Kapalbhati: A shatkarma technique often associated with pranayama

Introduction

Today Kapalbhati is the one of the most recognised and followed practice worldwide. There are numerous texts available about its procedure and benefits. Since breathing technique is associated with it, kapalbhati is often referred to as kapalbhati pranayama. In yoga, pranayama practices has an important role. Pranayama practices are meant for the extension of vital energy through the control of breath therefore practices of pranayama are closely related to breath. Similarly in kapalbhati major concentration is imposed on respiration so it is often amalgamated with pranayama but according to traditional indian text it is a shatkarma. In this article we have tried to cover in detail about traditional practice of kapalbhati, its benefits and the modifications of the current times.

What is Kapalbhati ?

The meaning of word kapalbhati comes from Sanskrit language and is made up of two words “kapal” meaning skull area including the brain and “bhati” meaning to glow. Kapalbhati traditionally is a shatkarma for the cleansing of encephalon (brain) particularly frontal lobes which has favourable effects on left and right parts of our brain that are responsible for calculative and creative activities respectively. It helps in regulating cardiac and respiratory functions by stimulating medulla oblongata and also reduces stress level, promotes sexual vitality by stimulating pituitary gland. In kapalbhati our exhalation is forceful which has effects on cleansing of lungs and also helps in toning of naval centre. In kundalini awakening, kapalbhati helps in awakening of manipur and ajna (agya) chakra too.

Kapalbhati is done by sitting in any dhyanatmak (ध्यानात्मक) asana i.e. concentration pose. For proper technique of kapalbhati we should first focus on understanding and observing our breathing process. There are three stages in which breathing process can be divided as

  1. Pooraka which means inhalation
  2. Rechaka which means exhalation
  3. Kumbhaka which means retention either after inhalation or exhalation.

A normal breathing of an individual involves all three aspects of breathing process and ranges from 12-20 breaths per minute. In kapalbhati we reduces our time of breathing by exhalation being prominent, inhalation being passive and avoiding kumbhaka i.e. retention of breath in-between. Thus there is forceful and rapid exhalation of air with rhythmic contraction of abdominal muscles.

When should I do Kapalbhati

As kapalbhati is primarily a cleansing process so it is always recommended to do in the beginning of any asana or pranayama practices. And at times it is combined with some other kriyas too i.e. after neti kriya it is recommended to do kapalbhati. For better results it’s advisable to do on an empty stomach in the morning. But practicing it at evening times is also safe. Kapalbhati can be said as the easiest shatkarma. Although shatkarma practices are meant for body cleansing and purification which are done as per need but it’s safe to do kapalbhati daily.

Procedure of kapalbhati

Position:

For kapalbhati sit comfortably in any concentration pose i.e asana such as padmasana, sukhasana, swastikasana etc with your back straight, body relaxed and eyes closed. Before starting kapalbhati observe your normal breathing process for a while.

Technique:

Our normal breathing includes both inhalation (active) and exhalation (passive) but in kapalbhati these process are reversed by inhalation being passive (without any force) and exhalation (with force) being active in form. Reversal is very important as it induces a reversal in the flow of the nerve impulses to and from the brain bringing about stimulation and awakening of the brain.

To start kapalbhati exhale the breath forcefully from both the nostrils (time of exhalation in it is reduced to half of the time of normal exhalation) continuously in repetitions followed by passive inhalation. Rapid burst of exhalation results in contraction of the abdominal muscles and diaphragm forcing out the air from the lungs.The movement of the diaphragm is the integral part of kapalbhati and you should not exert intentional force for exhalation. Also try to keep your forehead and shoulders relaxed and calm. Pick up the pace by finding your own rhythm. In last repetition exhale out completely and hold on for few seconds. Then inhale so that the next round can be started.

Duration:

As a beginner practice a round of 15-20 repetitions and such 3 cycles may be performed in one sitting. After completing the round, relax with your eyes closed and observe the sensations in your body. The contraction and relaxation of abdominal muscles should be similar and uniform in all rounds. When this much is achieved, then repetitions within a cycle can be increased as per individual's capacity and strength.

Precautions:
  1. Always practice kapalbhati in an empty stomach.
  2. No undue strain should be given during the practice.
  3. Pooraka and rechaka kriya shouldn't be performed with same force.
  4. After doing asanas like shirshasana,halasana,sarvangasana one shouldn't perform kapalbhati.
  5. The persons suffering from hypertension, asthma, cardiac problems,diabetes, backache, hernia or any other chronic ailments and pregnant women should avoid kapalbhati or performed only under the guidance of a yog guru.

Kapalbhati with modifications

Yoga practices are quintessential for an individual looking for physical, mental and spiritual wellness aimd his lifestyle. In yoga some asanas, kriyas and practices are combined with mudras and bandhas for the higher consciousness. In the same way to improve qualities of kapalbhati it can be executed with mudras and bandhas. Therefore as an addition, a yoga practitioner can culminate each round of kapalbhati by imposing mool bandh, uddiyan bandh and jalandhara bandh in the sequence for as long as he can hold. Then by releasing the bandhs he can continue with the second round so on and so forth.

Virechana kriya is also an advanced form of kapalbhati in which we exert pressure on lateral side of our ribs by hitting with our arms intuned with our exhalation. There are some more forms of kapalbhati i.e. done with each single nostrils and also alternately by each nostrils for better cleansing of the nasal passages.

Benefits of kapalbhati

Influence on mental health

Practice of kapalbhati develops higher level of awareness within oneself which calms the mind, release stress, negative feelings and provides a feeling of bliss. It also enhances the functional capabilities of our mind by strengthening brain muscles.

Enhance beauty

Proverb “first impression is the last impression” we might have heard of it. Skin as a part of our personality contributes to our impression onto others. Kapalbhati act as a cleansing process that helps in throwing out carbon dioxide and impurities in the blood out the body. Thus it nourishes our skin by improving the purified blood circulation in the whole body. Kapalbhati rejuvenates the skin, delays wrinkles and makes the face lustrous and attractive.

Weight reduction

Ability to put up weight easily and difficulty in reducing it has made us conscious towards our experiments with our diet and workouts. Kapalbhati is a very simple kriya that helps in boosting metabolism, burning calories, toning of navel center and reducing the weight.

Best asana for all systems

  1. Nervous system: There are many shodhan kriyas for nadi, amashaya, and malashaya but for kapal shodhan the best and the foremost kriya is kapalbhati. By kapalbhati the balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic system is well kept. It cleanses and revitalizes the brain cells, memory cells and many other cells along with their functions.
  2. Endocrine system: Endocrine system produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep and mood. Thus kapalbhati is effective in different diseases like high blood pressure, increased heart rate, diabetes, impotency, menstruation, myxoedema, PCOD etc.
  3. Respiratory system: It strengthens the respiratory muscles by increasing your intake of oxygen thus removes stale air and toxins from the lungs. Helpful in diseases like common cold, cough, pharyngitis, sinusitis, bronchitis etc.
  4. Digestive system: Kapalbhati improves the absorptive and digestive power of stomach along with belly brawniness, fruitful in obesity, flatulence, constipation, acidity. It regenerates heat in the system helps to dissolve toxins and waste matter
  5. Circulatory system: Circulation is improved as a result there is rise in oxygen concentration, hemoglobin, red blood cells ,also removes blockages in arteries and controls cholesterol.

Nutshell

In nut shell kapalbhati is the path of purification of nadis, enhances vitality of life force, best way to awaken ajna chakra and rejuvenates kundalini shakti in the body. It helps to become a better and brighter human by exploring our selves from skin to soul.

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Swami Bharat Bhushan Ji

Padmashri award honored | Two times Life time Achievement award honored | D. Lit (Doctor of Letters) honored

Mokshayatan International Yogashram, Saharanpur

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