Pranayama: Kapalbhati | Definition

The word kapala means ‘forehead’ or ‘frontal lobe of the brain’; bhati is ‘bellows’, the instrument used by a village blacksmith to create air drafts for his forge. Kapalbhati can therefore be translated as ‘frontal brain bellowing’. In this practice, the lungs are the bellows which suck air in and out of the body. Associated with this flow of air are subtle pranic currents. Some of these currents can be clearly felt inside the forehead. They pulsate in rhythm with the bellowing of the lungs; that is, pranic bellowing occurs in the front of the brain. Hence the name of the practice. This process brings purification of this region.

Scriptural references

According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika: “Inhalation and exhalation should be done quickly like a blacksmith’s bellows. This is the very renowned practice of kapalbhati which removes those diseases caused by excessive mucus in the body.” (2:35) This is not very detailed and one would have great difficulty learning merely from this quotation.

Posture

Sit in any comfortable asana with the back erect. The best asanas are padmasana, siddhasana, siddha yoni asana and vajrasana.

Auxiliary practices

The full practice of kapalbhati involves the three bandhas: jalandhara5, uddiyana6 and moola. These are practised together to form maha bandha8. Before attempting kapalbhati you should master these practices.

Mode of rapid breathing

In bhastrika pranayama, both inhalation and exhalation were accentuated and forceful. In kapalbhati only exhalation should be forceful with inhalation being completely passive. That is, the breath is forcefully expelled from the lungs by contracting the abdominal muscles; air is inhaled by allowing the abdominal muscles to move passively outwards.

The whole process of rapid breathing should be done from the abdomen as much as possible, the chest movement being minimized.

Technique

Sit in a comfortable asana. Hold the back upright. Close the eyes. Relax the whole body. Start the first round. Breathe rapidly from the abdomen. Exhale with forceful contraction of the abdominal muscles. Inhale by passively allowing the abdominal muscles to expand; there should be no effort. Repeat only a comfortable number of rapid respirations – no more. Then take one deep and slow inhalation. Next breathe out and empty the lungs as much as possible. Do maha bandha. Hold your breath for as long as is comfortable. Then release maha bandha, raise your head and slowly breathe in. This is the end of the first round. If you feel out of breath, or a little tired, breathe naturally a few times. Then start the second round.

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