This week, I started my classes with Kapalabhati breathing. It is also known as the Skull-shining breath and the breath of fire, due to it’s call on the abdomen muscles. Kapalabhati breathing is practiced by short sharp contractions of the abdomen which forces the breath out of the lungs, followed by an impassive inhale. It is an amazing detoxifying and energising pranayama (breathing exercise) to open or seal your practice.
What is Kapalabhati breathing?
Kapalabhati translates to Skull-shining Kapala, meaning “Skull” and Bhati meaning “light”. It is a practice to cleanse the respiratory system and has energising results, hence the shining element. It is the practice of short sharp inhales, contracting the abdomen in order to expel stale air out of the lungs. After completing Kapalabhati or the breath of fire, your lungs will be filled with fresh new air.
What are the benefits of Kapalabhati breathing?
The effects of Kabalabhati are:
- releases toxins from the abdomen, stomach and bowels
- improves digestion
- cleanses the lungs
- energises the body
- tones the belly
- clears the mind
- warms the body
- expels stale air
- oxygenates the body
- rids the body of anxiety
When to practice Kapalabhati breathing
Breath of fire is a great opening or close to a practice. It is carried out at the end of every Bikram class, and is used as a pranayama throughout many other styles of yoga.
How to practice Kapalabhati breathing
Make sure you’re in an easy seated position before commencing, either legs crossed or kneeling, sat on your heels.
Sit with the spine long and hands placed on knees.
Place hands on the belly, fingertips apart but facing each other over the belly button.
Mouth open and teeth and lips positioned so the exhalation of air either makes a ‘cch’ or ‘ssh’ sound.
Contract the abdomen so the belly is drawn back temporarily, followed by a passive inhale where the belly will fill again slightly.
These contractions are short and powerful but not the same as sucking the tummy in, see the video below for a full demonstration.
I like to do 3 rounds of 30 (30 short sharp exhales) or 2 rounds of 50.
Follow with a gentle forward fold.
Precautions and counter indications for Kapalabhati
As with every yoga pose, there are a few contra indications for Kapalabhati, including high or low blood pressure, heart disease, issues with eyes or ears (due to the forceful exhale). It must be practices when the stomach is empty, 2 hours after food, and if you feel any pain during the practice, stop. It takes a few times trying it to build up stamina and affinity, but if you’re healthy and want to feel the energising results, Kapalabhati has some amazing benefits.