What is Kapalabhati Pranayama?
Pranayama is the science of breath control and is an extremely important part of yogic practice. Any yoga class that does not include breathing exercises is not complete! Let’s explore the technique of Kapalabhati pranayama and its extraordinary benefits.
“The mind is the king of the senses, but the breath is the king of the mind.”
—Hatha Yoga Pradipika
What is Kapalabhati Pranayama
Kapalabhati is a yogic breathing exercise that wonderfully saturates and rejuvenates the entire body with fresh oxygen. Like Anuloma Viloma, it usually happens at the beginning of Hatha and Sivananda yoga sessions because it prepares the body to optimally reap the benefits of asanas (yoga poses). Moreover, it encourages the flow of prana (vital energy) and lays the groundwork for higher concentration and meditation.
It is also one of the six purification techniques, or kriyas, that cleanse the body from the inside out. Often referred to in yogic texts as ‘lung purification,’ regular practice increases resistance to disease and removes toxins from the system.
The technique consists of a series of rapid inhalations and exhalations through the nose, creating a sort of “pumping” effect from the abdomen.
In each exhalation, air is energetically and audibly forced out by sharply contracting the abdominal muscles. In each inhalation (which then comes automatically), the muscles relax, allowing an influx of air back into the lungs.
How to Practice Kapalabhati
Start by sitting comfortably in a cross-legged position. The spine should be straight and the shoulders relaxed. The hands should be in Chin Mudra on the knees.
Take a couple of full yogic breaths. Remember, breathing nasally not only filters and warms the air, but also allows precious prana to flow through the central nervous system, brain and olfactory organs at the back of the nose.
A basic session consists of 3 rounds. Each round consists of 60 pumps. Beginners can start with 20 pumps, and then gradually increase to 60.
At the end of each round, inhale and exhale completely. Then inhale deeply, hold the breath for as long as you feel comfortable and finally exhale as much as you can. At this point, you’ll notice a profound sense of stillness and serenity. Embrace it.
The Benefits of Kapalabhati
Kapalabhati is performed at the beginning of the yoga practice precisely because it removes mental fatigue, refreshes the senses, clears the mind and promotes a radiant face. It is no wonder that its literal Sanskrit translation is “skull shining!”
Here are more of its remarkable benefits:
- Increases oxygen levels in the blood
- Tones the abdominal muscles
- Cleanses the lungs and nasal passage
- Rejuvenates the respiratory system
- Improves digestion
- Alleviates breathing-related disorders such as rhinitis, colds, asthma and sinus infections
- Promotes proper functioning of the thyroid glands
- Tones the neck and chin
- Balances the emotions
- Improves the quality of the voice, which is great for singers!
Avoid performing Kapalabhati after eating or while on a full stomach. Also, it’s not a good idea to practice it in the evening as it dynamically increases alertness and will definitely hinder your sleep. More contraindications to be aware of are:
- High/low blood pressure
- Anxiety, hypertension or panic attacks
- Heart disease
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Acid gastric issues
- Hernias or ulcers
- Detached retina or glaucoma
- Neck, lower back or abdominal injuries
Kapalabhati is not a beginner’s exercise. It is advisable to practice this pranayama under the guidance of a certified instructor. Each technique may require modifications or restrictions based on your health history and condition.