We are living in a world which is always on the move. While jostling with the pressures of the fast-paced lives we often find ourselves succumbing to fatigue and restlessness. Is there something which can detoxify us and help us thwart the daily rigors of life? Fortunately for us, there are many Pranayamas or breathing exercises that have the power to not only cleanse our mind and body but also keep ailments at bay. Kapalbhati pranayama is one such breathing exercise. 

Pranayama as a Healing Power

Breathing exercises are an indispensable element of the Yogic discipline which has become widely accepted as a means of attaining mental and spiritual health. Pranayama entails a number of exercises which are based on the principle of ‘mindful breathing’. Breathing is an innate healing tool which is available to us all the time. Breath if controlled in the right way has the potential to dispel many anomalies of the body and infuse the practitioner with health and vitality.

Kapalbhati Pranayama

Kapalbhati is, in fact, a kriya and not a Pranayama in the strict sense. It is one of the ‘shatkarmas’ of the ‘Hath Yoga’ which focuses on the internal cleansing of the body. ‘Kapal’ means ‘skull’ in Sanskrit and ‘Bhati’ means ‘to illuminate’. A regular practice of kapalbhati brings a natural glow to the face. 

There are three forms of Kapalbhati:

Vatakrama kapalbhati

 This type of pranayama is contrary to how we normally breathe. When we breathe we usually tend to inhale deeply and exhale in a gentle manner. But in Vatakrama, our exhalation is active and inhalation is passive.

Vyutkrama Kapalbhati

 This entails sniffing water through your nostrils thereby letting it flow down your mouth and then spitting it out. This practice is akin to ‘Jali Nati’.

Sheetkrama kapalbhati

Sheetkrama is opposite of Vyuktkrama. Under this practice, you take water through the mouth and expel it out through your nose. 

How to Perform Kapalbhati Pranayama

  • Practice Kapalbhati only on empty stomach. Though early morning is the best time to do Kapalbhati, it can be done in the evenings too if there is a gap of at least four hours after your last meal.
  • Sit in Padmasana or cross-legged position on a mat. You can even sit on a chair but keep your back and neck erect.
  • Close your eyes and breathe out from both the nostrils.
  • Now, breathe in and out rapidly and your exhalation. should be forceful while inhalation should be gentle.
  • During exhalation, your belly should go inside towards the thorax and there would be a hissing sound. At this juncture, feel all the negative energy and toxins getting flushed out of your body. 
  • Repeat this process for three to four minutes.
  • If you are a novice do not do more than 30 strokes in a minute.

Health Benefits of Kapalbhati Pranayama

There are a plethora of benefits associated with the regular practice of Kapalbhati pranayama. Generally, we breathe on an average of 16-20 breaths per minute. But, while performing Kapalbhati, we breathe as much as 120 times per minute. This staggers the consumption of oxygen and increases the elimination of carbon dioxide from the body. Because of this one experiences a tranquil state of mind as the respiratory center is not stimulated for breathing. Some other significant health benefits of Kapalbhati are:

Accelerates weight loss

 Kapalbhati significantly accelerates weight loss. The continuous inhaling and exhaling which takes place while performing kapalbhati helps melt the fat in your body. Thus, people who suffer from obesity should resort to Kapalbhati.

Improved digestive system

Kapalbhati soothes the digestive system thereby improving functions like digestion and absorption. It, therefore, guards against indigestion, gastritis, constipation, and hyperacidity.

Improved Respiratory system

The practice of Kapalbhati tremendously cleanses the respiratory system and removes blockages in the lungs. The ailments like common cold, sinusitis, deviated nasal septum, bronchitis, asthma, tuberculosis, and rhinitis can be prevented and treated by the regular practice of Kapalbhati pranayama.

Improved Circulatory System

The practice of kapalbhati leads to increase in RBC (Red Blood Cells), hemoglobin (Hb) in the blood. It leads to an improved circulatory system and also helps in better perfusion and filtration in the kidney. Improved blood circulation also makes Kapalbhati a magical serum for skin ailments like acute acne, eczema, and leucoderma.

Improved Mental health

The practice of kapalbhati augments the flow of oxygen and stimulates tranquility and bliss.  This state of mind which is attained through the rigorous practice of Kapalbhati helps dispel anxiety, insomnia and even complex mental ailments like schizophrenia.

Contra-indications of Kapalbhati

Before you decide to practice Kapalbhati, it is imperative to know that Kapalbhati is a complex form of pranayama and need to be learned from a trained master.

Quoting from the Samveda, “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 kills the practitioner himself). There are certain contra-indications of Kapalbhati pranayama and these should be kept in mind before practicing Kapalbhati:

  • Kapalbhati should not be practiced if you are suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure, epilepsy, spondylitis, glaucoma, slip disc or a hernia.
  • Menstruating and pregnant women should abstain from practicing Kapalbhati.
  • Kapalbhati is an advanced breathing technique. One should first become proficient in basic pranayama and then practice Kapalbhati.

Pranayama or ‘controlled breathing’ has far-reaching health benefits and we must practice the different pranayama exercises as they not only bestow us with a myriad of health benefits but also take us towards a blissful and meaningful way of life.