Cigars, mental health, mindfulness and meditation: How to fully enjoy a great cigar
We all know that keeping your body fit and healthy is important. I know it was drummed into me from an early age that staying active and getting your heart rate up on a regular basis was the key to staying healthier for longer. Indeed I still exercise in one way or another nearly every day and cook for myself with the freshest ingredients I can get as often as I can. As a result I have been able to bounce back quickly after physical injuries and ailments. But what about mental health?
Over the years there has been a growing awareness and understanding of just how important mental health is. Both during and since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the emphasis on looking after your head as much as you heart has really taken a front seat in people’s minds. The proliferation of mental health memes, psychological terms entering the common parlance and encouragement to “check in” on people tells you all you really need to know about the increased importance being placed on looking after yourself, and others, mentally.
So about now you are probably starting to wonder what a mental health article is doing on a cigar blog? Stay with me though because all will be revealed…
Cigars and mental health: Physical wellness
You may have heard that there is anecdotal evidence that smoking cigars can have a positive effect on a person’s physical health. Perhaps it lowers the blood pressure, slows down breathing and therefore heart rate, which increases their longevity. The list goes on.
I would love to see a proper, unbiased scientific study into the physical effects that cigar smoking can potentially have, but perhaps unsurprisingly all of the studies that I have found so far have taken an anti-smoking stance and place their focus firmly in the direction of cigarettes or vaping. Maybe a more cigar-centric study is in the offing, and if so I’d be more than happy to be part of it.
Cigars and mental health: Looking after your mind
Across the world, the start of the 2020s saw wave after wave of restrictions on social interactions and various degrees of lockdowns from a small group of people being allowed to meet in an open space through to not being allowed out of your front door. Unsurprisingly this took quite a negative toll on a lot of people’s state of mind and mental health – myself included.
To fill the void left by physical interactions, we turned to online socialising en masse. Virtual cigar lounges popped up all over the place bringing people from all over the world together to share the joys of a collection of fermented leaves that had been handcrafted into a tantalising cylinder to light up and smoke.
The time that would have been spent travelling between the home, office and anywhere else was replaced with time to spend on yourself doing whatever you pleased, including kicking back and savouring a cigar or two on a much more regular basis. This was reflected in an increase in online sales of cigars.
Since the lockdowns here in the UK, I have read a number of mental health, mindfulness and meditation books. Whilst there are a lot of aspects of mindfulness and meditation practices that differ from approach to approach, there was one thing that stood out to me above anything else as being unified across all disciplines. The importance of breathing, and being fully present in the moment. Not worrying about yesterday, last week, tomorrow or any time that isn’t the here and now. This rang a bell for me, particularly when variations on the raisin meditation were mentioned.
Cigars and mental health: Mindfulness meditation
Cigar smoking, for me at least, is ultimately both an exercise in mindfulness and a meditation. Here is my personal view as to why.
In order to fully enjoy a cigar I need to be fully in the moment and use all your senses. When choosing a cigar I take my time. I might have planned on smoking one particular cigar only to end up choosing a different one because it “spoke to me”.
Once I have chosen the cigar, then my pre-light ritual starts. I take my time to inspect the cigar from head to foot, savouring the aroma, thinking about the look of the wrapper and how the cigar feels in my hands as I take my time to register the texture and weight. Only when I have thoroughly got to know the cigar I’m about to smoke do I even consider cutting and lighting it.
Choosing a cutter and lighter all plays into being in the moment. We all have preferred ways of cutting and lighting our cigars. They may change depending on vitola, occasion and what we have to hand, but ultimately you can’t really get away with nonchalantly cutting and lighting a cigar. Yes, you might have done it so many times now that you no longer give it much thought, but even the most seasoned cigar smoker will still to a certain extent look at, listen to and feel what they are doing.
Once cut, this is where taste enters play. What notes I get on the cold draw, the difference once lit and how it changes when I take the first hot draws. The nuances between the flavour of each draw, the texture of the smoke, what I get on the retrohale. Making note of the experience, flavours, aromas, ash colour, etc. This continues for the duration of my time with the cigar, all the while my focus being on what I am doing moment to moment, so much so that little else is able to enter my mind.
By the time a get to the end and lay the soldier to rest, my mind is clear and at peace, worries and concerns have been put into perspective, problems have been solved and I have a general sense of inner calm and wellbeing that so many practitioners of mindfulness and meditation talk about.
I would love to know your thoughts on this topic. Do you find that smoking a cigar has an effect on your mental health? Let me know in the comments below!
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