Expanding Your Practice: Kapalabhati Pranayama

**Note Kapalabhati is not recommended for pregnant women. If you begin to feel dizzy or anxious during the practice slow down your breathing or halt the practice.

What is Kapalabhati?

Kapalabhati is a breathing technique that is exceptionally effective for detoxifying the body, strengthening the core, and warming the body. Kapalabhati is often translated to “skull shining breath,” which alludes to its mind clarifying properties. In Kundalini, this practice is often called “breath of fire,” because of the heat it produces in one’s core.

The procedure is relatively simple. However, it takes hours and hours of practice–and possibly multiple lifetimes–to master.

This is a relatively advanced technique. Which is not to say that beginners will be unable to do it, but rather to suggest that there are some basic breath skills one should be comfortable with before making an attempt. In particular, one should be comfortable with belly breathing to start. For this exercise specifically, it is useful to practice the motion of sucking your tummy in and up as you exhale. As intuitive as this motion may sound in words, it can be surprisingly difficult on a first attempt. 

If you are comfortable maintaining deep belly breathing in a seated position you may be ready to attempt Kapalabhati.

Practice It:

First find a comfortable seat. Take any position that will comfortably allow for a straight spine. Rabbit pose (seated on your knees) is good for this. If you can comfortably manage it, lotus position and lotus variations are equally advisable. If you cannot sit on your knees or on the floor, sit upright in a chair.

Take a few rounds of full, deep belly breaths. Feel your stomach expand as you fill up with air from the bottom up. As you exhale, contract your stomach inward and upward. I find it helpful to visualize a fist clenching within my stomach, as if it is squeezing the remaining air out of me. When you’re comfortable in your belly breaths, prepare to start the first round of Kapalabhati with an inhale.

Then make a sharp exhale through your nose, (as if you’re trying to force almost all of your breath out in one short snort) and simultaneously suck your stomach inward and clench it upward. This motion is a contraction of your diaphragm.

Then take a natural breath in, and repeat.

If it feels fine, start with sets of five or ten repetitions, and try to do this for three sets. Be sure to allow your breathing to normalize between sets. 

Keep in mind that the effectiveness of this exercise has everything to do with how well you can contract your diaphragm in coordination with the thrust of your breath. 

To truly master this skill is no easy task. At first, most people will find it difficult to suck in their bellies with their exhales, let alone to focus in on and intensify this sensation. If it feels weird at first, keep trying. With a few more attempts the sensation will likely begin to intensify. With practice, this motion becomes a very strong one.

One tip is to focus only on your exhalations during the practice. Inhalation will naturally fill in between the core contractions when you focus only on sharp exhales.

In time, one may speed up their rate of breathing, or increase the amount of time they spend doing Kapalabhati. 

After Kapalabhati, it is very important to sit and breathe normally. Take deep, belly breaths but keep them comfortable and easy. Having stirred up some heat and circulation in the core, it is possible to experience a whirlpool sensation in your stomach, possibly a bit of dizziness or emotion, or simply soreness in your abs.

Whatever the sensation may be, feel it for what it is, and witness as steady breathing slowly dissolves it away.

Although it can take some practice before you start to get the hang of it, the benefits – such as core strengthening, detoxification, and respiratory cleansing – make it worth the effort.


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