With kapalabhati, you can immediately feel that something is “really” happening. Kapalabhati consists of a forceful, vigorous exhalation, followed by a passive inhalation. The classical manuals on hatha yoga list kapalabhati as one of the six cleansing exercises (shat kriyas), because the emphasis on exhalation enhances the ability of the lungs to expel wastes and toxins.
Reversing Habitual Breathing Patterns
To exhale completely, you must use the abdominal muscles near the end of exhalation. Try it: Sit upright and inhale; do not move your chest and shoulders. The sensation of effort that you feel represents the active contraction of the diaphragm muscle. Now exhale completely. Notice how the first portion of the exhalation is effortless, but to force out more air, you have to contract the abdominal muscles. Do this a few times until you can feel when you begin to use the abdominal muscles to complete exhalation.
Kapalabhati reverses the usual pattern of active inhalation and passive exhalation. The exhalation in kapalabhati is short, powerful, and complete. It takes some practice. Begin by establishing a baseline of deep, even, nasal breathing. At the end of a normal exhalation, contract the muscles that form the front wall of the abdomen–from just below the ribs to the pelvis, strongly and quickly, forcing air out of the nostrils. Contracting these muscles will move the abdomen towards the spine and push the diaphragm up into the chest cavity, compressing the lungs. This results in the expulsion of air through the nostrils, provided there is no other movement and no obstruction of the nostrils. Only the abdomen moves–keep the rest of your body completely still. Each exhalation should be as complete as you can comfortably achieve in one short, powerful blast.
Without pausing, relax the abdominal wall and you will automatically inhale. Allow the abdomen to return to its resting position. Do not inhale actively. Initially, this is the most difficult part of learning kapalabhati and requires practicing slowly and deliberately.
You must develop the ability to breathe using the abdominal muscles alone, contracting them quickly during exhalation and relaxing them completely for each inhalation. The diaphragm should remain passive through both inhalation and exhalation. The passive inhalation takes longer than the strong and forceful exhalation, so in practice, inhalation will be about twice as long as exhalation.
How to Sit
Practicing kapalabhati requires a firm, stable posture because, as you progress, the muscular contractions during exhalation become very powerful; an unstable posture may allow movement, which will disrupt the practice.
The head, neck, and trunk must be held vertical. When the spine is properly aligned, the capacity of the lungs is slightly expanded. Pay particular attention to the head position. Bring the chin back over the breastbone and extend the neck upward. This positions the head directly over the hips. Relax the shoulders–you needn’t lift them or pull them back. Now try moving back into the slouched position and then back to the upright position a few times to fully experience both. The best asanas include padmasana, swastikasana, vajrasana, siddhasana, or sitting upright and forward in a chair.
The duration of Kapalabhati is usually practiced in a series of rounds. Its best to begin with 10 to 15 repetitions per round, three rounds per sitting, and one sitting per day. Separate each round by deep, even breathing until breathing equilibrium is re-established. Increase the number of repetitions per round by about five repetitions per week. One hundred and twenty repetitions per round is considered a vigorous practice for most people.
Make each exhalation as forceful as possible without strain or undue effort. If this is your first exposure to this exercise, you might experience some soreness of the abdominal muscles, much like the soreness that develops after an occasional physical workout. If you practice consistently and proceed slowly, this will pass in a few days. The more complete each exhalation and inhalation, the more air is moved out and into the lungs, and the more lung capacity is used.
When to Practice
Kapalabhati can be practiced during your regular asana practice, as a renewing exercise after vigorous stretches. Kapalabhati is invigorating, it enhances your sense of energy and awareness. The combination of cleansing and invigoration makes it an excellent exercise for the late afternoon, after work, and before the evening meal, but not a good practice just before sleep.
Any sharp or persistent pain is a signal to stop. Consult with a physician who understands breathing exercises before continuing. If you have high blood pressure or coronary heart disease, do not practice kapalabhati without
Consulting your physician.
Always practice on an empty stomach, two or more hours after eating. Stop if you experience a stitch in your side, if you feel dizzy, or if you are unable to maintain a steady rhythm.
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