Kapalabhati is a highly energizing abdominal breathing exercise that acts as a kriya or a yoga cleanse. The vigorous exhalations act in many ways to yield benefits beyond the energetic qualities of this advanced yoga breathing exercise.
One important way that Kapalabhati acts as a kriya is that it helps clear mucous from the lungs. As air moves into the throat, it travels down the superior portion of the airway called the trachea. The walls of this single tubed airway consists of several layers. The inner most layer is lined with cilia cells. Cilia are microscopic grass-like, projections that continually beat and propel mucous that trap dust particles, bacteria and debris. This mucous is propelled by the cilia toward the pharynx where it is released by coughing or swallowing. Smoking inhibits and ultimately destroys cilia. When function is lost, coughing is the only method of moving accumulating mucous out of the lungs. With the aid of cilia, we clear and swallow over 2 million dust cells per hour.
In Kapalabhati, the force of the exhalations acts further on debris-filled mucous in the lungs and trachea. These additional forces work with the cilia and help move the mucous more readily up the airway against gravity. Coughing after Kapalabhati is common and welcome as it is a sign of successfully releasing of these impurities. Another method of Kapalabhati acting as a kriya is the massage generated by the abdominal contractions. With each vigorous exhale, the abdominal walls draw inwards applying pressure on internal organs. This pressure helps increase the circulation of blood flow into and out of abdominal organs. This massage also sends a direct pressure into the digestive system helping move remaining food and fecal matter through the intestines and colon. Kapalabhati can be a useful tool in reducing the incidence of constipation. With this increased circulation of blood and material in the internal organs comes a release of toxins as well.
The process of Kapalabhati uses forced (controlled) exhalations and passive inhalations. Each exhalation draws the abdomen towards the spine expelling air, thus creating a vacuum in the lungs. By relaxing the abdomen after each exhalation, air is passively pulled into the lungs. When first learning Kapalabhati, one can start with a couple dozen repetitions at a moderate pace in order to build awareness to the sensation and technique of the exhalations and inhalations. Over time and consistent practice, one can increase the number of repetitions and also the pace of the breathing pattern. To avoid gastric discomfort and strain, practice Kapalabhati with an empty stomach.
Click to view an introduction video on Kapalabhati Pranayama.
Kapalbhati is an advanced breathing exercise and should not be practiced by those:
a) Suffering from heart disease
b) High blood pressure
d) Should never be practiced when an asthmatic attack is in progress.
e) If pain or dizziness is experienced.
As one’s hatha yoga practice progresses, the next natural stage is to incorporate Kapalabhati and other pranayama. This addition of yoga breathing exercises will stimulate greater flows of energy along with the wonderful benefits of kriyas.