Everyone knows the importance of daily exercise to keep health issues at bay. Some struggle with finding out time for physical activity, while others find the cost of enrolling in gyms expensive. Truth be told, no one should have to pay a heavy price for wanting to be fit. Health is a basic right of every individual.1
This is when Yoga comes to the rescue as basic yoga practices can be done at home with minimal to no equipment. The practice of Yoga, which originated in India more than 2000 years back, works on the mind as well as the body. The term Yoga itself is a derivative of the word ‘YUJ’ which means “to join” in Sanskrit. This term signifies the ‘joining’ of the physical body with the mind and soul.2 The different physical postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama) in Yoga provide many health benefits.
What is Kapalbhati?
There are many breathing exercises (pranayamas) in Yoga. One of them is Kapalbhati.
‘Kapal’ means ‘forehead’ or ‘skull’, while ‘bhati’ means shining. While most breathing techniques in Yoga place importance on controlling the muscles of inhalation, Kapalbhati, a fast-paced breathing exercise uses the abdominal muscles for active, fast and forceful exhalations while the inhalations are effortless and passive. It thus reverses the pattern in which muscle control is exerted during the act of breathing (Vyutkrama).3
Kapalbhati has a stimulating, cleansing and heating effect on the body. It increases the heart beats, and helps improve blood circulation and the oxygen levels. It increases lung strength and function clearing the nasal passages of any congestion. It helps tone the muscle of the abdomen while providing good stimulation to the internal abdominal organs. It assists in improving concentration levels and exerts an overall relaxing effect.3
How to do it?
To get optimum benefit from any pranayama (breathing technique), it is necessary to do it properly. Loose and comfortable clothing should be worn during this. Kapalbhati should be practiced on an empty stomach.3 Follow the steps below to perform Kapalbhati effectively:
- Sit in a comfortable position like Vajrasana (A pose formed by kneeling and sitting back on the legs, with the buttocks resting on the heels and the thighs resting on the calves. The head, neck and spine are kept erect.), Sukhasana (easy comfortable pose, a simple cross-legged sitting pose) or Padmasana (a cross-legged sitting meditation pose, in which each foot is placed on the opposite thigh). Kapalbhati may also be done in the lying down position with hips and knees bent and the hand kept on the right upper part of the abdomen to assess the abdominal movements.
- Close your eyes and let your body relax completely.
- Keeping the eyes closed, breathe deeply through both the nostrils while expanding the chest.
- Now breathe out forcefully by contracting the abdominal and pelvic muscles. When you exhale forcefully, care should be taken to avoid unnecessary movements of the chest and shoulder.
- After this exhalation, breathe in again passively. Without further straining, continue the active quick exhalations followed by passive effortless inhalations.
- Complete 30 short breaths this way, then take a deep inhalation followed by a slow exhalation and relax completely.
- This constitutes one round of Kapalbhati.
- In this way, perform two more rounds of Kapalbhati. In between each round, relax and remain still for some time.4
Do You Know?
Here are some interesting facts about Kapalbhati:
- Kapalbhati is mentioned in the ancient Yoga texts.
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika (the Hatha Yoga treatise written by Swami Muktibodhananda)5 and Gheraṇḍa Saṃhita (the most comprehensive book of all the books on Hatha Yoga written by Gheranda)6, as one of the purification processes (shatkarma).7 This traditional cleansing process clears the respiratory system by helping release toxins from the respiratory system.7
- It is said that doing 5 minutes of Kapalbhati is equivalent to doing 30 minutes of exercise.3
Benefits of Kapalbhati:
Kapalbhati is one of the cleansing practices (shuddhi kriya) in Yoga. It is also referred to as the frontal brain purification technique7. Some of the probable benefits of Kapalbhati are:
1. Benefits of Kapalbhati for Type 2 diabetes:
It is said that Kapalbhati is very beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes. The pressure in the abdomen created during forceful exhalations in Kapalbhati is said to help stimulate pancreas to secrete insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. Those who have prior experience in Kapalbhati, may aim for five rounds of 120 strokes of Kapalbhati, as it may be beneficial in management of Type 2 Diabetes.8
2. Benefits of Kapalbhati on blood pressure:
In one study, participants were told to do Kapalbhati and their blood pressure was measured immediately afterwards and then three minutes later. It showed that while the blood pressure increased immediately after performing Kapalbhati, while three minutes later, the blood pressure showed a significant fall.9
This shows the potential benefit of Kapalbhati for those suffering from high blood pressure. Precaution must be taken by those with high blood pressure, as Kapalbhati is said to cause a significant increase in blood pressure.9 Those with high blood pressure must practice Kapalbhati under the supervision of a trained and experienced Yoga teacher.
3. Benefits of Kapalbhati for obesity:
Kapalbhati may be beneficial in combating obesity. A study on 60 overweight doctors, who practised Kapalbhati six days a week for eight weeks, showed a reduction in weight and thickness of the abdominal skin fold. The probable reason for this is the forceful abdominal contractions. These contractions may stimulate receptors in the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal system internally and the abdomen externally.
This leads to simultaneous stimulation of certain parts of the brain that increase hormonal and metabolic activities in the body. With an increase in the basal metabolic rate, weight loss is said to occur along with a reduction in abdominal skin fold thickness.10
4. Benefits of Kapalbhati for mental health:
Kapalbhati may potentially be useful to relax the mind and calm the person. It may be beneficial for people suffering from mood swings and minor anxiety issues. It may act as a mood enhancer and help in total relaxation. It may be beneficial for improving concentration levels. This asana may also play a role in the overall emotional well-being.3
5. Benefits of Kapalbhati for respiratory illnesses:
Kapalbhati is said to increase the capacity of the lungs.11 Since the practice of Kapalbhati uses both abdominal and diaphragmatic muscles for breathing, it may help remove secretions from the bronchi and alveoli, so that there is more air in the lungs.7 It may also improve lung function and keeps the nasal passages and sinuses congestion-free.3
6. Other benefits of Kapalbhati:
- It may help in reducing fat in the abdominal area leading to toning the abdominal muscles.3
- It may increase the circulation of blood.3
- It may be beneficial to patients suffering from asthma, multiple sclerosis (MS), polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD).3
- It may be helpful for people combating sleep issues.3
- It may help convert non-oxygenated blood to oxygenated blood, thereby improving the overall oxygen levels. It may, thus, have a blood purifying effect.3
- It may help refresh the whole body.4
- It may keep the face lively and glowing.4
- It may help in toning up the digestive organs.4
- It may help in making the nervous system strong.4
- It may have an energising effect on the body, helping get rid of lethargy.11
Though Yoga asanas and pranayamas may be beneficial, one must not resort to yoga alone to combat any medical illness. Yoga is not an alternative to conventional treatment. For any disease condition, you must consult a qualified doctor who will examine you correctly and give appropriate advice.
Yoga must be practised under the guidance of a qualified and experienced yoga teacher to avoid any injuries.
Risks of Exercise
Kapalbhati may not be suitable for people suffering from certain health issues, as it might prove to be harmful to them. Few contraindications related to Kapalbhati are:
- People who have high blood pressure and complaints of dizziness must avoid this, especially those who have never done Kapalbhati before.4,9
- Patients suffering from stomach ulcers or hernia should not practice this asana.
- Those suffering from heart ailments should not do this breathing exercise.
- People with severe spine-related back problems should avoid this asana.
- Patients with epilepsy, stroke and one-sided headache (migraine) must avoid performing Kapalbhati.
- Those who suffer from chronic bleeding through the nose must avoid doing this.
- Since Kapalbhati involves forceful contractions of the abdomen, it should not be practised by women who are pregnant or are menstruating.4
For maximum benefit and to avoid any adverse incidences, Kapalbhati should be practised under the guidance of a qualified Yoga teacher.
Kapalbhati is a quick-paced breathing exercise which has a cleansing effect on the body. It mainly focuses on having active exhalations and passive inhalation. The optimum benefits of Kapalbhati can be best enjoyed when done under the guidance of a qualified and trained yoga teacher.
1) What is Kapalbhati?
Kapal’ means ‘forehead’ or ‘skull’, while ‘bhati’ means shining. So Kapalbhati literally means ‘shining forehead’. It is one of the cleansing processes of the front part of the brain (shatkarma) mentioned in the Gheranda Samhita-the most exhaustive book on Hatha Yoga written by Gheranda.5
It stresses quick, vigorous exhalations and effortless passive inhalations. It reverses the pattern in which muscle control is exerted during the act of breathing (Vyutkrama).3
2) Can Kapalbhati be done in any position?
While Kapalbhati may be done in any comfortable sitting position, it is recommended to sit in Vajrasana (kneeling pose), Sukhasana (easy, comfortable pose) or Padmasana (cross-legged Lotus pose).4
3) Can Kapalbhati be done after a meal?
Kapalbhati involves vigorous contractions of the abdominal muscles during exhalation. So, it is recommended that Kapalbhati be practised on an empty stomach.10
4) How many times can one do Kapalbhati if they have never done it before?
Beginners can start with three rounds of Kapalbhati consisting of 20 breaths each. They can then gradually increase the rounds and the count.4
5) Does Kapalbhati help in preventing respiratory allergies?
Kapalbhati is a traditional purification or cleansing process. It is said to clear up the respiratory system by helping get rid of toxic matter and waste materials. This asana may help prevent allergies in the respiratory system.9