Kapal” is a Sanskrit word; it means forehead/skull, and “Bhati” means shine/light. Thus, Kapalbhati means an exercise that makes the skull shine. It also means that Kapalbhati is the practice, which brings a state of light and clarity to the brain’s frontal region with the inner radiance.
Kapalbhati is a highly energizing abdominal breathing exercise. Actually, this is a cleansing exercise; it purifies the blood, removes toxins from the body, cleanses the nasal passages and removes bronchial congestion. In this Pranayama, complete attention is given to exhalation only, and hardly any effort is applied to inhale. Inhalation is mild, slow and longer than the exhalation. Quick exhalation and natural inhalation follow each other. Kapalbhati should be practised on an empty stomach or three to four hours after a meal.
Sit on the floor in any comfortable and simple posture or, if you prefer, sit in a chair. Keep your spine and head erect and the hands-on knees. Close your eyes. Make sure the body and mind are relaxed.
Step 1. After taking a comfortable sitting position (Asana), take a few deep breaths consciously. See that the diaphragm is moving properly.
During inhalation, the diaphragm descends, and the abdomen is pushed out. During exhalation, the diaphragm pushes the lungs up, and the abdomen goes toward the spine. This constant up-and-down movement of the diaphragm throws the air in and out.
Step 2. Inhale slowly and comfortably, relaxing the abdomen allowing the air to return gently to the lungs.
Step 3. At the end of each inhalation, exhale rapidly and forcefully through the nostrils by contracting the abdominal muscles quickly with a backward push causing the diaphragm to rise and force the air out of the lungs. This completes one cycle of the Kapalabhati exercise.
Repeat this several times slowly (up to 5 rounds of 10 breaths). When you are comfortable, increase this to 20 breaths. Under the guidance of a teacher, you can extend the number of rounds each week. But under no condition should one go beyond one’s capacity.
It is important that the rapid breathing used in this technique be from the abdomen and not from the chest.
If you start experiencing any pain or dizziness, stop the practice immediately and sit quietly or just lie down in Shavasana for some time.
When the sensation has passed, recommence the practice with more awareness and less force. If the problem continues, consult a yoga teacher.
Benefits of Kapalabhati:
Kapalabhati is the best exercise to stimulate every tissue of the body. It activates, energizes, revitalizes and recharges the entire body. After and during the practice, a peculiar vibration and joy can be felt, especially in the spinal centres. When the vital nerve current is stimulated through this exercise, the entire spine will be like a live wire, and one can feel the movement of the nerve current.
The constant movements of the diaphragm up and down act as a stimulant to the liver, spleen and abdominal muscles. It balances and strengthens the nervous system, tones the digestive organs and improves digestion. It develops strength and stamina and coordinates the abdominal muscles.
Kapalabhati Pranayama is especially effective in lowering carbon dioxide (CO2) in the lower parts of the lungs. It cleanses the lungs and entire respiratory system. The blood is purified, and the body gets an increased supply of oxygen to all cells.
This is highly effective in controlling illness, allergies, obesity, constipation, diabetes, kidney/prostate/uterus diseases, lung problems and many other diseases. This technique increases the glow on the face of the practitioner.
On a mental level, it energizes and prepares the mind for meditation by removing laziness and sensory distraction from the mind. It also brings mental clarity and alertness.
While exhaling, do not use the body force, and there should not be any strain or jerk on the muscles of the face. Keep your facial muscles relaxed, especially the corner of the lips, nose & eye muscles. Thus, ensure that breathing is very- very slow and the release of the breath is at a great speed. Tensed muscles may cause you epilepsy, high blood pressure & paralysis.
In this process, the shoulders or any other body part should not move up and down. Normally when people breathe out, they bend the body to the front from the waist and give a jerk, or shake the shoulders and head violently, which would be highly incorrect. The body must be steady and quite peaceful, and the face must be pacific.
Although Kapalabhati has tremendous benefits to a practitioner, there are, however, some health conditions in which this breathing technique should not be practised without supervision. Those suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure, vertigo, epilepsy, hernia, gastric ulcer & recent surgery should take advice from a Yoga expert. If any of the above diseases are in an acute form, I would recommend abstaining from Kapalbhati.
Now a question arises in most of our minds. Since this form of pranayama is taboo for so many physical conditions and can also have many side effects, how should one go about it? Also, is it advisable and safe to learn and practice this form after learning from books or from watching certain TV programmes?
Pranayama is a science & needs to be done with accuracy as also with precautions. As we all have different body structures and varying fitness levels, conducting these exercises without pre-checking medical conditions can be quite counterproductive & even risky.