Yogic breathing, which consists of proper inhalation, retention and exhalation, wonderfully saturates and rejuvenates the entire body with fresh oxygen. Kapalabhati is a breathing technique that is practiced at the start of each Sivananda Yoga session and welcomes greater vitality, clarity of mind and a balanced emotional state.
What is Kapalabhati Pranayama?
Pranayama is the science of breath control. And Kapalabhati is a breathing exercise that prepares the body to reap the benefits of asanas (yoga poses), encourages the flow of prana (vital energy) and lays the groundwork for higher concentration and meditation. It is also one of the six purification practices, or kriyas, that cleanse the body from the inside out, increase resistance to disease and remove toxins from the system.
How to Practice Kapalabhati Pranayama
The technique consists of a series of rapid inhalations and exhalations through the nose. It is important to remember that breathing nasally not only filters and warms the air, but also allows precious prana to flow through the olfactory organs at the back of the nose, through the brain and into the central nervous system.
In each exhalation, air is energetically and audibly forced out by sharply and briefly contracting the abdominal muscles which raises the diaphragm; in each inhalation, the muscles are automatically relaxed which allows an influx of air back into the lungs.
A basic session consists of three rounds. Each round, initially twenty pumps and gradually increasing to sixty, is followed by a deep inhale and exhale. It concludes with another inhale, a retention and a final exhale in which the body experiences a profound sense of stillness and serenity.
The Benefits of Kapalabhati
The conscious contraction of the abdominal muscles and diaphragm not only increases the amount of oxygen into the body, but also tones the abdominal muscles and internal organs. Moreover, the act of forced exhalation encourages any stale air at the bottom of the lungs to be expelled, allowing pure oxygen to infiltrate and rejuvenate the respiratory system.
As the ear, nose and throat are closely connected, breathing-related disorders such as rhinitis, colds, asthma and other sinus infections are alleviated and the lungs are deeply cleansed. It is also extremely beneficial for the functioning of the thyroid and for toning the muscles in and around the neck and chin.
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.”
“Pranayama is the link between the mental and physical disciplines of yoga. While the action is physical, the effect is to make the mind calm, lucid and steady.”
Combined with Anuloma Viloma, Kapalabhati is an important part of yogic practice and forms the backbone of pranayama. As the state of mind is directly reflected in the breathing, so it follows that by controlling the breath, one can control the state of mind.