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.
Thanks for the great information, Many years ago I learned about the ancient practice of mindful breathing but it was only in text form the video really helped me understand I am now able to visualize the exercise so thank you for that.
You mention this is a great way to start your yoga practice but can I start my day with this exercise or is it best to follow with a Yoga routine?
Kapalabhati is a breathing exercise that should be done at the beginning of your entire yoga routine.
I practice kapalabhati during my yoga practice and find it to be very cleansing and revitalizing. I have practiced yoga for 20 years and this is such an important component.SOmetimes my friends say they get dizzy when they do this-can you explain to me why they might feel that and how to prevent it?
Dizziness during Kapalabhati means that he/she is forcing the exhalation too much or too fast. Tell them to take it nice and slow and build up gently and gradually.
Remember that any existing medical conditions such as high/low blood pressure, epilepsy or heart disease are contraindications to breathing exercises, so it always best to practice under the guidance of a certified yoga instructor.
This is something very new to me, as I was never so deep into different yoga practices, I relayed on the teachings of my trainer, as I believe many do. But the video and the description got me, I would like to try kapalabhati.
Thanks for this valuable information.
P.S. I find your whole site very interesting!
Thank you Spela!
Hi Andrea, thanks for the great post and info! I never heard about Kapalabhati Pranayama but you made me interested. I will definitely try it. I’m at the beginning of my yoga journey and it looks like have still a lot to learn 🙂
Happy practising Elektra!
This is a good practice in calming the mind and body. I have not practice Yoga before and I believe that deep meditation allows the mind to rest thereby relieving the body of the harmful effects of stress. A healthy mind is needed to have a physiologically healthy body. Thank you for a wonderful and useful post.
You’re welcome Deljar!
It has really amazing benefits and increasing the amount of oxygen into the body is just the thing which I can use for my workout sessions. For best results should I do it before or after the training?
Kapalabhati is usually done at the beginning of your practice.
Let me know how it goes!
I always was interested in Yoga and recently I was searching for breathing techniques. I injured my back 8 years ago and though going to the gym and little bit of Yoga helped a lot it never quite healed entirely. I do believe it’s mostly from bad habbits I have and bad posture.
My core muscle are very tight and I do think that I don’t breathe normally. I mean I think my technique of breathing is not good because of a lot of stress and very tight core muscles. I can’t expand my diaphragm very well while breathing and I do believe this is one of the cause I can’t breathe well.
I am thankful that I found this article as I may try this new technique to help in my breathing. I also do believe that breathing is related to our thoughts and mind.
I’m sure it will help, Jean-Philippe. Just keep practising!
Thank you Andrea. Im glad i came across your site. I don’t do yoga, but my girlfriend does. I’m going to share this info with her. Thanks again
Please do share it with her! You’re welcome!
More awesome knowledge from you as always. I firmly believe that breathing is such a cleansing process for the mind and spirit. Another link to our divine selves. Thank you for sharing.
You’re always welcome, Brent!
This is very good information about Kapalabhati Pranayama. I had never heard of it, but it makes sense and sounds very relaxing. I have yet to try yoga. Is this practiced with most yoga at the beginning?
Yes, it is an essential breathing exercise that is included in the basic pranayama practice at the start of each yoga session.
Interesting, Andrea. I meditate over here in Detroit. Learned it while taking Kung Fu training. Have never come across this particular technique tho’.
Do you think it has noticeable benefits for someone like me who has no nasal or allergy issues at all?
I usually meditate for 20 minutes, slowing my breathing down quite a bit. Just wonder if I should incorporate this or not.
I’ll check out some of your other posts too. Looks like you’ve got some good stuff here….
Yoga isn’t just a cure for ailments. It’s a way of life that prevents ailments and keeps the body, mind and spirit healthy to begin with. So yes, all techniques in yoga, including breathing exercises such as Kapalabhati, will definitely have noticeable benefits.
Hope you’ll stop by often!
Wow, interesting post. I had no idea there were so many variations of how to breathe! I will definitely try some of them out!
Great! Keep me posted on how it goes!