In Yogic and Ayurvedic sciences, there are certain purificatory/cleansing processes which are very useful for detoxifying the body and mind. (please refer to our blog on “Detox/Cleansing Techniques” for details!.
In this article I will discuss the techniques, benefits, precautions, etc. of Kapalabhati Kriya.
Many Yoga instructors/practitioners of today consider Kapalabhati to be one of the Pranayamas, because it involves regulated breathing in specific ways. But in a strict Yogic sense, Kapalabhati is one of the six cleansing processes.
The term Kapalabhati is a combination of two Sanskrit words, i.e. “Kapala” which means skull/head/brain; and “Bhati”, which means to illuminate, to ignite, to cleanse, to burn, etc. So, Kapalabhati refers to a process through which the accumulated toxins/dirt/mucus is removed from the skull/head/brain and the whole area within the head is cleansed thoroughly. This technique also helps to burn and eliminate toxic matter from the gut (often called the 2nd brain).
In Yogic texts, it is stated :
Bhastraa val lohak aarasya, recha purau sasambhramau; kapalabhatir vikhyata, kapha dosha vishosini.
Translation : Forceful inhaling and exhaling like an iron-smith’s bellows is popularly known as Kapalabhati. And according to ancient Ayurvedic philosophy, this technique can dry up twenty types of “kapha dosha’ (toxic mucus/catarrh).
In Preliminary and Ashtaanga/Hatha Yoga there are two types of “Kapalabhati” mentioned, i.e. “Rechaka Pradhan Kapalabhati” – in this method focus is only on the exhalation; and “Puraka-Rechaka Kapalabhati”, in which one has to be equally attentive while inhaling and exhaling.
Here are the different ways in which each type of Kapalabhati is done:
A) RECHAKA PRADHAN KAPALABHATI –
- Sit in any of the meditative postures, i.e. Padmasana, Siddhasana, Sukhasana or Vajrasana, on a cotton/jute rug or a yoga mat, placing the hands on the knees, keeping fingers in Gyana Mudra (tips of the index fingers touching tips of the thumbs and keeping the other three fingers straight, close together.
- Take a few deep breaths and relax.
- Start exhaling vigorously using force through both the nostrils. Inhalation will happen spontaneously in between the two exhalations.
- Make sure when you breathe out forcefully, you contract your stomach muscles.
- Relax the stomach muscles in between two exhalations when the inhalation happens automatically/spontaneously.
- Do 25 – 30 forceful exhalations to begin with.
- After one cycle of 25 – 30 forceful exhalation, take a deep breath and exhale completely using slight force and at the same time contract the stomach and abdominal muscles completely, pulling them in towards the spine – this is called Uddyan bandh (Abdominal lock).
- Apply Jaalandhar bandh (Chin lock) – refer to our blog on Jaalandhar bandh – and keep the stomach and abdominal muscles contracted while holding the breath out for a few seconds (8 – 10 seconds to start with).
- Release the chin lock first by raising the chin to the normal level, and then release the abdominal lock by relaxing the stomach & abdominal muscles.
- Repeat steps 2 – 9, for 3 times to begin with, gradually increasing it to 5 times, maximum.
Most people have a general misconception that Yoga is very safe and harmless – this is true, provided it is done correctly, otherwise it can be harmful.
There is a saying in Indian language: ‘Dekha dekhi karey jo yog, nashta ho kaya aur badey rog.
Translation : Yoga exercises that are done just by watching someone, without understanding the right technique from a Yoga Guru/Qualified Instructor, can damage/destroy his/her body and increase the diseased condition.
- People suffering from high blood pressure, piles/haemorrhoids, migraine, etc, should practice this technique under the supervision of a qualified & experienced Yoga guru/instructor.
- Particularly those who have a strong tendency of having haemorrhoids problem, should not sit in the Vajrasana pose. Preferably, they should sit in the Lotus pose or the Easy pose. If either of these postures is not possible to do, then they should sit in Vistrutpad Vajrasana, but avoid sitting in Vajrasana while doing Kapalabhati, as this can aggravate their problem due to too much pressure on the veins and muscles around the anus.
- Always contract the stomach and abdominal muscles to the fullest extent after each exhalation.
- After each cycle of 25 – 30 vigorous breathing, one must apply the abdominal and chin lock to relieve pressure from the rectum, lungs and the heart. Otherwise, these organs can be adversely affected.
- Pitta and Vata predominant individuals should put a couple of drops of pure ghee (clarified butter) or virgin coconut oil in both the nostrils after finishing these exercises and also at night before going to bed – preferably while lying down on one’s back and tilting the head slightly downward from the bed. This can help to prevent too much dryness and heat, due to the vigorous breathing.
B) PURAKA-RECHAKA KAPALABHATI –
- Sit in a Yoga posture like in (A) above.
- Breathe in and out attentively.
- After breathing out, take a deep breath in and hold your right palm under your nose and exhale.
- Observe from which nostril the force of air is stronger. The stronger side indicates that the nasal passage is clearer from that side and the nadi on that side is more active. For example, if the force of air is stronger from the left nostril, that indicates your Chandra nadi, which is connected with the left nostril, is active.
- If the Chandra nadi/left nostril is active, then close the right nostril with your right thumb and breathe in forcefully through the left nostril after breathing out first completely from it.
- Close the left nostril with your ring and little fingers, while keeping your index and middle fingers together and bent inward towards the palm, and breathe out through the right nostril with force.
- Then do the same through the opposite nostril – breathing in through the right nostril and breathing out through the left nostril.
- Repeat this whole process of vigorous breathing through both the nostrils, alternatively – 25 – 30 times to start with.
In general, the first type of Kapalabhati is very commonly practiced. There is a very significant difference between the above two types of Kapalabhati and hence the benefits also differ.
- The first type of Kapalabhati focuses on the forceful breathing through both nostrils and the movements of stomach and abdominal muscles as well. Therefore, in addition to its cleansing effects on the nasal passage, sinus, brain, etc. it has very strong beneficial effects on the stomach, the whole digestive system and on the excretory organs as well.
- Both the techniques are very beneficial for the lungs, heart and the neurotransmitters. Therefore, one can improve the functioning of the respiratory system, strengthen one’s heart and also improve memory & sharpen the intelligence.
- By regular practice of these techniques, one can improve the health of one’s skin. It is a proven fact that skin disorders are mainly caused due to impurities in the blood. Since these techniques can help to purify the blood tissue, one’s skin also becomes healthier.
- These techniques help to enhance appetite and speed up metabolism.
- These techniques help to bring alertness at the physical level and awareness at the mental level.
- If done correctly, these techniques can help to prevent sleeping disorders, migraine, memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.
- Cold, cough, and other respiratory disorders can be easily corrected and prevented by regular practice of these techniques.
- In the second technique, since breathing is done through alternate nostrils, this combines the effects of Kapalabhati and Nadi Shodhan pranayama (one of the main eight pranayamas in Yoga).