Kapalbhati is an essential component of Shatkarma or Shatkriya, which refers to the traditional Yogic body cleansing and purification techniques mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It is a type of Pranayama that helps the practitioner eliminate different ailments from the body affecting mental, psychological, and physical health. Besides, Kapalbhati is also known for its effectiveness in weight loss and management.
The word Kapalbhati is formed from two words, i.e. Kapal, which means the skull, and Bhati, which can be translated as shining or lustrous. While many breathing techniques in Yoga practices focus on muscular control during inhalation, Kapalbhati emphasizes active exhalation to oxygenate the body. The underlying idea is to cleanse the brain, nasal passages, sinuses, and the body through short and strong exhalations of air ultimately supplying them with oxygen-rich blood.
Kapalbhati is not considered to be a formal pranayama practice by some yogis because it doesn’t involve the retention of breath, however, it is highly revered among all the Yogic breathing exercises. Besides, Kapalbhati also plays a significant role in breath training and helps individuals prepare themselves for the practice of Bhastrika, a pranayam that involves a greater flow of oxygen to the body.
From the perspective of many Yogis, no exercise can match the importance of Kapalbhati yoga in improving the oxygenation of the blood and spiritual benefit. Kapalbhati practice cleanses the body of Kapha, purifies the subtle energy currents or nadis, and awakens the energies along the Sushumna Nadi.
A steady repetition of forced exhalations lies at the core of Kapalbhati practice. Every exhalation that you push outward comes from a powerful thrust of the abdomen which quickly relaxes and breath flows into the lungs again due to the recoil. Once the inhalation is done, the respiratory system is ready for the next thrust of the abdomen to continue the breathing process.
Each cycle of exhalation and inhalation is considered to be one breath of the Kapalbhati pranayam procedure and the number of repetitions per round is decided depending on the capacity of the practitioner. Note that the breathing should be only through the nose.
Here’s how the Kapalbhati steps can be practiced in the right way.
It is recommended to practice Kapalbhati asan in a calm and quiet environment. Kapalbhati is more beneficial when done in a well-ventilated space or in the open in clean air.
Once you have decided the place, put a yoga mat, and sit in the Padmasana posture by placing each foot on the opposite thigh. People who find it hard to sit in this posture can initially begin with the Sukhasana posture and then gradually practice the Padmasana or lotus position.
Now, keep your spine straight and place your hands on your knees. Then close your eyes and try to empty your mind.
During mediation or Pranayam, different hand gestures or mudras are used to stimulate different parts of the body involved with breathing and guide the flow of energy through the mind-body connection. For Kapalbhati, Vayu or Gyan mudra is practiced.
Kapalbhati involves rapid exhalation followed by automatic inhalation. Start with neutral breathing. Then take a deep breath in through the nose and exhale it fast. During the exhalation, your stomach will be pulled inwards.
Beginners tend to use chest muscles to create forceful exhalation, but that’s not right. It distorts the sitting posture, shakes the whole body, and the exhalation process becomes faulty. Everything else except the abdomen should be resting firmly.
The trick to getting this right is to start at a slower speed first. Initially, one can start with just one exhalation per second. With practice, the movement of the breath will become comfortable and one can go faster. It is important to note that there shouldn’t be any pauses between a set of rapid breaths.
During the initial stages, one can aim for 20-40 times of inhalations and exhalations for a single round or set of Kapalbhati. Gradually, they can increase it to 50-100 breaths per round.
Kapalbhati Pranayam has numerous health benefits which are mentioned as follows.
Kapalbhati is an essential part of several yogic practices and systems and offers immense benefits when practiced regularly with the right technique. In the classical Hatha yoga system, it is performed to cleanse the airways, lungs, and purify the Nadis to influence the flow of prana from them. In the practice of pranayama, it is performed to prepare oneself for the vigorous breathing practice of Bhastrika or bellows breath.
As Kapalbhati works very well to soothe the respiratory system, it is also performed before the start of any advanced pranayama practices. In the context of Kundalini yoga, the Kapalbhati pranayama can awaken the dormant Kundalini power which then starts to move up the Sushumna Nadi.
The benefits of Kapalbhati for the mind, body, and spirit are many and profound. Start with this practice slowly under the guidance of an expert yoga practitioner and see how it transforms you from within.