Kapalabhati – Skull Shining Breath

In Sanskrit kapal means “skull” and bhati means “shining.” Together they mean “shining skull.” Kapalabhati is considered to be so cleansing to the entire system that, when practiced on a regular basis, the face shines with good health and radiance. In fact, traditionally Kapalabhati is one of the six internal cleansing exercises (shat kriyas) rather than a form of pranayama. Even though it is traditionally classified as a cleansing exercise, Kapalbhati is an excellent breathing exercise to warm up the respiratory system and internally warm up your body in preparation for the following physical practice. It is an easier version of the pranayama Bhastrika and suitable for most levels of experience and fitness.

Basic instructions

  1. Sit in a cross-legged position, with your spine straight and erect. Take an abdominal breath in to prepare for pumping.
  2. Contract your abdominal muscles to forcefully exhale from the nose.
  3. Relax your abdominal muscles naturally, for inhalation. Be cautious not to inhale actively, but instead release your abdomen and allow the air to be sucked in passively.
  4. Repeat this for 3 sets, with increasing pumping from 30 to 40 to 50 pumps per set.
  5. In between sets, take a deep breath, and release, and then a gentle abdominal breath and retain the breath with increasing duration from round to round. So first 20, then 30, and in the last round 40 seconds.

As you become more used to and skilled doing Kapalabhati, the pumping and the retentions can be gradually increased.

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Regular practice

  • cleanses the nasal passage, drains the sinuses, and eliminates accumulated mucus;
  • greatly strengthens and increases the capacity of the lungs and intercostal muscles;
  • removes bronchial congestion and spasm while also helping to relieve asthma;
  • removes stale gases and old oxygen in the lungs, due to the forced exhalation;
  • massages the intestines, stomach, liver, spleen, heart, and pancreas through movement of the diaphragm and abdominal contractions;
  • strengthens your abdominal muscles and improves digestion; and
  • refreshes and invigorates your mind and increases alertness as a result of the increase of oxygen to your brain.

Contraindications & cautions

Kapalbhati should be avoided by those suffering from hypertension, anxiety, or panic attacks.