symptoms. Adherence to the breathing exercise regimen in the following 24 h was low, and at 24 h follow-up, there was no evidence of reduced cravings in YBG compared with VCG.
Conclusions: Simple yogic-style breathing exercises can reduce cigarette craving acutely in the laboratory. Further research is needed to determine how far this translates into field settings.