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Kapalbhati Pranic ‘Breathing Exercise’. Its Benefits, Practice Steps and Contraindications.

The word ‘Kapalbhati’ is made of two words, ‘kapal’ and ‘bhati’ which respectively means ‘skull’ and ‘shining’ from inside-out. This Pranic ‘breathing technique’ involves rapid exhalation of air by engaging the DIAPHRAGM ‘The Breathing Muscle’ while allowing inhalation to happen automatically. This is one of the yogic body cleansing practices, called ‘shatkriyas’ and has been practised since ancient times for cleansing the body energy channels.

Diaphragmatic breathing; an involuntary expression, is the first that we control due to factors like our moods, stresses, habits, body image, bad posture, allergies and certain ailments.

Kapalbhati is NOT a pranayama, it is a kriya, one of the six shatkriyas – a set of Hatha yoga purification technique of the body. These Shatkriyas are Kapalabhati, Trataka, Neti, Dhouti, Nauli and Vasti. For the convenience of new initiates, we have loosely used the word Pranayama in this introductory short video. Kapalbhati is not a breathing exercise for Weight Loss or Flat Stomach.

We strongly recommend you to practise this intense kriya ‘breathing exercise’ under the guidance of a related expert.

Kapalbhati can be dangerous and damaging…
Kapalbhati can be dangerous – If not done correctly.

Kapalbhatti, as I have experienced, is probably a tool to prepare me for the yoga asana practice, sitting mindfulness practice besides offering its innumerable health benefits.

Yes! We exhale around 70% of our spent energy and its waste through exhalation but It should be a 24×7 process. One can not substitute it with 15 minutes aggressive Kapalbhati. 

For me to travel 300 Km’s in a day I need to drive at the rhythm that doesn’t effect the car or me… the driver. I cannot do it in a short bursts of 1 hour.

Kapalbhati can be dangerous. I read it somewhere…

“Yatha sinho gaja vyadho, bhavedvashya shanaiha shanaiha.
Thartheva sevitho vayurnyartha hanthi sadhakam”

(Just like an elephant, a lion or a tiger can be tamed slowly and gradually, in the same way a practitioner should try to tame his breath slowly or else it can harm the practitioner himself).

Steps to practice Kapalbhati

1/7. You are required to sit on flat surface in Padmasana, Sukhasana or even in Vajrasana. For people who can not sit on the floor, even sitting on a chair can give the same benefits.

2/7. The hands should be placed on knees with palms upwards and in Gyan Mudra (tips of index finger and thumb touching each other).

3/7. Keep the spine straight. It should be straight but without any muscular tension.

4/7. Bring the focus on the breath by drawing the attention inwards. 

5/7. Take a few normal breaths from nostrils, till the time you are totally mindful of the breathing exercise.

6/7. Begin with normal inhalation and forceful/active exhalation of the breath through nostrils. The exhalation is of much shorter duration than the inhalation but much forceful/faster. The inhalation should not be forceful, rather it has to be normal and without effort. Inhalation should be passive, meaning that you do not have to inhale actively by making effort.

7/7. Repeat this cycle of inhalation and exhalation rapidly. Be mindful of inhaling and exhaling in correct manner while retaining the speed for a few cycles.

During the exercise the air from the belly ‘diaphragm’ and lungs moves out completely through the thorax region and the inhalation again fills in the air. 

Time duration for Kapalbhati Practice

Kapalbhatti should be practiced early morning when the stomach is empty, or in the evenings after a gap of about 4 hours from the meals. In the beginning, these cycles should be repeated for around 20 times, and it should only be done for a period of not more than 5-7 minutes, a day. This exercise generates heat in the body, so do it till the time you are comfortable with it.

Possible Health Benefits of Kapalbhati

Some of the major benefits of doing Kapalbhati pranayama are:

1/9. This exercise cleans the cranial sinuses due to forceful exhalation and normal inhalation. By doing so, it also clears the air passageways and purifies the nerves, enabling smooth flow of pranic energy.

2/9. It helps in reducing the Kapha dosha, which is one of the doshas in Ayurveda.

3/9. It channelizes prana vayu in the body which also helps in mental health. It enhances mindfulness, brings more clarity to mind and controls thoughts. 

4/9. Oxygenation of Blood. Kapalbhati pranayama is one of the best to enrich the blood with oxygen. 

5/9. Reduces Obesity. Due to the exercise of the belly and forceful exhalations, this also reduces the belly fat. This reduces the level of obesity and gets you into a fitter body shape. 

6/9. Reduces blood sugar levels. Another important benefit of this exercise is that the sugar levels are reduced. Due to the heat generated by the body and oxygenation with this exercise, the metabolism of body improves which works to reduce the sugar levels of blood. 

7/9. This is also helpful in curing the stomach disorders and improves the digestion. 

8/9. Due to forceful exhalation of all carbon dioxide rich air and filling in oxygen, it helps in improving the health and functioning of the lungs. Therefore, the functioning of whole respiratory system becomes normal. Any ailments or disorders can be prevented.

9/9. Improvement in reproductive system. One of the advantages of Kapalbhati is that it enhances the sex drive of the person naturally. It improves the erectile dysfunction condition. 

Precautions and Contraindications

Certain precautions need to be taken while doing Kapal Bhati pranayama. These are…

1/5. People of certain medical condition should not do it. These conditions are if you have any heart issue particularly those having implants of stents or pacemaker, those who have undergone abdominal surgery, hernia, epilepsy and have a backache due to slip disc. In case you still want to practice the pranayama, do so under the guidance of an expert and make sure you should do exhaling slowly and not forcefully. 

2/5. Women, during their phase of pregnancy and even for two-three months after it, should not practice it because of constriction of abdomen involved in the exercise.

3/5. People having high blood pressure condition should do it under guidance of experts or do it slowly and for small duration of time. 

4/5. If you have clogged nose or cold and cough, then you might not be able to do this properly. It shall be done slowly so that the passageways are cleared. 

5/5. In the winter season, your nose might be cool which causes discomfort while practicing this exercise. It is a good idea to use your hand or piece of cloth such as mask to either cover the nose and mouth or place it at some distance away so that the warm breath warms up the nose to reduce the cooling effect.

A Writers Note: I read two articles… ‘Is Kapalbhati killing you?’ and ‘Kapalbhati can kill’ … Ofcourse, I felt the articles were real alarmist BUT grudgingly I had to accept a few pointer. Kapalbhati should never be used for reasons that it is not intended to be done for.

In my years of practice, my observation is one should be under the guidance of a related expert especially when one is practice any intense kriya and pranayama like Kapalbhati and/or Agnisaar. If overdone or not done correctly, Kapalbhati can really be dangerous and damaging for the health.

Related article…

Kapalbhati is not a breathing exercise for Weight Loss or Flat Stomach

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