Just a few rounds of kapalabhati everyday can bring you instant peace of mind, advises Dr Renu Mahtani.
In our fast-paced lives, we’re always looking for quick gratification. We love a quick cup of tea, fast food, ready-to-eat snacks, but what about a healthy quick-fix? Can a simple breathing technique give you instant peace of mind? Can it detoxify your body and mind? My answer to both questions is a resounding yes. This technique of kriya is called kapalabhati.
Kapalabhati is referred to as the cleansing breath. In Sanskrit, kapaal means skull or forehead, and bhati means luminosity and perception. Kapalabhati is the practice that brings a state of luminousness or clarity in the mind and body by cleansing the nasal passageway and the sinuses, removing carbon dioxide gas that’s toxic to the body and mind, and by supplying the brain with fresh, oxygen-rich blood
Kapalabhati is essentially a voluntary abdominal breathing practice with a focus on forceful exhalations. In normal breathing, inhalation is active while exhalation is passive. In kapalabhati, exhalation is active while inhalation is passive. It is done in quick succession with the help of the abdominal muscles, while the chest is more or less quiet and unmoving. The abdominal muscles are made to contract actively and with a force so that the forceful upward movement of the diaphragm expels the air. A blowing sound is produced during the active exhalation, while the passive inhalation is a silent one.
Kapalabhati cleanses toxins and once the toxic load of the body becomes less, it brings a sense of lightness in the body, alertness in the mind and boosts energy levels. It is the ideal exercise when we feel heavy or foggy, or experience a feeling of lethargy. The practice brings a glow to the crown of the head and brings about a lightness of being. Hence the name kapalabhati
Cleansing the Mind
Kapalabhati has a unique effect on the mind. During the active phase of the practice, it stimulates brain cells and maintains the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide. In the process, carbon dioxide is washed out from our system and there is a greater supply of oxygen. This delays the triggering of the breath, resulting in a peaceful pause in breathing once the practice is stopped.
When breathing comes to this temporary standstill, all mental chatter disappears and the practitioner is left with a state of balanced calm and clarity.
How to Perform Kapalabhati
- Sit in a comfortable pose, with your head, neck and spine in one line.
- Place your palms on your thighs or knees. This helps lift the spine and pushes the shoulders back.
- Relax the nose and soften the face.
- Begin with a chest-expanding inhalation and maintaining it, start the practice. Use your abdominal muscles to perform active forceful exhalations, followed by passive soundless inhalations. Breathe only through the nose.
- The rhythm of your breath should be regular and consistent like the ticking of a clock. The rate should be slow and steady, allowing enough time for spontaneous inhalations to occur. Stop after 25 – 30 breaths.
- At the end of one round, sit very still and observe the breath and the mind. There will be an automatic suspension of breathing. This is called kewal kumbhaka. The urge to breathe stops for a few seconds. In this state, the mind experiences a deep state of stillness, silence, calm and peace.
The Magic of the Pause
Kewal kumbhaka or the spontaneous cessation of breathing after a round of kapalabhati is the reward of the practice. Breathing stops spontaneously for a while and the mind feels peaceful and calm.
The above instructions are for people who have already tried or practice kapalabhati. If you have never done this kriya, please try it for the first time under the guidance of a qualified teacher.
Pune-based Dr Renu Mahtani is the founder of Param Yoga and has authored various books on yoga, pranayama and nutrition.