Kapalabhati (also Kapalbhati) Pranayama — is an intermediate-to-advanced pranayama, or breathing technique, that consists of short, powerful exhales and passive inhales. This exercise is a traditional internal purification practice in yoga; one that is thought to tone and cleanse the respiratory system by encouraging the release of toxins and waste matter. It is reputed to act as a kind of tonic, refreshing and rejuvenating the body and mind.
The name Kapalabhati comes from two Sanskrit words:
- “Kapala”— meaning “skull”
- “Bhati”— meaning “light”
For this reason, it is sometimes also referred to as “Light Skull Breathing” or “Skull Brightener Breath.” When you practice this technique, you can also imagine the lining of your skull being filled with a bright light of enlightenment.
- To begin, sit in a comfortable position where your spine is straight and your abdomen is not compressed. Some options include:
- An upright seated position
- Sitting on your heels, with your knees bent and shins tucked beneath your thighs
- A seated position on a chair with your feet flat on the floor
- Rest your hands on your knees, palms facing down.
- Bring your awareness to your lower belly. To heighten your awareness, you can place your hands, one on top of the other, on your lower belly rather than on your knees.
- Inhale through both nostrils deeply.
- Contract your low belly or use your hands to gently press on this area, forcing out the breath in a short burst.
- As you quickly release the contraction, your inhalation should be automatic and passive — your focus should be on exhaling.
- Begin slowly, aiming for 65-70 contractions per minute. Gradually quicken the pace, aiming for 95-105 exhalation/inhalation cycles per minute. Always go at your own pace and stop if you feel faint or dizzy.
- After one minute of the exercise, inhale deeply through the nostrils, and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Depending on your experience level, you may repeat the exercise.
When practiced correctly, Kapalabhati Pranayama is thought to cleanse, energise, and invigorate your mind and body.
In addition, keep the following in mind when practicing this exercise:
- Keep your focus on your lower belly and on your exhalations throughout the exercise.
- Do not contract your abdomen when you inhale.
- Keep your spine and shoulders still throughout the exercise — the only movement should be in your lower belly.
- Never force your breath on inhalations or exhalations.
- If your breath becomes strained, or if you become dizzy or anxious, stop the exercise and return to your normal breathing pattern.
Breathe in Brightness
Practicing Kapalabhati Pranayama is reputed to bring balance and purity to your life on a number of levels, including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Remember to take it slowly at first, and build on your experience as you gain more control.
Kapalabhati Pranayama is considered an advanced breathing technique. Avoid practicing Kapalabhati if you currently have high blood pressure, heart disease, or a hernia. Women who are pregnant should avoid practicing this exercise, as well. As with all breathing exercises, always approach the practice with caution, especially if you have a respiratory condition, such as asthma or emphysema.
Never attempt any pranayama for the first time without the guidance of a qualified and knowledgeable teacher. Stop the exercise if you become faint or dizzy. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.