What is kapalbhati pranayama?
Kapalbhati pranayama in yoga is a breathing technique consisting of forceful, short exhales and relatively gentle inhales. The Kapalbhati pranayama technique cleanses and tones the respiratory system by getting rid of toxins. Also, this breathing technique purifies and revitalizes the body as well as the mind.
Considered a cleansing technique (Shatkarma) which also involves breathing, Kapalbhati is also looked upon by some yoga practitioners as a pranayama technique.
Since our body releases most toxins accumulated in the body through the outgoing breath, a regular practice of Kapalbhati pranayama in yoga is said to detoxify the body to a large extent.
Also referred to as skull-shining breath, Kapalbhati pranayama sharpens your acumen while making you glow from the inside out.
Types of kapalbhati pranayama
As per Gheranda Samhita, there are three types of Kapalbhati pranayama
This breathwork technique is actually Kriya related to breathing. This is the most widely practiced and popular form of Kapalbhati pranayama in yoga. In fact, when anyone talks about Kapalbhati pranayama, they are actually referring to the Vatakrama form unless mentioned otherwise.
Vyutkrama Kapalbhati pranayama is a reversal Kriya of drawing the water through our two nostrils and expelling it via the mouth in a slow manner. However, considerable breathwork training is required to do this Kriya and such Kriyas are part of more elaborate programs like yoga teacher training in Rishikesh.
Contrary to the Vyutkrama Kapalbhati Kriya, the Sheetkrama Kapalbhati involves drawing water via the mouth and eliminating it through the nostrils. As this pranayama has a cooling effect on the body, it is hence given the name Sheetkrama.
How to do Kapal Bhati pranayama step by step
Sit comfortably with your spine erect. You may sit cross-legged on the floor or in the Vajrasana pose (sit on your heels while keeping your knees bent and shins below your thighs). Alternatively, if you are unable to sit on the floor, you can sit on a chair while keeping your feet flat on the floor.
After you are comfortably seated, start by taking a long deep breath.
While exhaling, contract the lower part of your belly and breathe out forcefully in small bursts. As a beginner, you can place one hand on your stomach to feel your abdominal muscles contract.
Release your abdomen quickly and allow your breath to enter your lungs naturally.
You need to take 20 breaths in this manner to complete one round of the Kapalbhati pranayama.
After you complete one round of Kapalbhati pranayama, close your eyes and relax. Feel and observe the sensations traversing through your body.
Perform 2 more such rounds of Kapalbhati pranayama to complete the practice.
You should keep in mind that in Kapalbhati pranayama in yoga, the exhalation is forceful and active through both nostrils. The inhalation, on the contrary, is passive. The moment you relax your abdomen, inhalation will take place naturally. You simply need to focus on breathing out.
You can join a pranayama course and learn the correct technique of Kapalbhati pranayama and other pranayamas in yoga.
Benefits of kapalbhati pranayama
Kapalbhati pranayama in yoga has myriad benefits for the body and the mind. Let's take a look at some of these health benefits.
1.Kapalbhati pranayama for high blood pressure
Kapalbhati pranayama has shown promise for treating high blood pressure. In one study, participants were asked to do Kapalbhati pranayama and their blood pressure was immediately noted and thereafter, blood pressure was measured after a gap of 3 minutes. The blood pressure measures showed a considerable fall therein suggesting the potential of Kapalbhati pranayama in treating high blood pressure.
However, we suggest that hypertension patients consult their doctor before performing Kapalbhati pranayama. Also, such people should perform Kapalbhati and other pranayama techniques only under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher.
2.Kapalbhati pranayama for weight loss
Kapalbhati pranayama in yoga is highly beneficial for aiding in weight loss and combating obesity. Scientific studies have shown that practice of Kapalbhati pranayama has led to weight reductions and thickness of the skin folds in the abdominal area. The forceful contractions of the abdominal muscles might be the probable cause of the reduction of belly fat. Furthermore, these abdominal muscle contractions further stimulate the hormonal and metabolic activities in the body. The enhanced metabolic rate is believed to result in weight loss.
3.Kapalbhati pranayama for back pain
Performing Kapalbhati pranayama influences the spinal and back muscles. Hence, you should always sit with your spine erect while performing the Kapalbhati pranayama. In fact, some people who have a tendency to slouch may in fact complain of lower back pain while performing the Kapalbhati pranayama. Although Kapalbhati has no direct benefits in curing lower back pain problems, performing the pranayama can increase the circulation of blood, oxygen and prana (vital energy) in the body which can indirectly alleviate back pain. Also, the pranayama can help reduce stress, calm the mind and helps in coping with pain.
However, Kapalbhati pranayama accompanied by yoga asanas like Bhujangasana, SetuBandhasana, Marjharasana, Balasana and other poses is more effective in curing back pain.
4.Kapalbhati pranayama benefits for diabetes
Practicing Kapalbhati pranayama regularly is said to immensely help people suffering from type 2 diabetes. The forceful exhalations creates pressure in the abdomen that further helps stimulate the pancreas to secrete insulin for regulating blood sugar levels.
5.Kapalbhati pranayama benefits heart
Pranayama in general helps reduce resting heart rate which means that your heart wears out slowly. However, for heart patients, we advise gentler exhalations while performing Kapalbhati pranayama. Also, breathing techniques that involve long deep breaths such as Anulom Vilom are advised for heart patients.
6.Kapal Bhati pranayama benefits for women
Kapalbhati pranayama when done regularly can improve blood circulation and regulate the delicate hormonal balance in a woman’s body. This can prevent as well as reduce gynaecological problems such as uterine fibroids, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and subsequently deal with infertility. However, it is suggested not to perform this pranayama during your menses.
7.Kapalbhati pranayama benefits for the brain
Kapalbhati pranayama stimulates the brain nerves which in turn energises and declutters the mind to achieve balance and calm. Also, this pranayama is said to improve memory and increase concentration power.
8.Kapalbhati pranayama for depression
Depression and anxiety are mental health conditions which can affect your physical health. Kapalbhati pranayama benefits those suffering from anxiety and depression by combating mood swings and anxiety. It restores a sense of balance making your brain feel de-stressed and de-cluttered. It induces calm and promotes restful sleep. It's been found that a lack of energy is another symptom of depression. Kapalbhati pranayama is energising and helps combat lethargy and sluggishness in people suffering from depression.
9.Kapalbhati pranayama for lungs
Kapalbhati pranayama in yoga is said to improve the capacity of the lungs and relieve respiratory illnesses. Since Kapalbhati pranayama uses both the diaphragmatic and abdominal muscles for breathing, it may eliminate secretions from the alveoli and bronchi so that the lungs have more air. Also, Kapalbhati pranayama enhances lung function and keeps sinuses and nasal passages from getting blocked or congested.
10.Kapalbhati pranayama for cancer
Pranayama as a whole can be utilized as a supportive therapy in alleviating the undesirable symptoms and side effects of radiation therapy that most cancer patients have to undergo. Symptoms such as sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, pain perception and overall quality of life are believed to be improved by the intervention of pranayama therapy.
11.kapalbhati pranayama help acidity
Kapalbhati pranayama directly works the abdominal muscles and helps improve digestion. The Kapalbhati kriya helps treat many problems of the digestive system such as acidity, gas, bloating, constipation, acid reflux (GERD) and flatulence.
12. Kapalbhati benefits for the skin
This skull-shining pranayama begets radiant and glowing skin. It cures and prevents skin issues of acne and blemishes. As this pranayama helps flush out toxins from the body, it also entails anti-ageing effects on the skin. Also, this pranayama opens up clogged pores.
13. Kapalbhati benefits for immunity
Kapalbhati pranayama when practiced regularly can oxygenate the blood while flushing out toxins from the body. This helps reduce stress levels and strengthens the nervous system which in turn helps boost immunity and overall health.
Best time for kapalbhati pranayama
Performing yoga and pranayama exercises first thing in the morning on an empty stomach is ideal. However, if you are looking to heal from certain ailments, then practicing Kapalbhati pranayama twice a day for 5 minutes each time can help you gain the desired results.
If you plan to do pranayama in the evening hours, make sure that you have your last meal at least 3 hours before performing pranayama. However, beginners should do one round of Kapalbhati pranayama lasting for about two minutes. You can gradually increase the duration of pranayama and perform it for a longer time period.
Kapalbhati pranayama precautions
Although Kapalbhati pranayama has several health benefits, forceful exhalations can put undue pressure on our bodies. People suffering from certain ailments and conditions should practice Kapalbhati pranayama by taking adequate precautions.
People suffering from cardiovascular diseases or heart ailments should avoid practicing Kapalbhati pranayama. Also, hernia patients should desist from practicing this pranayama. Sitting in a poor posture can cause jerks in the body and hurt the heart tissues.
Kapalbhati pranayama can lead to a hyperventilation condition which may disrupt the blood flow and result in altered pH levels of the blood. This can cause problems for blood pressure patients.
Doing Kapalbhati pranayama during pregnancy should be avoided altogether as it directly impacts the abdominal muscles.
While practicing Kapalbhati pranayama, you need to sit with your spine erect. However, if you are suffering from spinal injuries or slipped disk, you should avoid doing this pranayama as it puts undue pressure on the spine.
Have undergone surgery
People who have recently undergone surgery or have epilepsy should consult their doctor before beginning to practice Kapalbhati pranayama.
A pranayama course such as breathwork training besides teaching the correct technique of pranayama practice, would also discuss the potential side effects and precautions to be taken while practicing pranayama.
Science behind kapalbhati pranayama
Kapalbhati pranayama is a means of detoxifying and purifying the energy channels of the body. Kapalbhati is a technique used to cleanse the inner nasal cavity to help with proper breathing. Also, practicing this pranayama helps prevent any bacterial infection in the nasal pathways. Moreover, the procedure of practicing this pranayama helps increase the lung capacity by proper intake of oxygen which then helps the body function optimally. Also, practicing this pranayama technique helps reduce carbon dioxide levels in the blood thus purifying and detoxifying the blood.
Ions ago, sages believed that Kapalbhati pranayama cleanses the brain of harmful particles and makes the skull shine or glow. This has some scientific backing. A fraction of polluted air breathed through our nostrils reaches directly to the brain through the olfactory lobes while a large proportion of inhaled air goes to the lungs. Hence, inhalation affects the mind and body at the same time.
Very recently, scientists have claimed that the increased incidence of dementia, cancer adn Alzheimer's can be partly attributed to the inhaled toxins in the brain. However, some small amounts of these pollutants are flushed out by the circulating cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. However, the remaining particles can be flushed out through forceful exhalations as displayed in the Kapalbhati technique. These exhalations create a venturi effect in the nasal pathway and create a partial vacuum sucking out the pollutants from the olfactory lobes.
In these times of the Pandemic, yoga and breathwork training have assumed a lot of significance. Kapalbhati pranayama in yoga if practiced correctly while taking adequate precautions can benefit both the mind and the body. So, learn yoga and pranayama techniques under the expert guidance of qualified yoga teachers and start reaping the benefits of this ancient practice.