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pranayama, breathing exercises, pranayama instructions, how to do hatha yoga, benefits of kapalbhati, benefits of anulom viloma, instructions, counter indications

Breathing Exercises – Pranayama


In Sanskrit ‘kapal’ means skull; ‘bhati’ means shining. Kapalbhati 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. Although a breathing exercise, Kapalbhati is actually one of the ‘Shat Kriyas’ (Six cleansing exercises).

Basic Instructions

Sit in a cross-legged position, with the back straight and the head erect. Take two to three deep breaths to prepare for Kapalbhati. After the last deep inhalation:

1. Contract the abdominal muscles quickly, causing the diaphragm to move up into the thoracic cavity and pushing the air out of the lungs forcefully.

2. Relax the abdominal muscles allowing the diaphragm to descend into the abdominal cavity; passive inhalation takes place. The lungs automatically expand and inflate with air. Do not inhale forcefully.

Repeat this pumping quickly. Passive inhalation and sudden expulsion of breath follow each other continuously until a round is completed.

End on the exhalation, and follow each round with two to three deep breaths and retention.

Beginners may start with three rounds of 20-30 pumping each. Gradually increase to five rounds of 50-100 pumping. 


• Cleanses the nasal passage, lungs and the entire respiratory system.

• Strengthens and increases the capacity of the lungs and the intercostal (ribcage) muscles.

• Helps to drain the sinuses and eliminate accumulated mucus.

• Bronchial congestion and spasm are removed; consequently, asthma is relieved and virtually eliminated, over a period of time.

• Helps the body to eliminate large quantities of carbon dioxide and other impurities. This permits the red-blood cells to suck in more oxygen, increasing the richness of the blood.

• The added intake of oxygen into the body enriches the blood and renews body tissues.       

• The movement of the diaphragm and abdominal contractions massage the stomach, liver, spleen, heart and pancreas.

• Abdominal muscles are strengthened. Digestion is improved.

• The regular practitioner of Kapalbhati enjoys blooming vigor and health.

• Kapalbhati refreshes and invigorates the mind.

• It brings an increase in alertness as a result of the increase of oxygen to the brain.

• It creates a feeling of exhilaration.

• Kapalbhati activates pranic energy.

• It increases the supply of stored-up prana in the solar plexus region.


Kapalbhati should not be practiced during pregnancy; nor when any abdominal pain or cramping


Alternate Nostril Breathing – Anulom Vilom

Basic Instructions

Preparation: With your right hand form Vishnu Mudra by folding down the index and middle fingers. Close the right nostril with the thumb and exhale completely through the left. You are now ready to begin:

1. Inhale completely through the left nostril, keeping the right nostril closed. This should be done to a count of ‘4’ for beginners and increased only after regular practice.

2. Close the left nostril with the other two fingers so that both nostrils are now closed. Retain the breath for a count of ’16’ (4 times the count of the inhalation).

3. Keeping the left nostril closed release the right nostril and exhale completely to a count of ‘8’ (twice the count of the inhalation).

4. With the left nostril closed, inhale through the right to a count of ‘4’.

5. Close both nostrils and retain the breath to a count of ’16’.

6. keeping the right nostril closed, release the fingers from the left nostril and exhale completely for a count of ‘8’ to complete one round.

Do at least five rounds at the beginning of each practice. 


• The lungs and entire respiratory system are cleansed and strengthened.

• As exhalation is twice the time of inhalation, more stale air and waste products are expelled from the lungs.

• During retention, the rate of gaseous exchange in the lungs is greatly increased as a result of the increase in pressure. This means that more oxygen from the lungs goes into the blood stream and more CO2 (and other waste products) from the blood are passed into the lungs for elimination during exhalation.

• The breath naturally alternates between the two nostrils, changing approximately every 2 hours. The breath in the right nostril is hot, symbolically referred to as the ‘sun’ or pingala. It is catabolic and acceleratory to the organs of the body. The flow from the left, which is cool and referred to as the ‘moon’ or ida, is anabolic and inhibitory to the body. This alternate breathing exercise helps to bring equilibrium between the two.

• Anuloma Viloma helps to balance the hemispheres of the brain.

• This exercise helps to calm the mind, making it lucid and steady, preparing it for meditation.

• Anuloma Viloma purifies the nadis. It should be mastered and practiced on a regular basis before going on to more advanced pranayama exercises.

• Prana, the vital energy is stored and controlled.

• The psychic system is balanced.

• It makes the body light and the eyes shiny.

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