In Sanskrit 'kapala' means skull; 'bhati' means shining. Kapalabhati 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, Kapalabhati is actually one of the 'Shat Kriyas' (Six cleansing exercises).
Sit in a cross-legged position, with the back straight and the head erect. Take two to three deep breaths to prepare for Kapalabhati. 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. (You may want to leave out this retention when teaching Kapalabhati for the first time). Beginners may start with three rounds of 20-30 pumping each. Gradually increase to five rounds of 50-100 pumping.
1. Many people have difficulty in practicing the correct diaphragmatic movements. Often, beginners will do the opposite and contract the abdomen while inhaling. To correct, take one hand and place it on the abdomen. Repeat the instructions for Kapalabhati, holding the hand and pushing the abdomen with it as the student exhales.
2. Students often contract the shoulders and/or arch the back, trying to push the air out while exhaling. The back and shoulders should remain still during Kapalabhati.
3. Students often contract the facial muscles forcing the air out of the nose while exhaling. The teacher should make the students understand that the noise comes from the air being forced out of the lungs by the movement of the diaphragm. The noise should not be made by the nose itself.
4. Students will try to actively inhale. They will not be able to do this fast enough and may start to hyperventilate. Explain the importance of relaxing after the exhalation. The lungs will inflate with air automatically -faster than if they try to make them expand.
• As it is difficult to repeat the instructions "exhale-inhale" as you are teaching Kapalabhati, you may use "one-two" instead. Be sure to accentuate the count of "one" so that the students know that they should exhale sharply.
•Don't interrupt flow of class if one student can't do the exercise. Ask this student to just breathe normally, and show him while the others retain the breath. If a student is completely new, let him lie down and concentrate on the abdominal breath.
• Teacher may put hands on the student’s shoulders and/or back to straighten them. Remind students to relax the shoulders. Explain the importance of staying relaxed in the position.
• Cleanses the nasal passage, lungs and the entire respiratory system.
• Strengthens and increases the capacity of the lungs and 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 Kapalabhati enjoys blooming vigour and health.
• Kapalabhati 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.
• Kapalabhati activates pranic energy.
• It increases the supply of stored-up prana in the solar plexus region.
Kapalabhati should not be practiced during pregnancy; nor when any abdominal pain or cramping
NOTE: Kapalabhati should never be attempted when an asthmatic attack is in progress.