Kapalbhati, Refresh the Mind & Body, Skull Shinning Pranayama

Author: Randeep Singh / go to all Techniques of Yoga articles

Have you ever experienced bad breath,

Halitosis, congestion of nasal passages

due to clogging by the mucous?

Yoga says that one should always breathe

through the nose, and not the mouth.

Try asking anyone, how do they breathe:

mouth or nostrils. You will get a confused

gesture as an answer.

We actually do not care as far as the lungs

are receiving the air, what quality?  doesn’t matter. And then we act surprised at developing ailments associated with wrong breathing. Kapalbhati can correct all this.

Awareness is the first mantra of Yoga, and keeping the breathing apparatus clear of any obstructions is the next step towards a healthy Mind and body. Kapalbhati is one of the many yogic techniques available to us for keeping this apparatus, clear, healthy and strong.

 Kapalbhati is one of the “Shatkarmas”, Kriyas – six cleansing exercises -, not a Pranayama as it is generally thought of.  It warms up, clears the nasal cavities, nasal passages, and sinuses, thus prepares them for subsequent yoga practices like pranayamas and asanas. Kapalbhati falls under Aisvarya Bhava, from among the four Bhavas, attitudes, associated with Yoga practices. Thus practicing Kapalbhati infuses a feeling of vigor, enhanced self-esteem, strength, and motivation along with it working as an efficient mood elevator.  

 “Kapal” stands for forehead in English and Bhati means shinning. A regular practitioner of this kriya develops a soft, healthy and shining look on your face, completely justifying the associated nomenclature. The best time for practicing Kapalbhati is early morning or before you start your day as the bhavas, feelings generated as a result are due to an energized nervous system which may hinder efforts at falling asleep in case it is done in the later hours of the day.  

The technique of Kapalbhati as explained below is also known as Vatakrama Kapalbhati

The Technique of Kapalbhati:

  1. To begin with kapalbhati sit in any comfortable posture, Sukhasana, Padmasana, Vajrasana, or stand erect with one feet distance between your feet, in case you choose to sit make Jnana mudra with the hands and place the backs of the hands on the thighs, do not make any hand mudra in case you choose to stand, take two deep breaths( one inhalation and one exhalation is one breath)
  2. After the third inhalation hyperventilate ( throw the air out of the lungs through the nostrils in a comfortably paced rhythm using mild force) on every exhalation, the inhalation is longer and passive and the exhalation is shorter (one-fourth of the  duration of the inhalation) for each breath Kapalbhati
  3. No effort should be made to inhale as the air will be automatically sucked into the lungs as the diaphragm will relax after an active exhalation, Keep the attention on the area between the eyebrows, the movement of the respiratory apparatus during exhalation must be similar to a sneeze while doing Kapalbhati
  4. Do not voluntarily contract the abdomen to expel the air out of the lungs, instead keep the attention on the area above the shoulders and imagine the air being pulled out of the lungs by a point in the forehead, the abdomen will contract slightly on its own due to the natural movement of the diaphragm during exhalation
  5.  One active exhalation and one passive inhalation is equal to one breath while doing Kapalbhati, to begin with, practice 15 breaths in half a minute, and gradually move to 30 breaths within the same span of time, end on an exhalation, take three normal breaths
  6. After the last inhalation hold the breath to a minimum of 15 seconds by tucking the stomach in, release the stomach after 15 seconds and breathe normal, this is one round, practice 3 – 5 rounds in a single go, one can go up to 100 breathes for a single round as the capacity builds up gradually

Watch the video on Hyperventilation Technique.

Breathing Pattern, Duration ( Kapalbhati)

  • The breathing must be done from the abdomen and not from the chest.  A pleasant warmth may be felt in the navel region while holding the breath after one round. This is because of the activated Prana in the solar plexus or the Manipura Chakra. Since the prana follows the Mind, keep your attention on the area between the eyebrows in order to direct the Prana there.
  • One can do 3 – 5 rounds of 60-100 breaths each.

Common Faults: Kapalbhati

  • Contracting the abdomen while inhaling, to correct this place one hand on the naval region and other on the chest, consciously push the abdomen in everytime you exhale while doing Kapalbhati
  • Contracting the facial muscles due to the force applied at exhalation, avoid making noise due to the friction in the nose
  • Contracting the shoulders and arching the back for aiding the exhalation, keep the shoulders and spine vertically straight throughout

Fine Corrections related to Kapalbhati

  • Do not fidget while practicing Kapalbhati, you can relax the posture after at least one round
  • Do not twitch the facial muscles, this can create the feeling of anxiety and anger
  • The hands must be placed so as to keep the palms facing upward
  • The spine should be kept comfortably erect and not stiff
  • Sit against the wall or use a cushion at the lower back in case any discomfort is felt at these areas initially
  • Never overexert or use strong jerky movements while doing Kapalbhati
  • You can keep the eyes shut or open as is deemed comfortable, Loss of energy is prevented in case the eyes are kept closed
  • Always enter a pranayama with a motivated and positive mind, as whatever you are feeling while beginning a practice gets multiplied by the end of it
  • Practice Kapalbhati after Jalneti and before any other Yoga practice like asanas, pranayamas or meditation
  • Practice Anulom Vilom after  doing kapalbhati

Possible Side Effects of doing Kapalbhati

  • Kapalbhati can cause hypertension and hernia
  • It can lead to a headache or dizziness
  • It can also cause a vomiting sensation
  • The mouth can go dry by practicing kapalbhati
  • Excessive perspiration or salivation can also be experienced

When not to do Kapalbhati – Contraindications

  • Kapalbhati should be avoided in case the scenarios mentioned below exist
  • Practitioners with respiratory problems may feel dizzy in the beginning, try doing kapalbhati  slowly and with less number of breaths in each round
  • Vertigo – practice Kapalbhati only after the problem has been resolved
  • Severe heart and circulation issues – if practicing reduce the rate
  • Epilepsy- learn it in a phased manner and after regular asana practice
  • Abdominal pain, camping or inflammation,
  • Fever, gastric ulcers, inner bleeding, stroke, hernia or organ weakness
  • Pregnancy, Mensuration
  • Slipped disc or a stent

Advantages, or Kapalbhati Benefits

The best part of practicing any Yoga exercise is that it’s a natural means of improving and maintaining our overall health. Rarely does a yoga practice work s locally; its impact is always overall, multifaceted, Kapalbhati is no exception.

  • Steadies, and calms the Mind
  • Does away with dullness, fatigue, lethargy, it is very effective technique to be included in the yoga for removing fatigue curriculum
  • The brain gets revitalized due to the compression-release effect on the brain fluid, alleviating depression
  • Helps subdue anger, desire, pride, sensuality, and envy
  • Delusions and nightmares are reduced
  • Enhances the quality of Sattva ( Purity) in the practitioner
  • Clears nasal mucus and prevents, cures respiratory problems like sinusitis, nasal catarrh, coryza, that is why it should be incorporated in the set of yoga techniques for improving the quality of respiration
  • It improves lung capacity through a concept called “vacuum effect”
  • Prevents and cures digestive issue and tones the abdominal muscles, improves the efficiency of the liver and the kidneys, alleviates acidity and gas issues
  • Cures a headache, and is always a part of yoga techniques for relieving headache
  • Improves vision by clearing delicate passages in the skull
  • Metabolism is boosted, generates body heat which expels the toxins
  • Reduces the weight of the practitioner
  • One Keeps on looking young and it reduces wrinkles, dark circles around the eyes
  • Is therapeutic in asthma, diabetes and hair loss, bronchitis, emphysema, tuberculosis (do not practice Kapalbhati when an asthmatic attack is in progress)
  • Enhanced intake of oxygen and elimination of carbon dioxide improves concentration  
  • Women who have practiced Kapalbhati for some time can use it in aiding childbirth

Where Should the Mind be on while doing Kapalbhati

  • Physical awareness while doing Kapalbhati should be kept on the breath and the rhythmic movement of the abdomen
  • Spiritual awareness must be maintained in the area between the eyebrows

The Chakras Kapalbhati Impacts the most

Kapalbhati impacts the Ajna Chakra.