Kapalabhati, the Energising Breath

March 21, 2021, Publisher: Breath Hub

Kapalabhati pranayama is a highly effective breathing technique that we can use to quickly increase our energy and has many benefits when practised regularly. When we are tired or in need of an energy boost, our daily fuel of food, sleep, and exercise can fall short. Breathwork exercises such as Kapalabhati, also known as the breath of fire, help us regain our energy and keep us physically and mentally refreshed.

What is ‘Pranayama’?

Pranayama comes from the Sanskrit words prana, meaning life force, and ayama meaning to expand. Prana is the force that exists in every being—whether animate or inanimate. It is closely linked to the air we breathe and is used to describe the “life energy”. Thus, “pranayama” means “expansion of the life force”. Pranayama techniques allow you to go beyond the daily limits and constraints, reach higher levels of energy, and activate and regulate the life force in the most balanced way.

What does ‘Kapalabhati’ mean?

The word Kapalabhati is made up of two Sanskrit words: Kapal meaning skull or forehead, and bhati meaning light or cleansing. As the practice clears your vision and causes your forehead to illuminate, it is also known as the skull shining breath or the breath of fire. The other name of the technique is Kapalshodhana, with shodhana meaning to purify.

How does Kapalabhati affect us?

Making use of short and powerful diaphragm breaths, this technique effectively leads to an increase of energy, refreshing and awakening you. It helps to detox your body, support the nervous system, improve the immune system, freshen your mind, and clear your vision. The best time to practise Kapalabhati is early in the morning — it will help jumpstart your day. When practised during the day, it allows you to renew the flow of energy in your body.

During regular breathing, the outbreath is passive as the diaphragm relaxes and lets the air out by itself. But this technique pushes the abdominal muscles upwards, making the outbreath active. Belly breathing produces a high volume of air. Even though the heart rate stays the same, the volume of oxygen increases and results in better oxygen transmission into the heart and the brain.

How to practise Kapalabhati, the breath of fire

During this practice, we will be using diaphragmatic breathing. We will take quick breaths through the nose, and actively contract our abdominal muscles as we breathe out. With a bellow-like movement, this technique allows the inhalation to happen on its own.

  • Sit upright in a comfortable position and allow your body to relax.
  • Focus on your breath and how it moves through your belly.
  • Take a deep breath in and feel your belly expand.
  • Feel your belly being sucked in towards your spine as you exhale quickly and sharply, as if you are using a bellow.
  • Continue breathing this way; breathe in quickly, belly pushed out, and breathe out quickly, belly sucked in for 20-30 times.
  • Finally, breathe out completely and take a full breath in. At this moment, visualise a shining light in your mind. Then slowly, breathe out.
  • Take another deep breath and this time, hold the breath at the top for a comfortable period and then slowly breathe out. Repeat this for a few breaths.
  • Now, rest for a few minutes. Focus on your breath and notice the changes this practice created in your body and your mind. You can experience flashes in your eyes, warmth in your belly, and a feeling of freshness in your lungs.
  • Practicing gyan mudra during breathing can increase the effect of this technique. Mudras are special hand positions that are used during meditation and breathwork. Gyan mudra is practised by bringing the tips of your thumb and index finger to touch as the other three fingers stay stretched out, with your palms facing up.

You can start practicing this technique with 20-30 breaths, rest for a while, practise 20-30 breaths again. You can eventually increase the number of cycles and the duration. Be careful to go slowly and not push yourself too much.

Make sure the only movement is taking place in the belly during the practice. Keep your shoulders, neck, and chest stable. Chest breathing can lead to dizziness.

This technique must be practised at least two hours after eating. It is not safe to practise if you are pregnant, on your period, have had a stroke, suffer from high blood pressure, vertigo, epilepsy, or have problems with your spine.

If you feel any pain or dizziness, stop the practice and rest for a while. Practise with more awareness and less effort. If the problems persist, you should consult a qualified teacher.