Hello my yoga friends:
Today I would like to talk to you about Kapalabhati Pranayama to address a few questions that I have received.
Prana is the life force, the subtle energy that keeps you alive, just like the charge in a laptop battery keeps the laptop alive. Your battery, known as Kundilini, is located in your subtle body in the Muladhara chakra (the energy centre at the base of the spine). Prana is the charge that flows from Kundilini, which is an amazing source of prana. Kundilini can limit or completely stop the flow of prana but it never runs out of Prana. Even if you don’t do any spiritual practices, some prana from Kundilini still flows to keep you alive, but proper spiritual practices help tap more prana from Kundilini. When there is plenty of prana in you and if it is flowing properly then you feel energetic, enthusiastic and have a positive attitude toward life. And when there is not enough prana or when it is not flowing properly, negative tendencies take over. You need a lot of prana for your spiritual progress.
Chakras are the energy centres that directly or indirectly receive prana from Kundilini and distribute it to your subtle body via the nadis.
Nadis are the channels in which prana flows in your subtle body, just like the blood in your physical body flows in arteries and veins. There are thousands of nadis connected directly or indirectly to energy centres. Just as poor eating habits can clog the arteries, in the same way excessive stress, too much negativity, and lack of spiritual practices are some of the factors that can clog nadis.
Kundilini, chakras and nadis, like your mind, cannot be seen or touched. They are part of your subtle being. I will write about them in detail another day.
Pranayamas are breathing exercises that are helpful in:
1) Removing any blocks in nadis,
2) Stimulating Kundilini and chakras,
3) Properly regulating the flow of prana, and
4) Purifying your inner being.
There are many pranayamas. Just like different yoga postures affect different parts of the body, similarly different pranayamas affect different chakras and nadis.
Kapalabhati Pranayama is a very powerful breathing exercise well known to yoga practitioners. Kapalabhati means shining intellect, and that’s exactly what the regular and correct practice of this pranayama can achieve. It refines your intellect giving you the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, true and false, real and unreal. For this reason alone, I consider Kapalabhati pranayama to be an essential yoga practice.
The other benefits of Kapalabhati Pranayama are:
– tones abdominal muscles
– improves digestion
– clears the nadis
– increases the quantity of prana
– stimulates all energy centres, in particular, the energy centres in the areas of naval, genitals, and in between eyebrows.
Learning the Kapalabhati pranayama technique:
Sit comfortably in any position, preferably cross-legged. Keep your spine erect.
Let’s first focus on the breath alone. Exhale through the nostrils with some force and sound, as though you are trying to clear your nostrils but don’t tense your face much. And then inhale but without too much effort or force.
Take a few more such breaths in a rhythmical fashion at a medium pace, approximately 20 breaths in 15 seconds. Relax. Do this again 2-3 times.
Now let’s co-ordinate the breath with moving of the belly in and out. As you exhale, contract your belly muscles and pull your naval inward toward the spine. Put some effort into contracting and pulling the belly in. Hold for about ½ a second. Then release the contraction as you inhale. Inhalation doesn’t require much effort. Do this 20 times. It would take about 30 seconds to do it at medium pace. If you are having difficulty holding the belly contraction, practice at a slow speed. Effective contraction while pulling the belly in is a very important part of the practice. It gets easier and better with practice.
Practicing Kapalabhati Pranayama:
It is important to practice Kapalabhati in a spiritual manner.
1. Become aware that you are not just the body. Take your attention to your inner being. Go beyond your thoughts, questions and judgments. Think of your inner-being as something very sacred, and honor it as you would honor a deity in a temple, with respect and gratefulness. This attitude is very necessary for awakening Kundilini and your energy centres. Without this attitude of honoring, the practice would provide benefit only at the physical level.
2. Sit erect with hands on thighs, palms facing up, eyes closed. Chant OM three times.
3. Take 20 Kapalabhati breaths as learnt above at a medium pace. Relax your breath and be still for about 5-10 seconds. Feel the effect of pranayama without any judgments. This will connect you more to your inner being.
4. Take couple of deep and long breaths. Then do another round of 20 kapalabhati breaths as above, and again be still for 5-10 seconds.
5. Complete one more round same as step 4.
After three rounds of Kapalabhati remain still for few seconds and then continue with other practices. If you are not going to be doing other practices, then just be there quietly for a little longer period, 3-5 minutes.
After a few weeks of practice you can increase the pace of breathing without compromising the effective contraction and pulling-in of the belly. Also don’t increase the pace so fast that you start to hyperventilate.
You can also increase the number of breaths in each round to up to 50 times.
But be very careful not to make this practice just a physical practice.
There is also an advanced Kapalabhati pranayama, which should be learnt only in person from an experienced yoga teacher. However, I personally prefer the basic practice as given above over the advanced one.
When to practice
Kapalabhati can be practiced any time of the day except late in the evening, no later than three hours before you go to sleep. It must be practiced on an empty stomach. It can be practiced as a stand-alone practice or combined with other practices, such as before asanas or meditation.
Kapalabhati should not be practiced during pregnancy or during first 2-3 days of the menstrual cycle. People with hernia and any other medical conditions should consult their physicians before starting the practice. I don’t recommend Kapalabhati for children under 12. There is no upper age limit.
Don’t look for benefits: Though Kapalabhati pranayama and other practices provide many benefits; do your practices without expecting any benefits.
Practice with joy without expecting joy from practices.
Keep doing your practicing regularly. Don’t give up. Do even more when you feel like giving up. An accomplished athlete knows the value of practice. Many times he might have felt like giving up but he didn’t. The essence of Yoga Vashishtha is continued self-effort.
Practice is not just doing postures and pranayamas. Applying the wisdom of yoga in daily life is also a practice. Following the yamas and niyamas (social and personal ethics) of Patanjali, and serving others are also essential yoga practices.
You need to do your practices regularly and for a long time, says Patanjali. He doesn’t specify for how long though. It could be one lifetime or many lifetimes. But the good news is that life is very short :).