The Practice of Kapalabhati
The Kapalabhati, involves forceful exhalation and breathing at a high frequency approximately 1.0 Hz, though rates are high as 2.0 Hz are known to more sophisticated yogis. It is a form of Kriya – A kriya is a cleansing technique taught in Hatha Yoga.
Kapalabhati –a high frequency yoga breathing practice, is the steady repetition of forceful exhalations followed by slightly slower, passive inhalations. It is translated to ‘shining forehead’ (kapala = forehead, bhati = shining or splendor, in Sanskrit).
Kapalabhati is an invigorating breathing practice that clears the sinus, lungs, the nasal passages, and consequently, the mind. With this rapid exhalation, it brings lightness and clarity to the frontal region of the brain. Requiring a rapid contraction and release of the abdomen, it focuses primarily on the exhalation; the inhalation occurs passively and without effort.
Among the many breathing practices found in yoga, many emphasizes on muscular control during inhalation, not exhalation. Kapalabhati uniquely reverses this familiar pattern. In kapalabhati, the exhalation is active, with inhalation playing a passive role.
The Benefits of Kapalabhati
Kapalabhati is energizing and warming. It helps to cleanse the lungs, sinuses, and respiratory system, which can help to prevent illness and allergies. Regular practice strengthens the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. This exercise also increases your body’s oxygen supply, consequently, stimulates and energizes the brain while preparing it for meditation and work that requires high focus.
Other known benefits of practising Kapalabhati are that it releases toxins, expands lung capacity, strengthens the nervous system, balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, powers up the third chakra, increases stamina, energizes blood flow and circulation, delivers oxygen to the brain, resulting in improved focused and a natural state of calm awareness, strengthens the immune system, aids in digestion etc.
How to practise Kapalabhati
Start by taking a couple of full breaths, grounding the mind and gently awakening the bodily senses. When you are ready to start practicing kapalabhati, expel the breath forcefully through the nostrils (without strain or tension) and simultaneously pull the navel dynamically inward toward the spine, gently contracting the abdominal muscles. Most of the work should be by your lower abdominal area, not diaphragm. As you release the abdomen, let the inhalation occur passively; the lungs will fill without any effort. Immediately repeat with another forceful exhalation, drawing the navel inward again, and then let the inhalation follow passively. This process is repeated in rapid succession—one exhalation per second, or faster. On the final exhalation, completely empty your lungs of the CO2 and then let your breath to return to normal to end.
Positions of Kapalabhati
Usually, this cleansing technique is carried out in sitting position, in a basic cross-legged pose or Padmasana aka Lotus pose. The hands should rest gently on the knees, palms facing upwards. Fingers in any Mudra.
When to practise Kapalabhati
Always practice either on an empty stomach or more than 2 hours after eating. This practice will build stamina if it is done consistently over time.
In the morning: Kapalabhati breathing is an energizing exercise, doing it first thing in the morning for an refreshing wake-up call.
When you are feeling cold: Kapalabhati is also a warming breath, so if you feel chilly, 20 cycles of Kapalabhati can warm you up, even on a snowy day.
Mid-afternoon: If you are feeling a case of the mid-day sluggishness, try 20 cycles of Kapalabhati to energize your mind and body to power you through the rest of the day.
Note: More seasoned yogis can go up to 50-100 cycles. Over 120 cycles can cause a reduction in oxytocin levels.
Persons with high or low blood pressure or with coronary heart disease should avoid doing Kapalabhati. Those who have problems with their eyes (for example, glaucoma), ears (fluid in the ears), or nosebleed should not practice this exercise. Also, this breathing exercise should not be practiced by pregnant or menstruating women. Stop if you experience any pain, dizziness or light headedness, or unable to maintain a steady rhythm. Our energy moves up and out in unexpected ways, so staying within our pre-set boundaries for experimentation is extremely important. Most importantly, pay full attention to your capacity. Whenever your body shows signs of fatigue, end your practice immediately.