There are large number of benefits of Kapalabhati on the body and mind. Imagine an exercise that can cleanse and activate the lungs, stimulate cardiovascular activity at a level equivalent to jogging, invigorate the body, and clarify the mind. Now imagine doing it while sitting comfortably with your eyes closed. If you have read somewhere, you know that the exercise that fulfills this fantasy is kapalabhati.
Hatha yoga has developed a number of breathing techniques over the centuries that have an extremely powerful effect on the body and mind. Kapalabhati is counted among the pranayamas in many lines of tradition of hatha yoga. Eventhough in the source text Hatha yoga pradipika, it is clearly counted among the purification exercises (kriya).
The benefits of kapalabhati are the byproduct of the vigorous muscular contractions of the abdomen and of the rapid, forceful exhalations that are the hallmark of this exercise. If you’ve been practicing Kapalabhati or have not yet started to practice , its time to refine your technique and take a closer look at the benefits of Kapalabhati.
9 benefits of Kapalabhati
1. Removes Metabolic Waste Products
Kapalabhati is primarily a cleansing technique. Perhaps the biggest benefit of the exercise is the active movement of metabolic wastes from the tissues where they are produced into the lungs, where they can be eliminated. The emphasis on exhalation dramatically increases the expulsion of volatile wastes through the lung tissue. Volatile wastes include wastes from all metabolic processes in the body, including carbon dioxide.
The level of waste in the blood rises during periods of rest, just after digestion, or when the body is inactive for long periods, such as when you are sleeping. Sluggish bowel function and low respiratory and cardiovascular activity also add to the amount of waste in the blood.
Kapalabhati’s powerful exhalations expand the volume of air passing in and out of the lungs, increasing the flow of blood in the lung tissue itself, as well as throughout the body. This is an effective combination for expelling volatile wastes.
When waste levels decrease, the body tissues release additional waste into the blood. Clearing waste through the lungs reduces the burden on other routes of elimination, such as the skin, liver, colon, and kidneys. If kapalabhati is continued long enough, this cleansing affects all tissues.
2. Increases Cardiovascular Activity
Another significant benefit of kapalabhati is increased cardiovascular activity. An energetic practice (two exhalations per second for one minute) accelerates the heart rate to a level that most people can achieve only by participating in vigorous sports.
But this type of exercise requires using large muscles and expending a substantial amount of energy, which produces metabolic wastes such as lactic acid and carbon dioxide.
On the other hand, kapalabhati uses only the abdominal and spinal muscles. The abdominal muscles are used vigorously, but the spinal muscles are required only to keep the head and trunk erect. The net result is robust circulation and elimination of volatile wastes, while expending only a small amount of energy and producing few additional wastes.
3. Blood Circulation and Digestion
The vigorous muscular contractions during kapalabhati alternately compress and release the abdomen, giving it a thorough massage. This stimulates the digestive system and increases blood and lymph circulation in the abdomen. The result is a healthier digestive and eliminative system.
4. Strengthens Abdominal Muscles
The vigorous use of the abdominal muscles has the added benefit of making them stronger. Thus improving posture and respiration.
After practicing for some time, your breath will be freer and more active. The strengthened abdominal muscles are less likely to bulge outward, which they tend to do when they lose their vitality.
5. Improves Lung Capacity
By deep, long breathing in a calm sitting position, we can increase the breathing volume to 4-5 liters per breath. This deeper breathing leads to a significant increase in the level of oxygen in the blood. And the more oxygen our blood transports, the more efficiently the body cells can carry out their tasks.
Deep abdominal breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, is fundamental to yogic breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing not only improves lung capacity, but also constantly and rhythmically changes the pressure inside the abdomen. Every movement of the diaphragm not only serves to fill the lungs with air, but also leads to a considerable difference in pressure throughout the abdomen.
6. Helps to Cure Diseases
Kapalabhati helps strong ventilation of the paranasal sinuses which is good for colds and chronic inflammation of the sinuses.
This exercise can also cure asthma and tuberculosis over time. The tips of the lungs are thoroughly supplied with oxygen, the cramps in the bronchi are eliminated and the impurities in the blood are eliminated.
Heart diseases and all diseases that arise from insufficient oxygen inhalation are cured. The tissues and cells absorb a large amount of oxygen during Kapalabhati.
7. Prepares for Practicing the Advanced Pranayamas.
If you practice Kapalabhati regularly and increasingly longer, then the time of the breaks between breaths can be extended to one to several minutes. Breathing pauses thus arise initially after exhaling in the emptiness, which we do not have to “do”, but which come about by themselves after practicing.
They are so natural and self-evident that we are able to hold out a long respite as long as the mind does not react with doubts or worried questions. If you learn to understand and to trust that the breathing center becomes active immediately and in any case as soon as the body is supposed to continue breathing again, then you gradually lose the deep-seated and creatural fear of not breathing for a long time.
In this respect, practicing longer breathing pauses in the wake of Kapalabhati also means a weakening of the Kleshas Abhinivesha – the fear of death. For many people it is through this process of experience and adaptation to phases of non-breathing that the encounter with (breath) emptiness – also called “little death” – becomes possible in the first place. The mind learns equanimity in a situation that otherwise it could quickly be classified as threatening and existential.
In this way Kapalabhati can help you to gain first deep and impressive experiences with Kumbhaka – the great pause in the flow of life. Thus Kapalabhati becomes an indispensable part of the preparation for practicing the classic pranayamas.
8. Helps in Introducing Meditation
Kapalabhati can also be used very well and reliably in introducing meditation. Above all the state of mild drowsiness, as mentioned above, can be put to good use. The activities of the mind largely come to rest without the mind becoming dull or sleepy.
When you exhale quickly and very gently, then you can stay in this form of breathing for a significantly longer period of time. Five minutes at the beginning and up to 15 minutes with regular exercise. Because the exhalation is gentle and fine – not to say subtle – the abdominal muscles do not tire as quickly. The gas mixture in the blood only shifts gradually, which leads to a void of thoughts without the sensation of drowsiness.
One experiences this “switched off” state with an extremely alert and subtle perception and without being caught up in the usual mental patterns of thinking, feeling and judging.
9. Benefits of Kapalabhati from Ayurvedic Point of View
Harmonizes Vata if not practiced for too long. Prolonged practice can increase Vata (dizziness). Suitable for all Vata disorders with poor metabolism and an increase in metabolic waste products (Ama).
Harmonizes Pitta if Kapalabhati is practiced for a long enough time and not too intensely.
Reduces Kapha by activating the metabolism and reduces metabolic waste (Ama).
How to Practice Kapalabhati?
A step by step guide on how to practice Kapalabhati:
- Sit straight, keep your hands on your knees and your eyes closed.
- Breathe out through your nose for 3 to 4 seconds, inserting your stomach. Breathe in and out for about 3 to 8 breaths.
- Then start with the actual Kapalabhati: Exhale very quickly and relax 2 times as slowly. Contract only the abdominal muscles with each exhalation.
- Usually it is enough to let the breath flow in by yourself – i.e. forced exhalation and slower automatic inhalation.
- In this way, first take 20, then 40, then 60 breaths, and so on. Gradually increase the duration of the exercise with great patience and always according to your daily mood.
- For regulation, observe whether your breath becomes finer and calmer and the mind clear and quiet.
- Stop this exercise when you feel that you are starting to tire and feel it for a while.
- Let yourself slide into the stillness of breathing and connect with the sensation of presence.
Practice Tips for Gaining Maximum Benefits of Kapalabhati
If Kapalabhati is not practiced in a proper way then it may cause some minor problems. Here are a few tips to help you develop a vigorous, trouble-free technique.
Maintain a firm posture
Practice in a posture that keeps your head, neck and trunk aligned comfortably. This is not the time to experiment with a new or challenging posture, no matter how desirable that posture may be. If you are struggling with your posture, you will be contracting muscles unnecessarily and perhaps excessively. This will distract you from the work at hand.
Sit erect, keeping the shoulders relaxed and the chest open
At the end of an inhalation, you will find that if you actively contract the diaphragm, you can draw much more air into the lungs. For this reason, if you do not sit erect, the position of the rib cage will limit the inhalation, which in turn limits exhalation and reduces the effectiveness of the technique.
So when you begin, be sure the head is held up and the shoulders are relaxed and dropped away from the ears, so that the rib cage is expanded comfortably.
Practice kapalabhati in a seated posture only
Kapalabhati is not an exercise to practice while driving, nor can it be practiced while walking. The abdominal muscles cannot be completely relaxed while standing upright. So Kapalabhati should be practiced only in an appropriate posture and environment.
You should practice Kapalabhati on an empty stomach with any distractions removed or reduced.
Contract only the abdominal muscles with each exhalation; all other muscles remain relaxed
Sitting in a comfortable posture with the head and torso aligned makes this easier, but will by no means assure that you are relaxed.
Sitting in front of a class of experienced students recently, I was struck by the number and variety of superfluous movements they made while practicing kapalabhati: scrunching up the face, lifting the shoulders, or bending forward with each exhalation. Such accessory movements diminish the effectiveness of the practice. Eliminate them.
If you can keep the rest of the body relaxed and deeply at ease, you will find it easier to inhale smoothly and effortlessly. Remember, the inhalation is generated by relaxing both the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm.
Flare the nostrils open
This allows the maximum volume of air to pass in and out. Not everyone is able to do this at first, but with a little practice most people can open the nostrils at will; its easier than wiggling your ears. During exhalation, the sensation of the air passing out of the nostrils should be felt deep within the nostrils, not at the tip of the nose.
Keep the tongue in contact with the roof of the mouth, and the teeth and lips closed gently
When you begin practicing more vigorously and your body is relaxed, you may notice a snoring/snorting sound as the soft palate moves during the forceful exhalations. Keeping the tongue in contact with the roof of the mouth will eliminate this noise. This will also make your thought process slow down which will help in introducing meditation.
Don't always work at your full capacity
You need not apply maximum force every time you practice. Forceful exhalations are important, but you don’t always have to exhale as vigorously as you can. At times, practicing at 60 to 75 percent of your capacity may feel just right. So experiment, and listen to your body in the quiet times between rounds. One symptom that can develop from excessive practice is the light headedness of hyperventilation.
Practice uddiyana bandha (the abdominal lift) to increase the mobility of the diaphragm
If you are experiencing difficulty either exhaling completely or inhaling completely, you may benefit from practicing the abdominal lift as a preparation for kapalabhati.
Kapalabhati requires relaxing the abdominal muscles quickly and completely after each exhalation and keeping the diaphragm relaxed through both the inhalation and the exhalation. If the diaphragm isn’t relaxed, it provides resistance both to expelling air and to inhaling freely.
During uddiyana bandha both the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm are relaxed, so practicing it will help you develop the habit of relaxing both of these muscles simultaneously.
Don't worry about applying mula bandha (root lock)
Mula bandha is not mandatory with kapalabhati. However, as you progress into more vigorous practice, the muscles of the pelvic floor may contract spontaneously. If it comes, let it continue; if not, that is fine too.
Keep some tissues or a handkerchief handy when you practice
The forceful exhalations of kapalabhati may expel mucus from the nasal passages and, if continued, can even draw fluid from tile sinuses. For this reason, kapalahhati is one of the several exercises used for clearing the nasal passages after the jala neti, or nasal wash. Therefore, never restrict the nostrils when practicing kapalabhati.
When to Stop Kapalabhati?
Pain is a signal to stop. If you experience pain, consult a physician who understands yoga exercises before continuing. If you have high blood pressure or coronary heart disease, do not practice kapalabhati without checking with your physician.
The specific signals that show that you have reached your comfortable capacity are listed below. When you begin to experience any of these, stop.
For most people, the first signal to stop is a decrease in strength and control of the abdominal muscles. If you ignore this and continue, the abdominal muscles may cramp.
Two signs of impending cramps are an inability to relax the abdominal muscles and an irregular rhythm of exhalation. The exhalations will become irregular as the muscles reach their comfortable limit of performance. Stop at this point. Building the strength of the abdominal muscles slowly is an important part of developing a vigorous kapalabhati practice.
Discomfort is the second signal. Be sensitive to discomfort or pain just under the ribs, especially the “stitch in the side,” which results from running long distances. Such pain may indicate that you are using the diaphragm actively during inhalation, causing it to cramp. If this is the case, go back to practicing more slowly, and learn to keep the diaphragm relaxed and passive during the inhalation.
As the strength and endurance of your abdominal muscles increases, gradually increase the number and the forcefulness of the repetitions. At this point, you will begin to experience the limits of your body’s ability to tolerate the expulsion of carbon dioxide, and you may experience mild symptoms of hyperventilation.
Each of us has developed a window of tolerance for the carbon dioxide concentration in our bodies. Those of us who are more athletic can tolerate a greater range of carbon dioxide blood levels, while the more sedentary among us have a lower tolerance for changes in CO2 blood levels.
When the body’s tolerance for carbon dioxide reduction is reached, symptoms of hyperventilation appear. They include a tingling sensation in the lips and fingertips, a feeling of light-headedness or dizziness, and possibly a sense of jumpiness or uneasiness. These signals should be respected. Pressing on at this point is not wise.
But after a few weeks of practice, you will find that your tolerance level can be slowly expanded, and you will be able to eliminate a greater quantity of volatile wastes through your lungs. The key is to gradually expand your capacity with regular practice. Nothing is gained by rushing the process.
For example, if after 15 repetitions you experience dizziness (or cramping of the abdominal muscles), then stop, and establish 15 as the number of repetitions you will do per round. Practice three rounds of 15 repetitions each, resting briefly between each round.
After a week or ten days, you will be able to increase the number of repetitions by 5 without experiencing dizziness. In this way, your capacity to tolerate a greater clearing of carbon dioxide and volatile wastes increases gradually, comfortably, and surely.
When you shouldn't practice kapalabhati?
Since Kapalabhati is a powerful form of breathing, some precautionary rules as well as contraindications must be observed for the practice.
- for all inflammations in the abdomen
- in severe cardiovascular disorders
- for heart valve defects
- if there is a risk of embolism
- arterial disease
- with emphysema
- with a tendency to Vata disorders. Then only practice Kapalabhati briefly (max. 2 minutes)
- with unstable psyche
- if there is a tendency to dizziness (vertigo).
You now have all the information you need to know and refine your practice and gain the benefits of kapalabhati. All that remains is to stir in some inspiration, a little awareness, an ounce of effort, and a few months of practice. Let your experience be your guide.
Listen to your body and be keenly aware of its signals–they will not misguide you. Progress gradually according to your capacity. What’s the hurry?