Skull Shining Breath, Kapalabhati Pranayama
Kapalabhati Pranayama or skull brightener or skull shining breath is sometimes considered a pranayama practice and at other times as a purification and preparation exercise before doing pranayama proper.
Kapalabhati means 'skull brightener' or 'skull cleaner'. It is a Sanskrit word made up by combining two words 'kapala' meaning 'skull' and 'bhati' meaning 'to make shine' or 'to clean'.
In everyday breathing you will notice that the exhalation is longer than the inhalation and is more of a passive activity. In kapalabhati this process is reversed. Inhalation requires the contraction of the diaphragm and exhalation is a result of the release of the diaphragm with other muscles contracting to help push the air out. In the practice of kapalabhati the exhalation is very fast done by a quick contraction of the lower belly muscles, which pushes the viscera up against the diaphragm. Here the exhalation is the active process because when the contraction is released, the viscera drops pulling the diaphragm down and sucking air into the lungs.
Dos and Don'ts for Kapalabhati Pranayama
It is important to remember that some conditions have to be fulfilled before one takes up the practice of kapalabhati pranayama:
- Practice on an empty stomach after at least two hours after a meal.
- Do not practice if you suffer from high blood pressure, back ache or any other heart conditions. Consult your doctor.
- Find a calm and quiet place
- Sit in a comfortable position or do it in a reclining position in corpse pose.
- Do not do it too fast, a medium pace is best.
- Breathe deeply after every 10 counts from 30 seconds to one minute before doing the next round.
- Be gentle with yourself.
- If you feel dizzy, do it slowly or stop.
- Always inhale and exhale through your nose and not your mouth.
How to do Kapalabhati Pranayama
The steps to practicing the breathing technique of kapalabhati pranayama are:
- Sit in a comfortable position on a mat or chair.
- Rest your hands on your knees.
- Gently close your eyes.
- Breathe normally for some time.
- Exhale once every two or three seconds for about ten to twelve times in the first round.
- Notice how the inhale happens automatically.
- Wait 30-60 seconds with everyday breathing to see how things are going.
- Do one to three rounds of 10-12 breaths (exhales) each.
- Relax with normal breathing.
Benefits of Kapalabhati Pranayama
There are many benefits to the practice of the skull shining or skull brightener pranayama:
- It cleanses the sinuses, respiratory passages and lungs.
- It saturates the blood with oxygen
- It stimulates cell breathing which ensures good metabolic activity.
- It improves the venous blood circulation by turning the diaphragm into a powerful pump
- It irrigates, purifies and invigorates the brain, pituitary and pineal glands.
- It strengthens, massages and tones abdominal muscles and organs.
- It strengthens the diaphragm and liver, and improves digestion.
It is good to learn about Pranayama and its different techniques, however, it is best done under the guidance of a competent teacher.
Rosen, Richard, The Yoga of Breath – A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama. Shambhala Publications Inc, Boston, 2002.
About the Author
Sushma Webber writes content for both web and print media. She is interested in creating a balance in life between the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects. She is interested in mindful awareness practices, Zen practices and translating these in daily life at work in front of the computer and during various activities of her life.
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