Kapalbhati is a technique of pranayama, although some yogic scriptures regard it as one of the shatkarmas. It is similar to bhastrika pranayama. However, it has distinct differences in both method and benefits. It is an excellent practice that purifies the frontal portion of the brain, massages the abdominal organs and improves respiration. It is also a powerful method of waking up the mind. After ten rounds of kapalbhati it is impossible to sleep. Try it! Therefore, it can be used to energize the mind for mental work when you feel tired, and to remove sleepiness early in the morning. It is an ideal practice to do immediately before commencing meditation techniques.
Shatkarmas and Bhalbhati
According to the Gherand Samhita there are six groups of yogic cleansing techniques. They are called the shatkarmas and are as follows: dhauti, basti, neti, nauli, trataka and bhalbhati. Included in some of these groups are a number of different techniques. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika the shatkarmas are the same as listed here, but instead of bhalbhati the sixth shatkarma is given as kapalbhati. Often these are regarded as the same practice with different names but actually they are completely different. These two classical texts have chosen to adopt two totally different practices for the last shatkarma.
Bhalbhati is clearly explained in the Gherand Samhita: “Bhalbhati is of three types. These are vatkrama, vyutkrama and sheetkrama. They are useful for eliminating phlegm and excessive mucus from the body. Vatkrama involves inhaling the breath through the left nostril and exhaling through the right nostril; then again inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through the left nostril. The breathing should be slow and controlled. Vyutkrama involves drawing water through the nose and expelling it through the mouth; it removes mucus from the nasal cavity. Sheetkrama involves taking water through the mouth and with a sneezing sound expelling it through the nose. Bhalbhati will make your body like that of Cupid.” (1:56-60)
Vatkrama is exactly the same practice as nadi shodhana pranayama stage 23. Vyutkrama and sheetkrama are similar to jala neti. However, we regard jala neti as being superior in every way. We don’t therefore teach bhalbhati because it is included in other practices. Those who cannot obtain a suitable neti lota may find vyutkrama and sheetkrama useful.
Kapalbhati is the last of the shatkarmas to be described in this book. It is certainly a method of pranayama, but is included as a shatkarma by the Hatha Yoga Pradipika because it purifies and awakens the brain.
All of the shatkarmas are excellent for cleaning the body and bringing first class health.