Kapalabhati Pranayama: 5 Simple steps To Energize With The Breath Of Fire

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Kapalabhati Pranayama is a type of breathing exercise in the ancient practice of yoga. It is also known as “skull-shining breath,” or “breath of fire”.

The practice is believed to have numerous benefits for physical, mental, and spiritual health.

However, it is important to practice this breathing exercise safely and with caution.

In this article, we will explore the:

  • Origins and benefits of Kapalabhati breath
  • Contraindications
  • Best time to practice it
  • 5 Steps to practice it safely

What is Kapalabhati Pranayama?

Kapalabhati Pranayama is a breathing technique that involves rapid, forceful exhales through the nose, followed by passive inhales.

The word “Kapalabhati” is derived from two Sanskrit words – “kapala” meaning skull, and “bhati” meaning shining or illuminating. Hence, the term “Kapalabhati” means a practice that brings clarity and brightness to the skull.

someone practicing Kapalabhati pranayama

Within the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, it is stated that pranayama is the erasure of sins. Therefore, the Kapalabhati breath helps greatly. 

One of six practices (shat kriyas) taught in Hatha Yoga for internal cleansing, Kapalabhati Pranayama is technically not a formal pranayama practice as there are no breath holds involved.

A related pranayama practice is Bhastrika Pranayama, the bellows breath, and is a more gentle variation for those who find Bhastrika Pranayama too taxing.

Kapalabhati breath is typically practiced in a seated position, with the spine straight and the hands resting on the knees.

During the practice, the practitioner is required to contract the lower abdominal muscles and forcefully exhale through the nose. This is followed by a passive inhale, during which the abdomen relaxes.

The process is repeated for several rounds, with the focus on the exhalation rather than the inhalation.

Benefits of Kapalabhati Pranayama

Kapalabhati Pranayama has numerous benefits for the body and mind. Let’s take a look at some of the most significant benefits of this powerful breathing technique.

woman with her hands on her heart

1. Improves Respiratory Health and cleanses the Respiratory System

It’s a powerful breathing exercise that can help to cleanse the respiratory system. The rapid and forceful exhalations help to expel excess carbon dioxide and other toxins from the lungs. 

This can help to improve the functioning of the respiratory system and reduce the risk of respiratory ailments. This makes it an excellent practice for those suffering from asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory conditions. 

A study from Guru Nanak Dev University conducted with university students between the ages of 21-26 found that after four weeks of practicing Kapalabhati Pranayama, significant differences were found in markers reflecting improved respiratory health. 

Another study from the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care found that during and after Kapalabhati breathing, improvements in heart rate variability HRV were significant in time and frequency domain showing parasympathetic withdrawal.

2. Reduces Stress and Anxiety

This pranayama technique is an effective practice for reducing stress and anxiety.

The practice helps to calm the mind and balance the nervous system, reducing feelings of anxiety and stress. Regular practice of Kapalabhati Pranayama can help to improve mental clarity and focus, leading to a greater sense of calm and inner peace.

A 2013 study revealed that 12 weeks of Kapalabhati Pranayama training showed improvement in the cardio-respiratory parameters with a significant decrease in respiratory rate and reported calm emotions in the participants.

The technique was also useful in reducing respiratory rate through psycho-somatic mechanisms that enhance the health and well-being of practitioners.

man practicing Kapalabhati pranayama

3. Improves Concentration and Focus

Another significant benefit of Kapalabhati Pranayama is its ability to improve concentration and focus, says Dr Ankit Sanhke, an experienced clinical practitioner.

The practice helps to increase oxygen flow to the brain, improving cognitive function and mental clarity.

This can help to improve focus and concentration, making it an excellent practice for students, professionals, and anyone who needs to stay sharp and focused throughout the day.

4. Boosts Energy Levels, helps with prehypertension

It’s an excellent practice for boosting energy levels. The rapid, forceful exhalations during the practice help to increase circulation and oxygen intake, providing a natural energy boost.

Regular practice of this pranayama can help to reduce feelings of fatigue and increase overall vitality and energy levels.

A 2015 study conducted on prehypertensive obese medical students found that just 1 minute of Kapalabhati Pranayama practice daily improved pulmonary functions and normalized the high normal blood pressure of prehypertensive obese.

This makes it a time-effective and beneficial pranayama for many!

5. Enhances Immunity

Kapalabhati can help to enhance the body’s immune system.

The practice helps to stimulate the lymphatic system, which plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy immune system.

By practicing Kapalabhati Pranayama regularly, one can improve their body’s ability to fight off infections and illnesses. A 2020 journal article even claims that Kapalabhati can help to enhance the immune system to fight against COVID-19. 

woman looking up to the sky smiling

6. Helps with reducing BMI, Slims the Waist and Hips 

Kapalabhati Pranayama is believed to be beneficial for weight loss, specifically in reducing one’s Body Mass Index (BMI). The rapid, forceful exhalations during the practice help to increase metabolism and burn calories.

This, combined with regular exercise and a healthy diet, can help to support healthy weight loss.

A 2013 study even found that the waist and hip circumferences of practitioners showed a decline after practicing Kapalabhati Pranayama.

7. Helps with Metabolic Syndrome 

A study found that Kapalabhati has benefits for combating Metabolic Syndrome (MS) and may also be beneficial for polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

8. Soothes Sinus and Asthma

The practice can be effective in soothing sinus and asthma-related problems, as reported by the International Ayurvedic Medical Journal. The practice helps to clear the nasal passage, reduce inflammation and promote breathing.

It is also believed to be helpful in reducing the severity and frequency of asthma attacks.

9. Cleanses the Body

Kapalabhati is an excellent practice for cleansing the body of impurities. The rapid, forceful exhalations during the practice help to expel toxins from the body and stimulate the digestive system.

This can help to improve digestion, relieve constipation, and reduce bloating.

person jumping on the beach up to the sun

Contraindications of Kapalabhati breathing: 

Although Kapalabhati Pranayama is generally considered a safe practice, there are some contraindications that one should be aware of.

People with the following conditions should avoid practicing Kapalabhati Pranayama or should consult with their healthcare provider before starting the practice:

  • Pregnancy: Women who are pregnant should avoid practicing Kapalabhati Pranayama as it involves forceful exhalations that could potentially harm the fetus.
  • High Blood Pressure: As it involves rapid, forceful exhalations that can increase blood pressure. People with high blood pressure should avoid the practice or consult with their healthcare provider before starting.
  • Heart Disease or Heart Conditions: It can also put a strain on the heart. Individuals who have a history of heart disease or cardiovascular issues should avoid this breathing exercise or consult with their healthcare provider before attempting it.
  • Hernia: Those with a hernia should avoid it as it can increase pressure in the abdominal area, potentially worsening the condition.
  • Epilepsy: People with a history of epilepsy should avoid it as the practice involves rapid breathing that can trigger seizures.

The Best Time to Practice Kapalabhati Pranayama

Kapalabhati Pranayama can be practiced at any time of the day. However, it is recommended to practice in the morning on an empty stomach.

Practicing Kapalabhati Pranayama in the morning can help to energize the body and mind, and prepare for the day ahead. If practicing in the morning isn’t possible, you can also practice in the afternoon or early evening, at least two to three hours after having a meal.

group of yogis practicing Kapalabhati pranayama

However, it is important to listen to your body and practice Kapalabhati Pranayama at a time that feels comfortable and safe for you.

It is also important to ensure that the body is properly warmed up before attempting this breathing exercise. It is recommended to practice in a quiet, well-ventilated space, preferably outdoors, with fresh air.

5 steps to Practice Kapalabhati Pranayama Safely

To practice Kapalabhati Pranayama safely, follow these steps:

1. Sit in a comfortable seated position with your spine straight and your hands resting on your knees.

2. Take a few deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, to prepare your lungs for the practice.

3. Begin by exhaling forcefully through your nose, pulling your navel towards your spine to create a sharp exhale. Relax your abdomen and inhale passively through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand. This is one round of Kapalabhati pranayama.

4. Repeat the process for 15-30 rounds at your own pace, focusing on the forceful exhale and allowing the inhale to happen naturally.

5. Take a few deep breaths to center yourself and relax after completing the practice.

group of yogis meditating

It is important to practice Kapalabhati Pranayama slowly and gradually build up to more rounds over time.

Start with a 15-30 rounds of Kapalabhati Pranayama and gradually increase the number of rounds to 60, 90 or more. 

It is also important to listen to your body and stop the practice if you feel any discomfort or pain. It is not uncommon to feel light-headed during Kapalabhati Pranayama. If you feel alright you can continue, but if you start to feel faint then take a pause and rest. 

Overall, this exercise is a simple yet powerful practice that can be easily incorporated into one’s daily routine. By dedicating just a few minutes each day to this practice, you can reap numerous benefits for their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

If you are looking to enhance your health and well-being, consider adding Kapalabhati Pranayama to your daily routine and experience the benefits for yourself.

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Wenlin is a Women’s Well-being Coach, Qigong and Yoga specialist for women and Red School Menstruality Mentor who is passionate about empowering working women to overcome overwhelm to find flow, ease and joy in their life. Wenlin brings with her over 15 years experience working at the intersection of mindfulness, creativity, psychology and wellness, with over 3,000 hours of training and 8 years of experience supporting women across Asia, Europe and the USA. If you want to learn how to find more flow and ease in your life, Wenlin is here to support you.

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