For the pranayama practitioners, Kapalabhati is the most important kriya. It should be mastered before any pranayama is commenced (unless it is very, very basic pranayama) and it should prelude any immediate individual pranayama session (unless the practitioner is very advanced).
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that Kapalabhati dries up all the disorders stemming from excess of phlegm (kapha), which cause obesity, and through that drying-up leads to easy success in pranayama.
A few of its benefits are that reduces abdominal fat, massages, rebalances, purifies and awakens the brain, improves the functioning of the abdominal organs, cleanses the lungs, improves respiratory functioning, arrests the approach of long age, awakens the chakras, makes the blood alkaline. Apart from that it is thought to be helpful in curing obesity, acidity, flatulence, constipation, diabetes, blood sugar imbalance, depression and much more.
Greatly improves mula bandha’s if practised properly low down in the abdomen.
When to practice Kapalabhati
- As with all pranayama techniques and most kriyas, one needs to wait at least four hours after a meal to practice Kapalabhati.
- It cannot be practised late at night as it charges with energy.
- Practice it between asana and pranayama practises, particularly if fatigued from asana.
- No during menstruation
- No blood pressure, uterus or retina problems or nosebleed
- Avoid if heart disease, pneumonia, bronchitis, hernia, pregnancy or when encountering dizziness
- Do not practice for longer than 2 minutes if you have an aggravated pitta condition & reduce the time in summer
- If you start coughing during Kapalabhati cough and then continue to practice. This is a normal way of releasing kapha.
Where to breathe for this Kriya
In Kapalabhati the exhalation is active by forcefully driving the abdominal wall in against the spine. You will only move the abdomen, but the thorax is not kept relaxed but lifted/raised by engaging the intercostal muscles.
In order to only move your lower belly and keeping the thorax active try this 3 step exercise:
- Make your right hand a fist and place it 2 fingers below the navel and then place your left hand over the fist. Try a few vigorous exhales and with each exhalation press with your left palm onto the fist.
- Now bring your 2 thumbs next to your hip and press lightly with each exhalation.
- The final hand placement will be thumb and index finger next to your hip bones & the other hand is place on the diaphragm. Press lightly with your thumb and index with each exhalation but try to remove any movement in the diaphragm.
This movement of the lower abdominal will gradually increase over time if you keep the integrity of the exhalation.
The first step is to set your metronome at 30bpm (or metronome app) and with each beat you make a vigorous exhale, try to exhale completely & fast with each beat/sound you hear. The inhalation will be passive and it will become automatic if you can focus only on the exhalation.
You continue doing this for 1 minute (total 30 exhalations) and then you take a break for 1 minute to rest completely. Then you repeat this process 2 more times focusing on keeping the integrity of each exhalation/stroke rather than increasing the frequency.
To progress even further in this Kriya I will list some steps which will help you break down the process without losing the integrity of the exhalation:
- 30 bpm for 1 minute– 1 minute breaks x 3
- 30 bpm for 1 minute – 40 seconds breaks x 3
- 32 bpm for 1 minute – 40 seconds breaks x 3
- 32 bpm for 1 minute – 30 second breaks x 3
- 34 bpm for 1 minute – 30 second breaks x 3
- 34 bpm for 1 minute – 20 second breaks x 3
- 34 bpm for 1 minute – 10 second breaks x 3
- 30 bpm for 2 minutes – 30 second break & again 30 bpm for 1 minute
- 30 bpm for 3 minutes without breaks
It is advisable to seek the guidance of an experienced teacher to assist in the process of learning the Kapalabhati.
- In Kapalabhati you will only move the abdomen, but the thorax is not kept relaxed but lifted by engaging the intercostal muscles, which produce inhalation. The thorax is then kept in a position as if completing the inhalation, meaning it is raised.
- The exhalation is active by forcefully driving the abdominal wall in against the spine.
- The shoulders and head should remain steady
- Focus on each individual stroke of the abdominal muscles and make each stroke as vigorous as possible. For this purpose, in the early stages avoid speeding up.
- The inhalation is about four times as long as the exhalation (ratio 4:1)
- The inhalation is passive (completely relaxing after each vigorous abdominal stroke)
- Beginners usually start with 30 to 40 breaths per minutes, and advanced practionioners can reach up to 120 strokes per minute.
(For the beginner it is important to maintain the integrity, vigour and amplitude of each individual stroke rather increase their frequency)
Additional points to consider
- Visualizing the abdominal strokes hitting against the centre of Kundalini in the abdomen
- Make sure that you do not expel the air by using the diaphragm. The diaphragm must be kept relaxed. If in doubt, perform the exercise in front of a mirror. The Ribcage should be frozen and not move.
- If Mula Bandha does not come on, you may be focusing too high in the abdomen
- If you cough too much you can slightly bend the head forward or bring all the way to Jalandhara Bandha position