Here is your complete guide, the health benefits and how to kapalbhati Kriya, the frontal brain cleansing technique, given by our ancient yogis… (and as explained in the most profound modern text on yoga the Hatha Yoga Pradipika).
P.S.- Once you read the post, don’t forget to watch the video on the same topic on YouTube. I have got you covered with this complete tutorial on Kapalbhati Kriya.
So What Is Kapalbhati
Kapalbhati is the last of the six shatkarmas
“In KAPALBHATI you need to perform exhalation and inhalation rapidly like the bellows of a blacksmith. It destroys all the mucus related disorders along with numerous other health benefits”.
In the Gherand Samhita, it is known as Bhalabhati.
Bhala and kapal both have same meaning- the ‘cranium’ or ‘forehead.’ Bhati is ‘light’ or ‘splendor,’ but it also means ‘perception and knowledge.’
In English it is called the ‘frontal brain cleansing’ technique. It is a similar practice to Bhastrika Pranayama except that exhalation is active and more emphasized while the inhalation is passive, the result of forcing the air out.
“In a nutshell– Kapalbhati is a pranayama technique which invigorates the entire brain and awakens the dormant centers which are responsible for subtle perception”.
In normal breathing, inhalation is active and exhalation is passive. This practice REVERSES that process so that exhalation becomes active and inhalation passive.
As described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the breathing should be done like the pumping action of a pair of blacksmith’s bellows. When the bellows are closed the air is pushed out and when they are opened the air is sucked in due to the vacuum effect that is created.
Similarly, when you inhale in kapalbhati, it should only happen as a reaction to the forced exhalation.
In Bhastrika, inhalation and exhalations are equal, but in kapalbhati it is not so.
Types Of Kapalbhati
According to the Gherand Samhita there are three forms of kapalbhati:
- Vyutkrama And
Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes only Vatakrama. Vata means ‘wind’ or ‘air.’
So now let’s have a look to the:
Benefits And How To Kapalbhati Kriya
Vatakrama Kapalbhati (air cleansing)
- Sit in a comfortable meditative pose, preferably siddhasana/siddha yoni asana and prepare yourself for meditation.
- Close the eyes and relax, keeping the spine erect.
- Place the hands in either jnana or chin mudra.
- Practice kaya sthairyam (steadiness of the body).
- Inhale deeply and perform fifty fast respirations through both nostrils placing more emphasis on exhalation. Inhalation should be short.
- After the last exhalation, inhale deeply through the nose and exhale quickly through the mouth, slightly pursing the lips.
- With kumbhaka (retention of breath) , perform jalandhara bandha, moola bandha, and uddiyana bandha in this order, but almost simultaneously.
- Maintain kumbhaka and the bandhas for as long as possible and count the duration.
- Before inhaling, release moola bandha, uddiyana and jalandhara in the same order.
- When the head is raised, inhale slowly through the nose. Practice three rounds of fifty breaths.
- When this is perfected you can increase it to five rounds. You can increase the practice by ten breaths each week, so that after five weeks you can practice one hundred breaths per round.
- After completing the practice concentrate on the space in front of the closed eyes.
You can notice that in kapalbhati a greater number of respirations can be taken than in bhastrika pranayama because hyperventilation does not occur. It can be increased to two hundred breaths with months of practice, unless advised otherwise by your guru.
Ideally, Kapalbhati should be done after asana or neti but before concentration or meditation.
If you experience dizziness while practicing, it means you are breathing too forcefully. If this is the case, stop the practice and sit calm with slow breath.
When you restart, do it with more awareness, and with less force. Inhalation should be spontaneous and not controlled, and exhalation should not make you feel breathless before completing the round. This is important. You should feel as if you could continue breathing in this manner beyond one hundred breaths.
The effects of kapalbhati and bhastrika are similar, but due to the forced and longer exhalation, kapalbhati affects the brain differently.
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Science Of Kapalbhati
Andre van Lysebeth has quoted a physiological phenomenon that during normal inhalation the fluid around the brain is compressed and so the brain contracts very slightly. With exhalation this cerebrospinal fluid is decompressed and the brain very slightly expands.
This is the mechanical influence of the respiratory cycle on the structure of the brain.
Forced exhalation in kapalbhati increases the massaging effect on the brain by enhancing the decompression effect on every exhalation.
Normally we breathe fifteen breaths per minute, means, the brain is compressed/decompressed that many times, moderately…
But in Kapalbhati Kriya, you are breathing fifty to one hundred times, stimulating the brain three to seven times more than usually per round. Kapalbhati also expels more carbon dioxide and other waste gases from the cells and lungs than normal breathing.
Variations Of Kapalbhati Pranayama
In the Gherand Samhita the method of practicing vatakrama kapalbhati is slightly different. Instead of breathing in rapidly through both nostrils, you inhale through the left and exhale through the right then inhale through the right and exhale through the left, as in Nadi Shodhana pranayama, except that inhalation/exhalation is done rapidly.
The Hatharatnavali clarifies these two different processes. It says,
“Fast rotation of the breath from left to right (right to left), or exhalation and inhalation through both nostrils together, is known as kapalbhati.”
Thus the two systems are correct. However, to accelerate the breath while doing alternate nostril breathing is not done easily.
Vyutkrama Kapalabhati (sinus cleansing)
The second practice of kapalbhati, vyutkrama, is similar to jala neti and is sometimes given as part of neti. Vyutkrama means ‘expelling system.’
For this practice you need a bowl of warm saline water rather than a neti pot.
Lean forward, scoop the water up in the palm of the hand and sniff the water in through the nostrils.
Let the water flow down into the mouth and then spit the water out from the mouth.
Practice in this way several times.
It is important to relax while sucking the water in. There should be absolutely no fear.
If there is pain in the nose during the practice it usually means that the water contains either too little or too much salt.
Sheetkrama Kapalbhati (mucus cleansing)
The third practice, sheet krama is the reverse of vyutkrama. Sheet means ‘cool’ or ‘passive.’
In this practice you take a mouthful of warm, salty water and instead of swallowing it, you push it up through the nose and let it flow out.
You have to remain relaxed and calm during the entire practice.
Vyutkrama and Sheetkrama should both be done standing rather than squatting.
Afterwards, make sure all the water is removed from the nose.
Benefits Of Kapalbhati
- The Gherand Samhita says that not only do these practices rid the sinuses of old mucus, but they make you attractive and deter the ageing process because the Kapalbhati helps relax facial muscles and nerves.
- It rejuvenates tired cells and nerves, keeping the face young, shining and wrinkle-free. The effects of vyutkrama and sheetkrama are the same as jala neti. Spiritually they help awaken Ajna Chakra.
- It is a best known technique to improve the functioning of your internal organs such as the lungs, kidney, liver, and the entire digestive system which further improves the health of people suffering from diabetes.
- One of the lesser known yet significant benefits of Kapalbhati pranayama is that it relaxes the eyes, can help do away with dark circles as well as premature signs of aging as does the face yoga!
- Kapalbhati Prayanama benefits from weight loss as well as it increases your metabolic rate immensely.
- The kriya helps you to sleep better by giving you a sense of balance, thus making your brain decluttered and de-stressed. It also makes you feel relaxed and ready for rest. You can consider this as one of the most significant benefits of Kapalbhati pranayama.
- Gas and acidity related problems are also cured.
- Since this Kriya works on increasing the blood circulation in your entire skull, you get shiny and lustrous hair.
When You Should Avoid: Kapalbhati Precautions
Kapalbhati cleansing technique or Pranayama, whatever you call it, is a totally safe yoga technique to follow for everyone.
However, avoid doing Kapalbhati if you have your menstrual period. Pregnant women should also avoid doing Kapalbhati as forcefully contracting the abdominal muscles can harm the unborn baby.
Additionally, If you suffer from heart diseases, exhale really slowly. People who have high blood pressure should first consult with a learned yoga teacher.
According to the legendary saint and yoga teacher Guru Ramdev “the people suffering from hypertension can also do kapalbhati by limiting the number of strokes to one per second”.
The point here is not to increase the strokes of Kapalbhati.
Also if you have a history of or are prone to a slipped disc or a stent, should refrain from practicing Kapal Bhati pranayama.
Kapalbhati may also lead to hernia in some cases and nausea if not performed on an empty stomach.
Photo Cropped view of woman in sportswear practicing yoga created by AntonMatyukha